Purchased at a price

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

  • RSVS

    I just finished your Peace book; it was REALLY good. At the end chapter you are seeking a cannonized saint that was raped, I assumed Maria Goretti, Joan of Arc and Bakhita were?

    • Dawn Eden

      RSVS, so happy you liked My Peace I Give You!

      Regarding your question, Maria Goretti, Joan of Arc, and Josephine Bakhita were all victims of some form of sexual assault. (I am avoiding details so as not to hit upon anything that might be a trigger for readers sensitive to descriptions of trauma.) I believe what you are referring to is the part of chapter 8 where I talk about contacting an investigator from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to find out if there was a canonized saint who was violated. Although any sexual assault is a kind of violation, what I was specifically seeking was a saint who was violated through forced intercourse (i.e. rape), which Maria, Joan, and Bakhita did not suffer.

      The reason I asked that question of the Vatican investigator was because I felt that, if readers knew there was a saint who had been raped (and not only attempted rape, as with Maria Goretti), it would help clear up misunderstandings that have arisen. The stories of virgin martyrs such as Goretti–that is, saints who died resisting rape–are often presented in popular literature in such a way as to imply that, if they had been violated, they would not have been saints. But the true Catholic teaching, as has come down to us from Augustine and Aquinas, is far more sensitive to rape victims, as I explain in My Peace I Give You and in the interview I did for CNA.