St. Mark Ji Tianxiang

The opium epidemic in China, spurred on by British trade, plagued the country for over 100 years, leading to countless lives ruined or outright lost, and two actual wars. But amidst that, St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, an addict for 30 years of his life, found a way to love God deeply despite being denied Eucharist due to his addiction.

Lifetime: 1834 to 1900
Region: Hengshui, Hebei, China
Patronages: Drug addicts
Iconograpy: Opium pipe; Long mustache; Palm of martyrdom
Feast Day: June 9

Before he became addicted to opium, Mark Ji was a doctor. Born to a Christian family and raised Christian himself, he wanted to help where he could, and even treated poor people in his clinic for free. Sadly, when Mark Ji was in his mid 30s, he contracted a serious illness, and prescribed himself opium as a treatment. At the time, the effects of opium were not yet known, and it was a common medicine for many illnesses. As was the case for many, he became addicted to the drug.

Through the rest of his life, Mark Ji would battle with that addiction. Addiction, especially of habit-forming drugs like opium, was not well understood and considered a grave sin and a scandal. As such, though Mark Ji prayed constantly, went to Mass regularly, and went to confession often, he was denied Eucharist because his confessor believed that his frequent return to drug use showed that he wasn't appropriately penitent.

For many, that would be a burden to great to overcome in their faith, but Mark Ji only increased his holiness, praying even more. He prayed for deliverance from his addiction, and when that wouldn't come, he prayed to be martyred. Because he didn't believe he could be forgiven for his drug use, martyrdom seemed his only route to heaven.

His prayer would eventually come true.

After 30 years of addiction and denial of the Sacrament, the Boxer rebellion started in China. A group of nationalists began slaughtering Christian missionaries and even Chinese Christians in an effort to root out foreign influence. Mark Ji, his son, and eight of his grandchildren were among those captured by the Boxers.

The Boxers gave their victims a chance to recant their faith to save their lives. Anyone who refused was beheaded. Mark Ji, when offered his chance to deny his faith, instead begged his executioners to kill him last, so his relatives wouldn't have to die alone. After his nine relatives were killed in front of him, Mark Ji sang the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary until his own head was severed.

Mark Ji is an amazing example of staying faithful even when the church itself isn't there to console you. Over the last year of coronavirus, many of us have had to go without Eucharist longer than ever before. While the spiritual power of the Eucharist is mighty indeed, it is not the only way God can work in our lives, and Mark Ji is a model of how there is redemption for all of us, even when it seems hopeless, as long as we can persevere in our faith despite our brokenness.

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