On the Canonization of Anna Kolaserova and the concept of a “martyr for purity”

On the Canonization of Anna Kolaserova and the concept of a “martyr for purity” June 19, 2019

News item from last summer that just washed up in my feed:

OXFORD, England – A 16-year-old peasant girl will be beatified as a martyr in Slovakia, seven decades after she was shot in front of her family for resisting rape by a drunken Soviet soldier.

Anna Kolaserova “embodies the faithful layperson living in their family, regularly receiving sacraments, praying the rosary and approaching God through good works. Her heroic testimony, drawn from a sincere spiritual life, is something every Catholic and believer can aspire to,” Archbishop Bernard Bober of Kosice, Slovakia, told Catholic News Service Aug. 21.

He said honoring Kolaserova, whose “reputation for holiness” had inspired young Slovaks, would give the local church a unique chance for spiritual growth.

“The story of 16-year-old Anna Kolesarova offers a strong message, of course, for the younger generation,” he said.

“Celebrating the divine grace which was present in her life will enable us to gather the faithful, but also to reach the wider civil society,” Bober said. “Her story provides a spiritual response to today’s nostalgia for purity. It’s a message not confined to the younger generation, but one to move all faithful people.”

“Servants of God who gave their lives for Christ in modern Slovak history were the victims of a totalitarian communist regime which suppressed religious freedom, and this will be the first layperson declared blessed,” he added.

Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, was to beatify Kolaserova in Kosice Sept. 1. At least 30,000 Catholics are expected to attend the beatification in Lokomotiva Stadium.

First things first: I’m glad they canonized her.  She sounds like a gutsy and good young lady and I love that the Church honors her bravery, her smarts, and her fierce resistance to the vile swine who murdered her.  I also love that she is the symbol of Slovakian resistance to Soviet domination.  She is a fitting symbol for that and I pray she is honored for centuries to come as a sign of the conquering power of the Holy Spirit over a regime ruled by a man who famous sneered “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

Answer, Mr. Stalin?:  Twelve legions of angels at the very least, according to our Lord, who beat your whole empire of blood with a couple of pieces of wood and a handful of nails.

However, I do have one suggestion to whoever handles future canonizations of women threatened by rape:  Stop calling women who resist rape martyrs to purity. A rape victim is not impure. Her rapist is impure. Call that them what they are: martyrs for the human dignity of women.

Similar language was used to describe St. Maria Goretti. Just as with Anna, there was a political and spiritual backdrop to her canonization.  Saints are made saints because they symbolize something to us.  They are intended as signs for us.  Just as St. Anna is a sign to Slovakians of the triumph of the Spirit over Soviet brutality, so St. Maria was canonized not only because of her holiness, but as a sort of consolation to women raped in wartime. It was well-meaning (as such things always are) but the whole concept of a “martyr to purity” springs from a culture and age which assumed that rape was somehow “defiling” to the victim.

One of the real developments that has permanently altered that distinctly premodern way of seeing rape is the recognition that what is defiling is the assault on the dignity of the victim, not the mere fact that a hymen has been broken. In other words, what defiles is the evil committed by the victimizer. The victim is not therefore rendered “impure” by rape and it sends an excruciating message to the victim to tell her she is. It is the victimizer and him only who is defiled, precisely because he has made an innocent–who remains absolutely innocent–into a victim.

It’s astonishing it has taken civilization this long to work that out. But thank God it finally is starting to.

For more thought on this, I highly recommend Simcha Fisher’s fine essay from a few years back on St. Maria Goretti.

Sts. Maria Goretti and Anna Kolaserova, pray for all victims of assault–and for their assailants that they repent and be saved through Christ our Lord.

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