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November 10, 2006


a young, aspiring, somewhat inept Catholic apologist

Wow...I guess an apologist should be prepared to answer any question, even the ones that seem most obscure...


Not sinful, just very very dandy. No need to prance off to confession over this one though.



And using "esquire" in your name isn't "dandy" (not to mention pretentious)? The point of the "20" at the bottom of Jimmy's post is to remind people that he posts the personal questions in the event they might enlighten someone else besides the original questioner, and that taking swipes at the questioner is inappropriate. Do you think people want to send Jimmy personal questions, and give him permission to post the answers, if the result will be insulting remarks from the likes of you?


It's not OBSCURE if you're actually struggling with this problem. As Jimmy said, it's a lot more common among conscientious types than you may think.

Personally, I went through a painful phase of life which started with confessional scrupulosity, worrying about whether I had really made a good confession, and an inability to pray because I continually felt I needed to repeat my prayers due to inattention, and which later evolved into problems with compulsive behaviors like excessive hand-washing. It was not fun.

I took a few years to discover that I have an underlying disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and find an effective SSRI drug. Because the SSRI works so effectively, I am convinced the problem is chemical as well as behavioral. At this point I am about 90% symptom free and feel like a different person.

The experience cost me a vocation to the priesthood and many years of personal torment, nonetheless, it was an experience of grace as well. As St. Paul said, I prayed for this thorn in the flesh to be removed but He said "My grace is sufficient for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection".

Does anybody know why the link in Jimmy's post does not work?

(http://www.jimmyakin.org/ 2005/04/a_crown_of_thor.html)


Do you think people want to send Jimmy personal questions, and give him permission to post the answers, if the result will be insulting remarks from the likes of you?

I can't say for sure what ajesquire's intentions were, but what Snowman had just mentioned is quite right as far as its general context.

I just wished that there was a way for the "20" posts to be sealed off completely in order to prevent persons who may have such ill intentions from committing such an action on those posts.

Jimmy tries to help out someone in need only for somebody else to undo the charity with their openly offensive behavior.


Try this one


the young, aspiring, very inept Catholic apologist


I didn't say that this person's problem was obscure, I merely said that it SEEMED obscure. I certainly believe that it's a legitimate struggle and that this person is not the only person dealing with it (as you yourself testified). I was really referring to the seeming obscurity of the whole question of shaving body hair.

Just wanted to clear that up. :)

Dr. Eric

I agree with Esau, locking the post would prevent people from mocking the questioner and the advice given.


I agree with Esau, locking the post would prevent people from mocking the questioner and the advice given.

Thanks, Dr. Eric.

It would just be horrible that, given the gravity of that subject person's situation (as this one clearly entails), that even in spite of the help that Jimmy provides by his post (and others as well -- which may be a good thing that that particular post itself is up on the blog so that others might benefit as well), that that very person who Jimmy is attempting to help (and others likewise who may be experiencing such sensitivities), might become prey to those who would take advantage of such people, undo the charity done by Jimmy's advice, and further the downward spiral of that particular person's already seemingly dire circumstance.



I have to say Jimmy, this is truly an amazing post: awesome in accuracy, insight and charity. You are a tremendously gifted 'apologist' and Blogger!

Tim J.

"You are a tremendously gifted 'apologist' and Blogger!"

Now, THIS is how you comment on a "Rule 20" post!!


Jimmy mentioned tatoos. I've heard so many different things about Catholics getting tatoos. Everything from "its a defamation of the temple of the Holy Spirit" to "its a good evangelation tool." Is there any thing definitive on this?


Jared Weber

Someone told me that St. Paul shaved his head when he converted and changed his name from Saul to Paul. Is this true?

Dr. Eric

Are you considering a name change since you have the haircut?

I'll be joining you after I lose 30 lbs.

Just trying to be as cool as Yul!

David B.

"I'm a retrosexual (see picture top left)."

oh! so anyone who shaves his face is weird? Thanks, buddy.



Someone told me that St. Paul shaved his head when he converted and changed his name from Saul to Paul. Is this true?

Actually, didn't St. Francis (in a way) also shave his head?

There are those aesthetic depictions of him that show this in some pictures I've seen of St. Francis. Yet, I recently saw a DVD movie (link below) called "St. Anthony" that practically had every Franciscan there with that somewhat shaved head -- you know, the one where they're bald at the topmost, back portion of their head as can be seen of St. Francis himself in those same artworks mentioned (although you can't really tell from the DVD art cover since it shows only the front of their faces) -- all EXCEPT St. Francis!

I wonder how come? I can only guess that, at least in that movie, perhaps they (the Franciscans) all did this as a show of a pledge of obedience to St. Francis, their leader in Christ.

But, if anyone out there should know if St. Francis really did this himself and why, I'd appreciate it! Although, there, again, I would guess similarly that it was perhaps some show of pledged obedience to Christ by St. Francis' yet, it'd be great to know the actual facts behind this, if any.

St. Anthony-Ignatius Press DVD Movie

Jay E. Adrian

The shaved head (tonsure) has its roots in monastic practice before Francis and the mendicant orders. There were some different "styles" through the middle ages. The practice itself arose among many of the early monks, hermits, and other assorted Desert Fathers as a sign of humility, poverty, and simplicity. Shaving of the head or cutting the hair short was a sign of mourning in many ancient cultures. In cultures where the beard was worn and prized, cutting the beard was a sign of mourning as well.

Through the middle ages in Europe, the "shaven men" were clearly identified by the barbarian tribes as either clerical remnants of the Empire or monastics. The tonsure came to symbolize the clerical life, especially celibacy. This is why Calvin and certain other reformers grew beards. I think it was later in the middle ages (around the time of the Fourth Lateran, perhaps?) that the tonsure became required upon entering the clerical state. It eventually became largely symbolic until it was nothing more than a little clip of hair from the top of the head when a seminarian entered candidacy or the minor order of porter. Okay, enough rambling for now..


Jay E. Adrian:


Dr. Eric

Calvin means bald.


Jared Weber

Dr. Eric:

No name change for me. At least not yet. I was just curious about it because I've heard of several other historical figures having shaved their heads. Salvador Dali is the one who springs to mind. Of course, Dali also buried his clippings on the beach.

So ... waiting to shave 'til you drop 30 pounds? You making a run for the office of Pharoah? Or king of Siam?


Calvin means bald.

It seems someone knows their Latin! ;^)

Dr. Eric


I can't be fat AND bald!



Didn't the tonsure have a certain symbolism? IIRC, the ring of hair around the head symbolized Our Lord's crown of thorns (a tidbit I learned a very long time ago, so I hope I wasn't misinformed).

>>>Jimmy mentioned tatoos. I've heard so many different things about Catholics getting tatoos. Everything from "its a defamation of the temple of the Holy Spirit" to "its a good evangelation tool." Is there any thing definitive on this?

Coptic and Ethiopian Christians traditionally get a cross tatooed on their wrists, as a sign of their Faith. I think it is mainly the women who get them, though, and the work is done by a priest, IIRC. Tatoos are, of course, a part of African tradition, so that probably has something to do with their acceptance in that culture. They may arguably have a different significance in Western culture, though, so I could see the debate going in either direction.

In Jesu et Maria,


The idea of confessing to a priest that one shaves his chest strikes me as ludicrous, particularly when we consider what conduct some priests, and their bishop facilitators, have been engaged in lately.


Tatoos, on the other hand, strike me as mutiliation of the temple of the Holy Spirit.


The idea of confessing to a priest that one shaves his chest strikes me as ludicrous...

Have you not been paying attention to Snowman's post???

Abi in malam crucem!


My department chair at UD, Dr. Mark Lowery, has a great essay on scrupulosity in the lastest issue of This Rock. I have made copies and take them to the confessional with me!

Fr. Philip


It struck me odd that no one asked "Why shave particular parts of one's body?"

Is the questioner shaving because he is uncomfortably hirsute? That might not qualify for being compulsive or scrupulous.

I have several relatives - no, not in the zoo, but several might belong there - only kidding uncle Kamakawiwaole!!

OK, I have sweet "kine" - local word - relatives. Some of these guys have similar issues. They feel odd at the gym, or out surfing - yeah, da because cannot stay on board..)

Anyway, a bit of shaving makes them feel they stand out less... so now they feel like " regula kine" guys. (Whatever that means!! When last time you see one regula kine guy? My sista lookin' for one!)

Think about it, most of you live on the mainland (versus on a Tropical Island - read "Paradise" - OK, OK, 'nough already - let's call it Earthly Paradise)and all those ads, commercials, etc, rarely show anything but smooth bodies - no wonder some guys feel self-conscious! (We say "pupule"...)

Personally, having biked for many years - anywhere 25 to 50 miles a day -
taking a spill and having to deal with cuts, blood, grotesque peeling layers of skin and flesh wounds with ground-in pebbles, dirt, and a bit of road-kill, believe me - shaved legs or arms are much easier to clean, bind, and help to promote healing and keep infections away.

Some guys do it to please their wives, or girl friends, (sorry, is this like one kine bad word? living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on one lovely kine island, one neva know... - this is also know as rubbing da rocks in da unshaved leg wound) So, being considerate to others peculiarities could be seen as a plus++

Anyway, if you are not over obsessing about your body - shave on brother!

just goofing around

kaneohe: Does babblefish offer a translation for the dialect in which your post was written? What does "kine" mean? Dictionary.com says it's the plural of "cow," but that doesn't seem right.


One "regula kine guy" would be one "regular kind of guy".


One of the hardest things to do is to allow God to love us as is, and to trust that He is actively loving us into His idea of us. I think that is particularly hard for older Catholics who remember confessors who confirmed our worst fears about ourselves-- who then linked that to prayer as our penance! We have been tried by fire.

Sometimes our crazinesses are just temporary mind-saving efforts. I was granted a reprieve one night from extended caring for my mom dying of cancer, and emotional pain was so unrelieved, exhaustion so huge, and control of any mercy so out of my hands entirely, I just didn't want to be me for one night. But how to change that in one angry night? Well, I got plastered (I don't drink) and shaved everything but my head, and tried to pierce my ears (and sloshingly missed..ow) I got back into the yoke the next day, trusted Him with her life again, and I forgave myself that departure--that is crucial. If you can't forgive yourself some weakness or failing, you're locking into some "desires to sift you" trouble.

Under it all, I'm sure that a person suffering from scruples or whatever actually means very well, and I'm guessing wants to believe in unconditional Love, but can't. No one can do that for us, but we can ask God for anything at all. (The Lord went through all of hell itself to assure us that He understands every condition of the heart, mind, body and soul.) Pending sure if delayed epiphanies, if we meanwhile in goodwill opt and commit to loving another unconditionally, it may prove the greatest tonic unto ourselves as well.

Good luck, and hang in there.


Epidemics of head lice might be a better reason for shaving heads???
http://www.safe2use.com/pests/lice/history.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_lice#Completely_shaving_the_head (See Completely shaving the head)

And what about bikini cuts? Any Canon Law covering those? :)


"I have made copies and take them to the confessional with me!"

Father, Did you check copyright first??? :)

J.R. Stoodley

According to a priest on the EWTN Q&A site, it is a sin to alter the body in any way if not for a medical reason. This does not include hair or nails since they are not living parts of the body so they can be cut or shaved, but no tatoos (despite some unfortunate Ethiopian customs) or piercings or anything else of that nature. He compared such things to someone sketching something on the Michelangelo's Pieta. I believe I have heard that general idea from several other sources actually, so I am surprised to find Jimmy saying something different. Does anyone know of actual magisterial teaching on the matter?


Re: Tattoos

Leviticus 19:28 reads “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves, I am the Lord.” (This is from the Jewish Study Bible – Tanakh Translation)
The notes say these are two prohibitions are against extreme expressions of grief and mourning – as I recall they most probably also have to do with the biblical prohibition against spilling blood and mistreatment of the body. Unfortunately I do not have access to the Hebrew/Masoretic Codices to see what word is actually used for “incise” – this is key.

I have noticed that both the New Oxford New Revised Standard Version and the New English Revised Version use the word tattoo not incised –who is correct in their translation – the Jewish scholars or the Christian ones? What word(s)do other translations use? What is the word(s) in the original text?)

I would probably opt for the Jewish scholars, but seriously need to hear other people’s thoughts on this point of translation – for therein hangs part of the answer to the tattoo question.

Many Jews do not see tattooing as being against this law since modern tattooing does not “cut” or “incise” – today’s tattoos are nothing more than prickling the skin and injecting dye. But I have also heard some people say while tattoos are not prohibited they can bring back to mind the infamous concentration camp numbers that many were given.

While I am not Catholic, I am nevertheless interested in knowing what a definitive Catholic source has to say about tattooing. I am not so interested in someone’s opinion – tattoos are like art, some people like a painting, others don’t – it’s subjective. Living in Hawai`i tattoos are a very important part of the Polynesian culture – as it is in the Japanese and Chinese cultures - so I am not overly interested in someone’s opinion on cultural traditions, whether tattoos are art or not, etc... BUT I am interested in knowing what Sacred Scripture, Catholic Tradition, and the Magisterium have said. (Also any info on the above translation question.) Many thanks!


This does not include hair or nails since they are not living parts of the body so they can be cut or shaved

I just had the hair on my ears lasered off. It killed it to the roots (which I'd imagine are living). Is this forbidden?


I can't imagine that it would be. SOunds like a good idea to me!


I have a pretty cross tattoo on my ankle. I like it. I would never confess that as I don't believe it is a sin. When people ask, I explain that I wanted to incorporate a statement about my faith within that tattoo. Cool!


Altering one's body without medical reason (including circumcisions, tattoos and piercings) is a grave sin. Circumcision in the OT is not applicable, as the Church has always denounced circumsion for the Pauline reasons, as well as the self-mutilation aspect. It has to do with the New Covenant and the Sacraments; the same reason polygamy and divorce were OK under the Law of Moses, but not under Christ.

What about vanity?


JC, please take a look at "DA RULZ", particularly Rule 20.



>>>According to a priest on the EWTN Q&A site, it is a sin to alter the body in any way if not for a medical reason. This does not include hair or nails since they are not living parts of the body so they can be cut or shaved, but no tatoos (despite some unfortunate Ethiopian customs) or piercings or anything else of that nature.

Would that include pierced ears?

Does the priest give a source for that, by any chance? It's frustrating to not have an official Church document or moral theology treatise to refer someone to when they ask this kind of question - and it has come up frequently on quite a few Catholic forums.

In Jesu et Maria,


JR Stoodley,

Whoops - if ear piercing is a sin, I'm in trouble! Can you tell me which priest this is, and give me a reference?





The following Bible verses indicate that piercing of the ears, even the nose (!), were common and acceptable in Ancient Israel:

Genesis 24:22, Exodus 21:5-6, 32:2-3, Deuteronomy 15:16-17, Proverbs 25:12, Isaias 3:20-21, Ezechiel 16:12

(I won't post them for brevity's sake; you'll just have to look them up for yourself here: http://www.drbo.org/)

Granted, just because the Israelites did something doesn't necessarily mean the Church approves of it. Yet I never remember reading a prohibition against pierced ears in any Catholic book or website.

Also, as far as all non-medicinal mutilation being a sin, what about self-flagellation and other extreme forms of mortification? True, the Church doesn't greatly encourage them today, but many of the saints of old engaged in it big time. Did St. Rose of Lima commit the sin of mutilation when she rubbed red pepper into her face until it was disfigured? Was it sinful for St. John Neumann to use the discipline (a scourge made of knotted cord)? I don't remember the Church ever criticizing them for that.

Now, I've been searching online for any solid information about the Church's official stance on tattoos, piercings and such. So far I've come up with nothing solid, but I've found a few claims which I'm wondering if anyone here can further substantiate.

On this page we read:

It is documented that a monk who lived in the late fifth century had a tattoo on his thigh that read: "Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ."

Procopius of Caesarea, who lived during the first half of the sixth century and wrote number of official histories, once reported that many Christians were tattooed, on their arms, with a cross or the name of Christ....

At the council of Calcuth in Northumberland, the 786 Report of the Papal Legates mentioned two types of tattooing: one of pagan superstition, which doesn't aid any Christian, and another for the sake of God, which provides certain (unnamed) rewards.

Crusaders, arriving in the Holy Land, often tattooed a small cross on their hands or arms as a sign that they desired a Christian burial.

Anyone know where we can find out more about the "Council of Calcuth" (evidently a local synod) claim? Are the documents available anywhere? Also, is it true about the Crusaders getting tattoos?

Other sources say that Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem would get tattoos to commemorate their visit to the Holy City. This may be true, for all I know, though I noticed that much of this info comes from pro-tattoo sites (often Evangelical Christian ones) so I must wonder how much it might be slanted. They do tend to play fast with some Scripture texts (I really don't think Galatians 6:17 shows that St. Paul had tattoos!). That's why I'm asking for more corroborating evidence, if possible.

FWIW, neither I nor my husband have tattoos and only my ears are pierced (though I rarely wear earrings anyway). I personally find most of that "body modification" stuff repulsive - except for very mild things like pierced ears (for women - not men!). Of course, those are my personal preferences, which may very well be more strict than what the Church permits, for all I know.

In Jesu et Maria,



Thanks for the posting - I've had my ears pierced since I was 8, so...I hadn't heard that about tattoos and the Crusaders, but it makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. For me it boils down to a concern with vanity - how much $$$ do I spend on cosmetic stuff, whether permanent (like a tattoo) or transient (shampoo, for example). So, I do wear earrings, for example, but I only have a couple pairs, and hopefully will keep them forever.

I do have a tendency towards scrupulosity though, so take my 2 cents with a grain of salt.

Jimmy, as always, a thoughtful answer.

JR, I'd still be interested in knowing who said it on EWTN though.



Years ago, a man wrote to "Dear Ann Landers," stating that he shaved his chest because he was more comfortable and cooler in the summer, and he wanted to know what Dear Ann Landers thought about it. Ann Landers replied that she saw nothing wrong with a man shaving his chest because he wanted to be more comfortable and cooler. However, a man who shaved his chest, and then wrote to "Dear Ann Landers" to ask her opinion about, . . . that was a different matter! I think confessing this to a priest falls in the same category!


Do not be overly concerned about what a single priest says about anything. You can find a priest to support anything, and I mean anything.

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