Besides heaven itself, what greater gift could there be than a child? And what greater responsibility could there be than raising a child? As a Catholic I believe God knows us individually, and has created us according to His purpose. I often pray this simple prayer for my children and family: “Dear Jesus, help us to become who we are in you.” Not only is Jesus, the risen Christ, our model of behavior and goodness, but to become fully who we are in Him, completes God’s unique design for each of us.
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away, it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). The term “millstone” is mentioned several times in Scripture. Very heavy and hard, it was used to grind grain for bread in each town or village, and was a well-known site. There could be no mistaking this dramatic usage of the word.
My wife and I have had the wonderful blessing of being procreators with God and raising four children. We have experienced great joy in helping them mature into adults. Thankfully none of them have experienced abuse. They do not know what it is to lose trust in those you love and respect most. They have not felt the pain, afflictions, and psychological scars of sexual abuse.
Have you been affected by abuse? What about your child? There have been thousands of abuses documented by authorities worldwide. With most survivors not even coming forward, this means there are actually millions of people worldwide carrying these hidden wounds.
Child sexual abuse is an abomination against, and disrespect of, God himself. As Alaska’s bishops stated February 2018 in “Living in the Image and Likeness of God: Human Dignity and Divine Designs”
“Human life is sacred precisely because its origin is from God, is sustained by God, and is ordered to return to God. This biblical understanding is the basis for the Church’s teaching that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred and holds an inherent dignity that must be protected.”
But what if a child’s life is not respected and protected? What pain, wounds, and scars are endured? Initially a child feels fear, of course, that if they tell, something bad will happen: They will be punished, blamed, or abandoned. They feel powerless because they have no control over their own lives and bodies. They feel “dirty,” riddled with guilt and shame, as if they are responsible for the shameful act. They feel isolated and different from other children, and even their own parents and siblings. They feel betrayed because someone who should have been loving, trustworthy, and safe instead violated their heart, mind, and body.
Children often feel great anger toward those who have violated them, as well as anger toward the parents and caregivers who did not protect them. This makes it difficult for them to trust any caregivers and authority figures throughout their lives.
The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse in adulthood can include the following afflictions and more:
● panic attacks,
● excessive guilt,
● low self-esteem,
● poor social skills,
● social anxiety,
● sexual difficulties,
● relationship difficulties from fear of intimacy,
● substance abuse, and
It is harder to quantify some of the effects. For example, survivors who become parents may fear abusing their own child or conversely, may become overprotective. The shadows of their own abuse darken many aspects of their lives for years, and that woundedness will inevitably impact future generations.
For those who perpetrated these heinous spiritual and moral crimes, how deep is the sea? The term “abyss” in the Bible is synonymous with “bottomless pit” — other synonyms include “Hades,” “torment,” “Hell,” “Gehenna,” and “the Lake of Fire.” Whether the abuser is a parent, relative, neighbor, teacher, caregiver, or priest, there can be no mistaking Jesus’ hellacious intent in the Matthew 18:6 warning.
But what are you and I called to do as Catholics when these evil acts are revealed? Shouting aloud in my heart is a call to prayer for the victims--daily praying for those that have been abused. Certainly, we should pray for survivors we know, but we should pray for those we do not know, too, who may not have anyone to pray for them. Many live in silence with the effects of their abuse, so pray for all who have been abused. Pray at Mass after receiving Communion, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, pray with your spouse and family. And of course, pray for the survivors privately.
I also believe we are called to pray for the abusers. Admittedly, this defies natural logic and worldly justice. Despite judging their acts as evil and even if we think their souls deserve Hell, we are called to pray they may have repentant hearts. This may be hard to do or even feel impossible for us, especially if we were abused or have a loved one who was abused. If praying for an abuser is difficult, I suggest a first step of humbly asking God for the desire to pray for and forgive the person.
Let us all pray, in communion with the angels and Saints and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “Dear Jesus, help us to become who we are in You.”
“Living in the Image and Likeness of God: Human Dignity and Divine Designs,” Alaskan Bishops (http://bit.ly/2DGj6Fi)