Jesus Had Battle Scars, Too (Review: “My Peace I Give You”)

Some things are difficult to talk about. There’s an adage that some things should never be discussed in mixed company: sex, politics, money, and religion. Well, I work in religion, and this is a Catholic blog, so brace yourselves. Now that the Church is ten years from the horror of the public revelation of the priestly sexual abuse scandal and just over a year from the beatification of the man who enlightened so many about the truth of human sexuality, Blessed John Paul II, I think we’re ready to talk about recovery. Realizing that you have a problem is only the first step. Fixing the problem can be the journey of a lifetime. Now that we know sexual abuse is part of our Church’s history, we need greater resources to deal with this tragedy. Dawn Eden has taken a significant step toward a solution in her brand-new book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

You may remember my writing about Dawn Eden in my review of her first book, The Thrill of the Chaste. In this new book, she reveals that Thrill didn’t recount quite all of her journey. First, she was on the slow track to becoming a Catholic, a future only mildly evident in Thrill. Secondly, she wasn’t yet ready to reveal that part of what led her to living unchastely was her experience of childhood sexual abuse and of growing up in what she calls “a sexually porous environment”: one where she was not shielded from experiences, sights, and conversations a child should not have. Becoming Catholic, though, and finding professional therapists and a spiritual director who saw her promiscuity as a symptom (instead of “normal” sexual behavior) helped her heal in a way nothing had before. With the help of the communion of saints, she found comfort in the knowledge that she wasn’t alone.

Remember, Christ was a healer. (image by Amos)

Throughout My Peace I Give You, Eden shares steps along the road to healing from sexual wounds. Numerous saints in the Church are recognized as “martyrs for chastity,” including my personal favorite, St. Maria Goretti. Eden shares the stories of others, however, including St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Gemma Galgani, who, although there is no evidence that they directly suffered sexual abuse, faced trials similar to those commonly experienced by victims of such atrocities. What is unique about Eden’s approach, though, is that, rather than detail her abuse or dwell on the fact that no saint has ever been proved to have been physically violated, she turns to the one perfect role model we have: Jesus Christ. If God did not even spare his only Son from suffering, it is in the suffering of that Son that we must find the key to healing. We cannot hide from the pain in our pasts, for, as Eden writes, “to ‘celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion’ [as in Eucharistic Prayer III] means to call it to mind—and calling the Passion to mind means calling to mind images of the darkest hour humanity has ever seen.” Unless we remember pain, unite ourselves with Christ, and turn to him and his faithful followers, the saints, we have only ourselves to rely on for grace—and that is futility at its finest.

Scars remind us that we have overcome pain. (photo of and by Alison Derry)

This was not the book I expected it to be. It was better. I was worried that Eden would let me too much into her life, that I would feel uncomfortable as an observer on her road to healing. She approaches this highly difficult subject with grace, however, presenting a valuable resource for victims of sexual abuse and those who care for them. As Eden notes concerning the lack of evidence for physical violation of the saints, some parts of our lives are meant to stay private, so perhaps it is better that we don’t know everything. What we do know is what every Christian knows: in Christ is our hope and our salvation. Even after literally changing the world by rising from the dead, Christ still bore the visible scars of his suffering. We, too, will bear scars, but with the help of God, we, too, can be clothed in glory.

Up next: The Church and New Media, by Brandon Vogt, featuring contributing writers Marcel LeJeune of St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A & M University, and the Diocese of Austin’s own Jennifer Fulwiler