KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: How can saints help with much of anything, particularly anything having to do with sex?
DAWN EDEN: The saints don’t just give us help here and there; as one of the Eucharistic Prayers puts it, we rely upon their constant intercession for “unfailing help.” I write in My Peace I Give You that, in manifesting God’s design for humanity’s total vocation, the saints show us what it means to be fully human. To be fully human means first and foremost to love — to love God, and to love my neighbor as myself for the love of God. That is the highest virtue — the theological virtue of charity — and virtue by its nature is a power given to the entire person, which for human persons means body and soul. Therefore, if I am to have true virtue, I cannot just love in a disembodied way. I love as I love because I have a female body, and that body is part of how I love — whether I am engaged in a physical act of love or just thinking about a loved one.
Now, for the Church to recognize a saint, it is not enough that the candidate for sainthood have ordinary virtue. A saint has to possess heroic virtue. So we know that every female saint not only possessed charity, but possessed heroic charity, loving fully, as a woman, in every relationship, according to the type of relationship. If she was a daughter, she loved fully in the manner proper to being a daughter; if she was a wife, she loved fully in the manner proper to being a wife. And likewise with friendships — hers was not a disembodied friendship, but a fully present friendship, loving her friends as their sister in Christ. And likewise for every male saint — he loved others fully as a man, according to the type of relationship.
Why is all this important for victims of childhood sexual abuse? Because the problems faced by victims are not primarily problems having to do with the action of “sex.” They know how the marital act works: Everyone does, in my experience. Speaking for myself and for fellow victims I have met, what they need is help with the noun “sex”: learning how to be fully integrated as a man or woman. That’s where the saints can help.
LOPEZ: Isn’t the Catholic obsession with dead people, their bodies, and their things a bit odd?
EDEN: First of all, the saints, although dead in this world, are alive in the next. What’s more, they’re united to God, who cares about each of us individually. So, to call them “dead people” is misleading. It’s people on this earth who lack faith, hope, and charity — including myself at times when I fail to live up to the graces and calling of my baptism — who are the real “dead people.” Jesus told the Sadducees that, when we speak of God as being God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we affirm that he is not God of the dead but God of the living. So if anything, the saints are more alive than we are!
Second, we respect the body, whether living or dead, because the body is properly united to the soul. It’s the body and soul together that make the person. The saints in heaven await reunion with their bodies, which will be restored by God in a new way on the last day. So, the relics of a saint are very important in that they share in the holiness of the saint’s soul, and they point to the reunion of body and soul that will come with Christ’s return.
LOPEZ: You quote Hans Christian Andersen: “When once the conscience is awakened, it springs up in the heart spontaneously, and God awakens the conscience when we least expect it.” What does this quote mean? Could it take on particular import at this cultural and political moment?
EDEN: I employ a quote from Andersen at the start of each chapter of My Peace I Give You because his work, besides being beautiful on a literary level, is familiar to many people from their youth and so can help them recall something positive from their childhood. This goes to a running theme of my book: Memory does not have to be, nor should it be, the enemy. In Cardinal Ratzinger’s words, “Memory awakens hope.”
Andersen’s observation about the awakening of conscience points to the role of grace in giving us sensitivity to sin. It’s relevant to the chapter it introduces in My Peace I Give You, because that is the point where I move from discussing healing from the effects of other people’s sins, to seeking and accepting God’s mercy for our own sins. So I don’t use that Andersen quotation for a political end, but, yes, it is certainly relevant to today’s situation, when threats to religious liberty highlight the need for freedom of conscience.
LOPEZ: Why would anyone in the psychiatry profession be “trained to see sexual activity as an unqualified good”? And why would you dispute it?
EDEN: You’re referring to the part of My Peace I Give You where I tell about how, before my conversion, I saw a psychiatrist who failed to diagnose my post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, he diagnosed me with major depression and proceeded to encourage me in my efforts to escape my mental pain by means of so-called sexual liberation. I don’t go into much detail about it in My Peace, and I won’t here, except to say that a therapist who follows such an agenda can do a lot of damage, especially to someone who has sexual wounds. Even if a patient genuinely is sexually repressed — and I don’t deny that such people exist — engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is not a recipe for personal growth or healing.
LOPEZ: Why are you so concerned with voyeurism? Isn’t looking a lot less harmful than doing?
EDEN: The actions that constitute sexual abuse of children are not limited to physical contact. There is non-contact abuse as well, including exposing children to pornography or adult nudity, or engaging in explicit sex talk in the vicinity of young ears. In My Peace I Give You, I particularly criticize the practice of adult social nudity around children, as I myself suffered from growing up in an environment where my personal modesty was not respected.
LOPEZ: You mention St. Augustine’s writings on the virgin martyrs. Why were these writings so important to you?
EDEN: In his magnum opus City of God, St. Augustine, writing after Rome fell to the Vandals in 410, sought to answer those who said that, since God had failed to protect Rome, Romans should return to their traditional pagan worship. One of the arguments pagans put forth was that if God really cared about Christian chastity, he would not have permitted the invading army to rape consecrated Christian virgins. Augustine finds this argument ridiculous, because it assumes that being raped causes a stain on a person’s soul. “[What] sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity?” (City of God, Book I, chapter 18). Objectively, Augustine says, there is no reason a rape victim should feel ashamed, because chastity resides in a person’s having the constant will to remain chaste. It cannot be affected by violations committed by others against his or her will (City of God, Book I, chapter 16).