When you think of a Saint of the Church what comes to mind? Perhaps the Holy Apostles, the first messengers of the Good News? Perhaps some of the Doctors of the Church, like Aquinas or Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, or the Little Flower, St. Therese de Lisieux? Or perhaps your mind goes to some of those most pious of more recent times, like St. Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Calcutta, or St. John Paul II? Had you ever even considered that someone who might be afflicted with the disease of addiction, might himself be considered a holy and most worthy Saint? If you hadn’t, then this is an opportunity to introduce you to St. Mark Ji Tianxiang.
St Mark, or Ji, as he is often called, was a devout Catholic and a medical doctor, born in 1834 in what is now Hebei, China. It is thought that he contracted some sort of malady that attacked his stomach, and he began self-treatment using opium. He quickly became addicted to the drug, which became his lifelong struggle. Still, Ji maintained his very strong faith, regularly receiving the sacraments, spending time in prayer, and attending daily mass. At a certain point, his parish priest denied Ji the sacraments, thinking that he must have been of little moral strength, not being able to ‘just stop’ his opium use. For 30 years, Ji was denied the sacraments, yet he remained faithful and continued to attend daily mass. After 30 years he was once again permitted to partake in the Holy Eucharist and in Reconciliation.
Ji was one of the many Christians killed during the Boxer Rebellion in July of 1900. Rebels, protesting Western Imperialism, considered Christianity a distinctly Western religion, and so the “Boxers,” rebels largely trained in Chinese martial arts, or “Chinese boxing,” killed nearly 32,000 Chinese Christians and 200 Western Missionaries in northern China. Ji insisted that he be the last among his group killed so that he could provide spiritual consolation to each of them as they were beheaded. Ji was beheaded for refusing to refute his Christianity on July 7th, 1900.
In 1946, Pope Pius XII beatified Ji and 120 other Chinese martyrs. He was canonized on October 1st, 2000, by St. John Paul II, then the Holy Father.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, you, like St. Paul, understood what it was like to be tortured by a compulsion to do something you didn’t want to do. Help us to overcome our attachments in our lives so as to worship God with as much devotion as you did. St. Mark Ji, pray for us!