Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Benedict's "theology of saints" offers a way to spiritual healing for abuse victims

From my column yesterday for Catholic News Agency, a hint of the theology behind my upcoming book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints:

Pope Benedict, speaking of how the Church should address the suffering caused by clergy abuse, emphasizes the need to promote “hope born of God’s love and fidelity”; such hope brings us "the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior." To make that vision present, he often draws from the saints’ experiences, most powerfully in his encyclical Spe Salvi, "Saved in Hope," where he writes, "The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope."

Benedict in Spe Salvi focuses upon St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) as a saint of our time who can "help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time." His selection of Bakhita as a model is significant. The story of the Sudanese-born woman, who was kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery, and forced to undergo brutal "tattoos" that left her with 144 scars, resonates deeply with victims of childhood sexual abuse.

But the greatest sufferings of abuse victims are not physical, nor even psychological. They are spiritual, and it is Bakhita's spiritual journey that the Holy Father brings to the fore.

The trauma of Bakhita's kidnapping was so great that, upon being ordered by her captors to call herself by the slave name "Bakhita," she forgot her own name, the one her parents gave her. Her experience of loss of identity, and with it the loss of an understanding of her human dignity, represents beyond all else the spiritual crisis of the abused child. The process of healing for all of us begins, as it did for Bakhita, with finding our identity in Christ. [Read the full story.]