My colleague Mary Pezzulo routinely writes posts of galvanizing courage. She is not afraid to step over the invisible line of what women may say, what we may talk about, without being accused of being failed Christians.
One of the things that women are tacitly pushed to overlook is attacks on the dignity and humanity of women themselves. We’re not supposed to talk about sexual assault and rape, and if we do, we’ll be labeled “feminist” as if feminist was a dirty word.
Mary raised one of the most ignored issues in Christendom, a crime against the humanity of many of God’s people that our religious leaders have expunged from our corporate memory. We are not allowed to say the plain truth that many of the female early martyrs, as well as a number of the men, were raped as part of their torture and punishment for following Christ. No one I have ever encountered has shown the daring that Mary Pezzulo did when she raised the simple question: Did Jesus suffer sexual assault during His passion?
She points out one thing that is obvious. Much of the degradation that He suffered — being stripped naked and beaten naked, hung on a cross and murdered naked — were indeed forms of sexual assault. Sexual assault is about degrading another person, stripping them of their humanity at their sexual core and using them as an object for your sadistic pleasure.
It was gratifying to the hate-filled priests when they journeyed to Calvary to stand before the cross and mock Jesus as He hung there, broken and naked, in front of them. It gave them pleasure to look at Him, they reveled publicly in His humiliation.
The Cross was and is a scandal. It is God, broken absolutely. It is Our Lord reduced to victimhood. Jesus was, during His Passion, the opposite of Godlike. He was the most despised form of human — a plaything of the sadists among us.
Did those sadists rape Jesus with the butt of their whips? Did they rape Him with their own bodies?
If you pull back from this thought in horror, you are not alone. Rape is utter degradation; degradation that goes deeper and does more damage than any flogging or beating possibly can.
The idea that Jesus — God Himself — suffered this degradation appalls us and this appalled reaction strips away the lies we tell rape victims. When we tell them that what was done to them was a little thing, that they should “get over it,” that it’s ok if we put men who do these things in powerful positions and bow down before them, because, after all, it’s just sex, we are lying. The horror we feel when someone raises the specter of this happening to Jesus reveals this lie in all its stark indifference.
The minute you raise the horrible specter that Jesus was raped, all those bullying and dismissive lies fall to dust. Rape is so horrible that the Church has covered up and hidden the reality of what has happened to so many of its saints during their own passions. Rape negates the humanity of human beings. That is its purpose.
It has nothing to do with sex, although the rapist does enjoy doing it. But the pleasure of rape is like the pleasure of murder. It is all about satan working through people to attack and defile the Image of God in which we are made. Rape is an attack on the fact that every human being is made in the Image and Likeness of the Living God. It slashes maternity at its core. It is an attack on the life force that is in each and every one of us. It is, in this way, a direct and terrible attack on Our Lady and her dignity as the Mother of God.
Rape is so terrible that we lie about it having happened. It degrades so horribly that most victims crawl away like wounded animals and try to heal themselves with silence, covering up and forgetting.
We live in a rape culture. That is obvious. Our president, who so many Christians have made into a false idol, is a serial sexual predator. His presumptive Democratic challenger stands accused of sexual assault, as well. We put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court largely because so many Christians supported doing this.
If that’s not a rape culture, what is?
We live in a rape culture, and the failure of Christians to be Christ in this world is the reason why. Christians make up 70% of the people of this country. If we did not tolerate rape and support rapists, if our religious leaders taught the truth of what a terrible sin rape is instead of supporting rapists and attacking their victims, we would not live in the culture we have today.
Jesus suffered the last extremities of degradation and torture. Torturers almost always rape the ones they are torturing. It is a way of breaking people down and removing their sense of self from them, of shattering them utterly. The Roman soldiers were there to break Jesus. They were, in that moment, the instruments of satan. It was satan’s hour, satan’s revenge on God for casting him out of heaven.
The scandal of the cross is that our God hung there stripped of every god-like attribute. All those who had followed Him because of His miracles and ability to stand up to the Pharisees ran away that day. Everyone who had followed Him to get something for themselves left Him.
The only ones left, the ones who stood there at the foot of that cross and who stayed with him all that terrible day, were those who cared about him the person he was when he was wholly human. Of course his mother was there, and Mary Magdalene and his aunts. Of the disciples, only John cared enough to be there.
Jesus was God, reduced to us. He was wholly human; degraded, humiliated, tortured, assaulted, condemned, helpless and in agony. There was nothing of Christ Incarnate, of the throne of heaven, on Calvary that day. There was only broken, beaten, tortured, helpless, suffering, pitiful humanity.
Our God knows what it is like to be human. He understands the sorrows we endure because He has endured them Himself.
Jesus is our Brother God Who walks beside us all the long way to our own personal Calvarys. We do not have the right — none of us has the right — to shunt aside the smallest and weakest among us. The unborn child, the rape victim, the elderly, the poor and the immigrant in a cage on the border: We do not have the right to dismiss any of them.
We don’t get to chose one suffering person over another one. We can’t say that making abortion illegal justifies exalting rapists. We are not allowed to tell the elderly or those with other health problems that it’s ok for them to die of a plague to save our money or to excuse our false god politician. We can’t accuse children in cages of breaking our laws and excuse ourselves for putting them in the cages.
Because they are all Christ crucified. They are hanging there with Him, on that cross, right now, on this Good Friday.
If we do harm to them, we are the soldiers, beating the Lord. If we mock them, we are the Pharisees, standing in front of the cross, mocking Him. If we ignore them, we are all those who ran away, who deserted Him in His Hour.
Pray and fast this Good Friday. Remember who you really are in this drama. Consider the truth of what you do and who you are following in this time. Ask God to forgive us, forgive us all, for what we have done and are doing.
We’re not the ones standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother.
We’re everyone else.