Herda-Father-Jerry“Ask Fr. Jerry,” Fr. Jerry Herda

Q: Some of my friends have them, and I might want one: Is getting a tattoo a sin?

A: A tattoo in and of itself is not a sin. A tattoo is a form of art that happens to be done on a person’s body. I personally would never get a tattoo because I am a big chicken and I would not want to have the pain of getting one inflicted on my body. But there are many people who choose to express themselves through tattoos.

Just because a tattoo is not sinful, does not mean getting a tattoo is not sinful. There are times when getting a tattoo can be sinful. Let me give you some examples.

Someone who is a minor wants to get a tattoo and his/her parents are opposed to the child getting a tattoo. As a minor, that person is still under the commandment of honoring his/her mother and father. In this case, the act of getting a tattoo is sinful because the child is disobeying his/her parents.

Second example: a person decides to get a tattoo that is vulgar or offensive to others. This action is sinful because of the offense it brings to God and others. So while the artwork of a tattoo is not a sin, the act of getting a tattoo and the message it delivers can be sinful.

Another thing to seriously consider when getting a tattoo is not just what will it look like, but also the message behind the image or words being tattooed.

The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is that you shall have no false gods. Is there something so important in your life that you want it tattooed on your body? Is this something becoming more important than God? Many people will get a tattoo of something that is personally important to them, but is it becoming a false god?

Tattoos are a permanent mark on the body and should be taken seriously. My hope is that Catholics realize that in a sense we have all received a tattoo — invisible as it may be — when we were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation. We received a permanent mark on our soul. In my opinion, that’s the best tattoo of them all!

Q: Friends of mine lost a family member to suicide, and it’s been hard on everyone. How can I make sense of this and console the family?

A: Suicide is such a horrific experience. The suicidal person is often in such great pain that he/she is unable to see clearly or think rationally. Unfortunately, what most people who commit suicide fail to realize is all the great pain they inflict upon their loved ones by this act of committing suicide.

I have worked closely with a number of families who have faced this tragedy in their lives and it is never easy. The sorrow is beyond measure, the grief is overwhelming, the pain continues indefinitely.

As a friend, the best thing to know is that you cannot fix it, but you can be there for your friends. As time goes by, others will forget, but your friends will never forget. They will live with the pain of sorrow and grief for the rest of their lives.

One of the things you can do that will help your friends tremendously is to remember. When you speak with your friends, don’t pretend that nothing happened, be sensitive to their needs, ask how they are doing, share stories of their loved one.

It is good to remember, it helps in the healing process. On the significant dates of their loved one, such as the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday, send the family a card, give them a call or send flowers, show them support and let them know you are remembering.

The one other question that many people ask me regarding suicide is the question of salvation. Will the person who committed suicide be welcomed into heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this question for us: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).

While we as a church pray for those who have taken their own lives, we also pray for those who survive this terrible tragedy. May they be given the strength to remember and honor their loved one, while also continuing on with their own lives. We place our trust in the Lord to help us and guide us.

(Fr. Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, and St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point. Submit questions for Fr. Herda to ruscht@archmil.org.)