By the time I was thirty-one, when I received the gift of faith in Christ, I understood more clearly how the Lord's words in Matthew's gospel referred to spiritual and not literal childhood. A few years after that, as my faith drew me into the Catholic Church, I discovered that the Catechism links this spiritual childhood with being "born from above" (Jn 3:7)—the new life of grace that begins with baptism.

Learning about the ongoing aid that grace provides in the moral life was encouraging, helping me be patient with myself as I began to "walk the walk" of a faithful Christian. As time went by, however, my initial confidence began to erode. My greatest desire was to have the blessing Jesus promises to the "pure in heart, . . . for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Yet, even when I was doing everything I could to live in purity, I was unable to feel pure. I felt stained—because of what adults had done to me, or had bid me do, when I was a helpless child.

On an intellectual level, I knew there was nothing for me to be ashamed of. No child is responsible for what an adult does to her, or induces her to do. The sin of abuse belongs to the abusers, not their victims. Children depend on adults and have to trust them in order to survive. It is adults' responsibility to show children what is good, and it is in children's very nature to accept what adults call "good" as being truly good. One cannot speak of "consent" in such an unequal relationship.

As I began to read more about what Christians believe, I found that the Church Fathers and Doctors ("Doctor" being a title given to saints of the highest wisdom) said many powerful things in defense of victims of sexual abuse. St. Augustine, writing about the virgin martyrs of the early Church, lashed out at pagans who claimed that virgins who had been raped were no longer virgins: "What sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity?"

Although I was aware of these things, try as I might I was unable to internalize the knowledge that I was innocent of what had been done to me. Instead, I felt like there was a black mark on my childhood, a blotch of indelible ink. The more I tried to cover up this feeling by repressing the bad memories, the more the pain, loss, and shame threatened to seep into every corner of my adult life.

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After I entered the Catholic Church in 2006, my journey toward healing began in earnest. I learned an ancient prayer that opened me up to a new understanding of the workings of grace. It is called the Anima Christi ("Soul of Christ") and begins with these words:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee . . .

Do you notice how the prayer's perspective shifts? It goes from asking Christ to be within you to asking that you may be within him. More than that, where in Christ are you asking to be sheltered? Within his wounds.

Until I began to reflect upon that prayer, my faith life was entangled in a forest of questions: How could I believe in God's protective love, when my own family failed to protect me? How could I be a child to God when I never had a real childhood? How could I be pure when I never knew purity?