St Mark Ji Tiangjing was no stranger to sin, habitual sin at that.
An opium addict at one point, he knew what it was to both want to follow Christ, but struggle with the reality that his flesh often wanted otherwise.
And, that right there, listener, is the side of the story that would most likely catch your attention.
Sure, you may find it nice that he was also considered a man of God and as a husband, father and grandfather, was serious about living out his faith. You, and I, may also be inspired by the fact that he was martyred for his faith in China. And while these are the details that may leave us in awe or inspire us, they usually aren’t the ones we resonate with most.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear “martyr,” I think something automatically tunes out for me. First, if I’m being honest, that’s a harrowing thought. Sure, I love the idea of being able to sacrifice my life for Christ and I could say that “Yes, I am ready to die for Christ.” But, I’m still terrified by the idea. I’d only hope for the grace and strength to stay true to that desire.
So, if I can admire St Mark Ji Tiangjing for his radical sacrifice for Christ, can I relate to him?
Well, I can relate to the fact that he struggled with sin!
You see, St. Mark appears to have been overall a really good man. He was the village doctor and likely was a very good father, husband and grandfather. But despite all those things, he was human. And during a painful illness in his life, he treated his pain with opium, which he eventually became addicted to.
He’d go to confession again and again during his struggle, and at one point the priest even suggested St. Mark stop receiving the Eucharist because of his lack of devotion.
But this man, who was both good and human, did not give up. He continued on his journey amid the struggle, both doing his best to follow God as the man he was called to be, and struggling with an ongoing addiction.
And would you look at what happened to him in the end? God granted him an opportunity for martyrdom. And how we regard martyrdom as Catholic Christians? We call it the “supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.” Isn’t that crazy, friend?
This man might not have checked all the boxes on the outside, but we can see that God honored his faithfulness and did not dismiss him just because he struggled.
I think God enjoyed, in fact, the fact that this man struggled. Do I mean that quite literally? Well, no. But—just think. St. Mark didn’t give up and continued to depend on Christ, seeking the grace to overcome a big weakness in his life. He continued to ask God for help.
And God did help him, though perhaps not in the way St. Mark intended. Instead of helping him overcome a drug addiction, he allowed St. Mark to become a martyr. And he allowed this story, the story of St. Mark, a man who struggled but didn’t give up, to live on so that you and I could see…that God is not disappointed by our struggles. He is pleased when we pick up and keep going, even when they’re there.