Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The saint who shows what it means to be known, loved, and awaited by the Father

Today is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, one of the heavenly patrons featured in my upcoming book for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

Born in the Darfur region of Sudan, Bakhita was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. One of her masters insisted on having her "tattooed" in a manner that left her with more than 100 scars, which she bore throughout her life. In My Peace I Give You, I offer her as a patron for the many victims of childhood sexual abuse who suffer from the compulsion to harm themselves by cutting.

The reason I believe the abuse Bakhita endured as a slave places her in fellowship with those who commit self-harm is because the compulsion to hurt oneself is itself a kind of slavery. It is a slavery from within.

For the survivor of sexual abuse, the story of how Bakhita discovered the Father's love for her is a beautiful model for how to attain hope and healing in Christ. That is why Pope Benedict XVI cited her in Spe Salvi as an example of a saint who was—in the words of the encyclical's English title—"saved in hope."

The Pope writes of Bakhita's experience upon being introduced to Christian faith:

Here, after the terrifying "masters" who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of "master"—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name "paron" for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a "paron" above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme "Paron", before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. [Source: Spe Salvi 3]
When Bakhita was in her late teens, she gained her freedom, eventually entering the Congregation of Canossian Sisters in Venice. The photo above was taken during her religious life. Some people, upon hearing of her childhood suffering, would say, "Poor thing!" She would respond, "I'm not a poor thing because I belong to the Master, and I'm in his house. People who don’t know Our Lord—they’re the ones who are poor!"

Learn more: The source I used in My Peace I Give You for most of my information on St. Josephine Bakhita was Josephine Bakhita: The Lucky One. (That link will take you to the Catholic Truth Society's blog, which offers the book as a free PDF download.)