Mark Wahlberg’s rap sheet is nearly as long as his movie repertoire. And that is what makes his journey to faith—and his behaviour since—so intriguing. In fact, you may even say it shows that no-one is exempt from grace.
Before his days starring in blockbuster movies like The Departed and as ’90s heart-throb Marky Mark (of New Kids on the Block fame), Wahlberg’s life was anything but glamorous.
He grew up in the street gangs of Dorchester, Massachusetts and was introduced to drugs and alcohol by the time he was 10. His life took a turn when he landed in jail after a drug and racially driven incident as a 16-year-old.
Charged with attempted murder, and pleading guilty to assault, Wahlberg went on to spend 45 days in Boston’s Deer Island House of Correction—the place where he turned to God.
“There’s nothing scarier than being 16 years old, hearing the jailhouse door close behind you, and knowing that you’re not going to leave. I’d brought it on myself.” he told The Catholic Herald.
“My parents were Catholic but not devoutly so, and once I’d started venturing out on to the street that wasn’t important to me at all. But, of course, once you get into trouble, you start praying! ‘Oh, my God, just get me out of here, and I swear I’ll never do it again!’”
As soon as the teen was released, he visited his parish priest Reverend James Flavin, who has since conducted the actor’s wedding and baptised his children. Wahlberg left behind his life as a gang member and began his journey to sobriety.
It would be very Hollywood-esque to say Wahlberg has been on salvation’s straight path ever since, but his journey to the devout Catholic family man we know today took a few turns.
He became the famous ‘body’ of Calvin Klein, starred in the ’90s cult hit Boogie Nights, and was known for many years as a ladies’ man; none of which seemed to call back to the conversion experience of his youth.
And as Marky Mark, Wahlberg was equally known for his toe-tapping raps as he was for his crude, racist, violent behaviour. He never returned to jail, but picked up numerous convictions as a young man. This has caused many people to question the reputation of the actor, who has since sought forgiveness for his actions, particularly from the man he harmed as a teenager.
“I did a lot of things that I regretted and I certainly paid for my mistakes,” he told ABC News. “You have to go and ask for forgiveness and it wasn’t until I really started doing good and doing right, by other people as well as myself, that I really started to feel that guilt go away.”
The beauty of grace is that every day is a chance for us to start again, and that is why Wahlberg begins every day in prayer. In fact, he built a chapel in his house so he can spend time with the Scriptures before he wakes his children.
As a successful businessman, producer, actor and charity mogul, Mark Wahlberg is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars—but to brush over his troubled past does a disservice to the faith he professes and the people he harmed.
In Mark chapter 2 verse 17, Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark Wahlberg is living proof that no-one is too far from God’s grace. And even when we fall short and make mistakes—even the most heinous ones—God is beckoning us back to his side, teaching us to live in love and truth again.