On this All Saints Day, in honor of the late Barbara Curtis, I am republishing (and slightly tweaking) an entry I wrote last Lent on my personal blog, The Dawn Patrol, that was a favorite of Barbara’s:
A young television actress who writes and directs her own work recently told an interviewer why she has chosen to put herself in nude scenes.
“To feel some kind of ownership of your own body,” she said, “the way getting tattoos does.”
I don’t know details of this woman’s personal background beyond what she has chosen to share, so I can’t say the extent to which her artistic oeuvre—in which she creates for herself characters who are treated as sexual objects—may reflect events in her own life (as she suggests it does). In any case, she seems to be sincere; what is more, there are women, or at least young female television reviewers, who think she in some way speaks for them.
So I think it is very, very sad that she believes her body is something to be “owned” as one owns a slave—displaying it tattooed and naked.
In my new book of Catholic spirituality for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, one of the stories I tell is that of St. Josephine Bakhita. The Sudanese-born saint knew what it was like to be “tattooed” at the will of her slavemaster—not with ink, but by patterns cut into her body. Having been bought and sold five times during her childhood and teens, she must have also known what it was like to be paraded naked before strangers.
For St. Josephine, who discovered the love of Christ and, obtaining release from slavery, became a Canossian Sister, freedom did not mean the freedom to put new marks on herself. It meant the freedom to offer herself with all the scars she bore, emotional and physical, as an acceptable sacrifice to her loving Father. In the same way, freedom for Bakhita did not mean the freedom to disrobe in front of strangers. It meant the freedom to be robed in a habit, making herself present in love for her religious sisters and for all those that it was given to her to meet, as a member of the family of God.
Perhaps most of all, freedom for Bakhita did not mean to “own” her body. It meant the freedom to belong, body and soul, to her true Master in heaven, being incorporated through baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ.
Pope Benedict writes of Bakhita’s experience upon being introduced to Christian faith by the Canossian Sisters that she would come to join:
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. [Spe Salvi 3]
I invite you to join me this All Saints Day in asking the saints to pray with us for those who are bound with invisible chains, whether the chains be from their own sins or from the traumatic effects of sins that were committed against them, that they may find the freedom Bakhita found—in the open arms of their loving Father.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”—1 Corinthians 6:19-20