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How the Saints Healed Me
Those questions seemed pressing and deep, but in reality they were dead ends, keeping me confined in the solitude of self. The Anima Christi's intense symbolism inspired me to ask questions that would lead me out of that prison—questions like, How can Christ's Passion strengthen me? What does it mean to have him live in me, and for me to live in him? But by far the most important question to emerge from reflecting upon that prayer was, How can Jesus' wounds draw me closer to him? The answer, unfolding gradually over the course of the next few years, would change the way I understood my own wounds.
The disciples were convinced of the Resurrection only when Christ showed them his wounded hands, feet, and—for the doubting Thomas—his side.
In paintings of the risen Christ, the Sacred Heart is often depicted aflame with fiery rays. We see this most dramatically in the Divine Mercy image, based on St. Faustina Kowalska's vision, in which Jesus' heart shines forth brilliant streams of white and red light. I picture Jesus' wounds as they appear in those images, radiating grace—a "glowing furnace" of love, as one prayer puts it. When praying, "Within your wounds, hide me," I am asking to be hidden in those wounds, which are now glorified. I want to be surrounded and protected by their overflowing graces, the healing rays that extend to the ends of the earth.
Over time, as that image of the loving and merciful light streaming from Jesus' wounds deepened its hold on my consciousness, I began to re-examine the times in my past when I had doubted God's mercy. That in turn led to a conversation with God that I had been putting off for a long time—asking how I could embody his mercy toward those I found hardest to forgive.
New Catholics are eager to read stories about the saints, and I was no exception. But when I delved into the lives of those who had suffered the most—the early Roman martyrs—it gave me a bad case of TMI: Too Much Information. The ancient authors' graphic descriptions of torture were more than I could handle.
That same discomfort surfaces when I read about people who suffered childhood abuse—even when I know their stories have a happy ending. In fact, because my own experiences have left me with post-traumatic stress disorder, I have to be cautious about my media consumption, as certain emotional triggers can cause me to flash back to the abuse. Knowing this makes me very sensitive to others who likewise, although wanting to know they are not alone in their experience, do not wish to relive their trauma. So, as I share in this book about my own journey and those of the saints, I will be careful to avoid details beyond those needed to make the stories meaningful and real.
There are some topics that will not be shared here, not because they are unimportant, but because they are beyond my field of expertise. For example, this book is not intended for those who are currently in a sexually abusive relationship or need advice on bringing an abuser to justice, although some of the organizations listed among the resources at the back of this book may be helpful.
In addition, although I share my fellow Catholics' grief and anger over those who have betrayed their sacred office, I will not focus on the scandal of abuse committed by clergy. The reason for this is not out of any desire to diminish the very real and often devastating experiences of those who have suffered such abuse. I fervently hope this book will help them and those who minister to them. However, I am taking a more general perspective, based on my personal experience as part of a large population whose needs are not currently being met. By far the largest category of childhood sexual-abuse perpetrators are family members, who are responsible for about one-third to one half of cases. After that (in descending order) come family friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers; only a small percentage of cases are committed by clergy. Given how many American adults report having been sexually abused as children—about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men, according to the Centers for Disease Control—such painful memories afflict at least one person in every pew in every parish. If you are among those victims, I want you to know you are not alone, you are not forgotten, and you have more friends in heaven than you realize.