Last night I went to chapel early so I could pray my Franciscan Crown before Vespers. I thought to pray for the young Indian woman who has been in the news. Last night she was still alive. This morning I read that she had died.
While I was praying for her I found such a terrible sadness. It was, on the one hand, grief at the meaninglessness of her suffering and the loss of her life. It was clear yesterday that even if she were to have survived the injuries inflicted by her attackers, it would have been with a mutilated body. On the other hand, my sadness was for the knowledge that the roots of such violence and unchastity live also in my own heart, and every time I have been unwilling to suffer anything rather than indulge and nourish them, every time I have given in to the world's wish to co-opt and collude with them for its own vile purposes, I have made myself, spiritually, an accomplice of those miserable men.
It is not enough to be chaste, if by chastity we mean solely a personal project focused on the self. It might be the one of the most difficult things in the world to begin to mortify our own acquisitive gaze, our tendency to objectify and instrumentalize other persons, and our own lust for control and coercion, all in the name of achieving some degree of physical and affective chastity according to our state in life. But it's not enough. The world is so injured by the terrible, destructive power of sexualized violence that if our chastity is to mean something, it must also be a positive force directed outward into the situations and relationships of our lives.
I used to think about and pray on this back when I was working at the parish. At the beginning I was put in charge of the altar children. As I worked with the kids I used to wonder to myself what it should mean for me, given that some of my brother priests, doing this same ministry, had abused the children in their care, leaving their lives wounded forever. Of course it meant that I had to carefully observe and implement all of the plans and guidelines that had been put in place to make sure that we had a 'safe environment.' I knew that it meant keeping a calm but watchful eye on things, always being aware of where the kids were and who might be with them. But in my prayer I realized that it had to mean more than that. I realized that in how I worked with the kids, in how I spoke with them, in what I would say and how I would say it, I had to notice and take opportunities to recognize their human dignity, to build them up, to let them know, somehow, the great dignity of their very being. Over time I began to know that this was, in fact, my primary ministry with the children. All the practicalities were secondary. The most important thing was for me to actively and purposely treat the kids as integral persons, as creatures seen as good by the Creator and as human beings infinitely dignified by the Incarnation of the Word. In my prayer I knew that I had to do this if I wanted to have any hope of being faithful to the children who had suffered such abuse from my brother priests.
In the same spirit I pray today for the eternal rest of that Indian girl and for the consolation of her family. I pray in thanksgiving that our society is still outraged by her suffering and death, and I pray that it might come to see more clearly how it accepts and even celebrates other forms of violence and unchastity continuous with them. Finally, I pray that God let me know how I may begin to do penance for what she has suffered, and for the loss of her life.