by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Several weeks ago, I had been invited to Mundelein Seminary in Chicago to preside at the liturgy for the installation of lectors, one of the steps a man takes in his advancement toward priestly ordination. The Eucharist was followed by a festive dinner with faculty, seminarians, their families and friends.
After the dinner, a woman introduced herself to me as one of the lay graduate theology students who is studying for a pontifical degree at St. Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein. As she was describing her background, I realized that I had just heard her interviewed a week before on Catholic Radio.
Her name is Dawn Eden. She is a convert to Catholicism from Judaism. She wrote a book entitled: “The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.”
In her book, Dawn reveals that she was wounded emotionally both by the divorce of her parents while she was a young child and by being a victim of childhood sexual abuse. She responded to these early traumas by living a sexually promiscuous life as a young adult.
Through God’s providence, Dawn converted from being an agnostic Jew to becoming first a Christian and subsequently a Catholic. Dawn was a journalist, who for a good part of her career covered the rock music world — an environment where living chastely was not perceived as possible, much less desirable.
Her book not only provides practical and helpful suggestions on how to cultivate chastity in a hostile culture, but helps readers appreciate the beauty of this virtue and how essential it is for happiness in this world.
As a convert, Dawn experienced the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist with fresh eyes. Her love for these sacraments can help stir within “cradle Catholics” a renewed awe for these incredible spiritual gifts. I encourage every member of the archdiocese, if at all possible, to attend the Easter Vigil, in part to give prayerful support and encouragement to those entering the church, but also to be inspired by their joyful enthusiasm for baptism and the Eucharist.
Dawn has authored a second book, entitled “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.” In this book, Dawn describes the great comfort and support she experienced from the communion of saints in her efforts to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse.
Dawn found great spiritual friends in such diverse saints as Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, Josephine Bakhita, Gemma Galgani, Sebastian, Thérèse of Lisieux, Laura Vicuna, Maria Goretti, Dorothy Day, Margaret of Castello, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas and Karolina Kozka. In reading “My Peace I Give You,” you will become acquainted with some saints with whom you are probably not familiar and discover a new slant on saints who may be old friends.
In the forward, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life describes the book as a vehicle for victims to find an alternative to self-loathing. Mother Mary Agnes states: “‘My Peace I Give You’ is an inspired work that provides a map toward the integrated healing of the mind, body, emotions and soul of those who have suffered the shattering effects of sexual abuse, either directly or indirectly.”
One of the great tragedies that our church has been compelled to face in our time is the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. During this Holy Week, I will be praying especially for the healing of anyone who has been sexually abused and, in particular, those abused by someone representing our church. Sexual abuse by a member of the clergy is doubly tragic because it often creates an obstacle for victims to approach God or the church, the best sources for healing.
One of the graces resulting from the sexual abuse crisis is the safety and prevention programs that are now in place within the church. The church should be the safest place for all children. It should also be the place where you can turn to find help with healing from sexual abuse or any other comparable trauma.
Sadly, most sexual abuse happens within families. This has become even more pronounced with the general breakdown of family life within our culture. “My Peace I Give You” relates one person’s healing journey and how it was facilitated by some of the spiritual resources that are part of our Catholic faith.
One of the saints that helped Dawn was Blessed Laura Vicuna, who was born in Chile and spent most of her brief life in Argentina. Laura’s father died when she was only 2. Laura’s mother Mercedes, in large part because of her desperation to provide for Laura and her sister, became the live-in mistress of a wealthy, powerful and abusive rancher, Manuel Mora.
Laura developed a deep devotion for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Sensitive to her mother’s spiritual jeopardy because of her lifestyle, Laura shared with her spiritual director that she wanted to offer her life for the conversion of her mother.
Laura had to resist the unwanted sexual advances of her mother’s abusive “lover.” Laura died at the young age of 12. On her deathbed, she forgave Manuel Mora for his cruelty to her and her family and successfully implored her mother to reform her life. After reflecting on the beauty and meaning of Laura Vicuna’s life, Dawn gives the following reflection on one small element of the Easter Vigil liturgy:
“At the Easter Vigil Mass, before the paschal candle is lit, the priest embeds five grains of incense into the candle in the form of a cross, symbolizing the wounds of Christ. As he sinks the grains into the wax, [the priest] says, ‘By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us.’ Only after these wounds are called to memory does the light of the resurrected Christ, symbolized by the ignited candle, shine forth and spread its glow to every candle in the church.”
May all of us receive healing through the wounds of Jesus and may his light shine ever more brightly through our lives!