There was a show I really liked called Full Metal Alchemist that follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, in a world where the magical science of alchemy is a real and intricate part of their society.
Much of it has to do with the law of equivalent exchange (which was either a precursor or was inspired from the law of energy conservation) which stated that one can only receive or create something of equal value to what one gives up. It’s impossible, therefore, to turn lead to gold; the chemistry and mass has to add up. The trouble occurs, in both versions of the show (the 2003 show going on its own storyline while the 2009 show, Brotherhood, following the original comic) when alchemists try to cheat this principle.
One example of this is human transmutation, something the brothers attempted to do at the start of the story when they tried to bring their mother back from the dead with alchemy. Another is the use of a Philosopher Stone, a material created from other people’s lives to pay the price to do things otherwise impossible. Usually, this brand of cheating occurs by the villains, or as grievous mistakes like the brothers, but occasionally, it’d be an act of love, where one would try to pay the price for another person as a means of selfless sacrifice.
Obviously, this magical science doesn’t exist in this world. However, as I keep thinking on how God created this universe to be fair, there are ways in which equivalent exchange, or fairness, exists beyond the law of energy conservation.
Whenever I’d go to confession, my confessor would always give me the same exact penance: three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s. Doesn’t matter what I did, or how many times I did them; it was always the same penance.
I felt weird about it for a long time. I’d known priests who would give me different penances depending on what I confessed to them. One priest told me to say an entire Rosary as a penance (to which my father remarked, “Gee, what did you do, kill someone?”). It didn’t seem fair to me to do the same penance for whatever wrong I committed, to pay the same price regardless of what I’d done.
There was a youth speaker, Chris Stefanick, who said that Jesus suffered and died for our sins because we, as finite beings, can never hope to pay back offenses done to Someone who’s infinite. It just doesn’t add up, could never add up. Jesus, as the second Person in the Trinity, is infinite, and therefore, He is the only one who could’ve paid the infinite price and restore balance (though since He was completely innocent, He was able to have His life back, and forever). That’s why it’s accurate to say “God has already forgiven you”, because now the equation reads “∞=∞”.
However, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, which is what confession is alternatively called. It’s probably more for our benefit than it is for God, but it is a benefit, especially when the priest is trustworthy (and he better be; he’s standing in for God here!). Considering all this, I guess it makes more sense that my confessor asks me to do the same, small penance whenever I go to confession; most of the price has already been paid.
In the FMA, when the villains would try to cheat equivalent exchange, it usually involved the murder of someone else, or many other someone else’s. This was delved in more in Brotherhood, one instance being the lives of an entire kingdom were used to give two people over 400 years of life. One was an unwitting recipient while the other was the mastermind of this evil act, and yet they both were equally given that almost-immortality because they stood in the center of the transmutation circle. Both of them received that curse (to the unwitting recipient) or blessing (to the mastermind) of that spell, paid by the lives of all those people.
That exact thing happens in abuse, doesn’t it?
I did not choose to be exposed to pornography, and yet I experienced it at the age of 5 through that teacher who abused me. I didn’t choose to have any sexual contact with anyone else, and yet I experienced it in all that abuse by men and women alike. I didn’t choose to conceive, and have that life destroyed while still in my body, and yet I experienced abortion when my uncle killed our son. I experienced all those things and more, the weight of those chains being doubled when my abusers put the blame on me, their victim. Looking at it this way, I have no difficulty whatsoever in believing what a priest said recently, comparing child abuse to the demonic and occult.
I’m 100% sure that 100% of abuse/trauma victims, myself included, have screamed at least once, internally or externally, “IT’S NOT FAIR!!” I’m starting to think, instead, that it’s not fair, and at the same time, fair.
In the coldest, purely mathematical sense, it is fair in that the price is being paid. The price I’m being made to pay in this life is as enormous as it is not only reasons already stated, but because those wrongs were (at least in the case of my parents) committed as a result of their own burdens of abuse that they didn’t want, and so forced onto me. I’m not even sure just how many generations of abuse/trauma exists in my two family lines that I’ve ended up being the heir to.
That all said, we rightly have it in our heads that fairness also involves that person who did the wrong should be the one to pay the price, and like in the show, that sub-clause of Justice is being cheated, making it not fair.
Mathematics, specifically algebra, doesn’t care where and how the numbers come from; just that both sides of the equation are equal. My abusers did everything they could to force me to carry the weight of their sins as a means of cheating their way out of the consequences, a tendency that’s been a part of human history since the first finger-pointing by Adam and Eve. It’s in response to this that Jesus, the New Adam, took on the weight of all sins ever committed in the entire history of the universe (which is to say, those of the past, present, and future) as a means of another kind of “cheating”: Mercy.
As victims of abuse, we carry a very painful burden that we had little to no say in carrying, no matter how much our abusers, or the world, would try to trick us into thinking we did. Jesus’ wounds are exactly the same. I think it’s because of this that Jesus, though received what’s called a “glorified body”, still kept His five wounds, namely the four nail holes in His hands and feet, and the lance-wound through His Heart.
I think this was to have solidarity to us, especially to us abuse victims; one of the readings today (or yesterday, if WordPress says this is posted tomorrow) said that God is especially close to the brokenhearted, to the orphan, widow, poor, and oppressed. We carry scars and wounds that others inflicted on us though we were innocent. He carries, for all eternity, wounds from the entire human race. He did what Adam could not, and then some; instead of pointing a finger to avoid a painful consequence, He took it all on Himself.
Going back to confession, I like to go once a week. I experience healing in doing so, as many studies have confirmed to be true, even on a psychological level. However, the precepts of the Church says that to be in good standing, a Catholic is required to go to confession at least once a year while still believing all the Church teaches (not what representatives of the Church teaches; what’s written in Canon Law). Likewise, to be in good standing, a Catholic must receive Holy Communion at least once a year at Easter, while still making the Sunday obligation to go to Mass. These are the bare minimums one has to do.
This generous cheating gets more prolific when we go into things like death-bed conversions; like what I wrote in reference to the good/bad endings for Demon’s Souls, it almost doesn’t matter what kind of life we lead, we can still choose God on our last breath. Our sins would take us to Purgatory, but when that’s over, we go to Heaven. That’s why the Church says that in the event of a dire emergency, literally anyone can baptize a dying person who wants to be baptized. You don’t even need holy water; any water will do. All you have to do is pour it on the dying person, and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” to let him/her die as a Catholic.
Thinking of it this way, God actually goes out of His way to make it…I almost want to say easy to go to Heaven, and the reason it’s so easy is that God counters our cheating with His own cheating via Mercy.
What can I take out of this? I didn’t ask for these memories, these wounds, this heavy burden of trauma after trauma. I didn’t ask to be in the difficult situation I am now. As I said before in another post, I didn’t sign up for any of this.
I had the thought before that if my abusers don’t pay the doubled price of their abuse and their blaming me for their abuse as well as the price for whatever other sins they might’ve done…they’ll have to pay for it in full later, and for eternity. Trying to have them pay for it in this life, therefore, is an act of mercy on my part, a real mercy unlike the kind of mercy my father and other abusers forced on me as a shackle. If they pay in this life, it’ll probably be a very heavy and painful sentence if justice is adequately served, but it’d still be a temporary price to pay. That’s way better than eternal punishment, right?
Thinking this way, it forms the words of a prayer in my head that makes my confessor and doctor’s counsel to pray for them when the memories and pain comes up more possible: I could pray that they could make amends for the horrible crimes they committed, that God would do whatever is needed to bring about a change in them to do this.
It seems to answer all the problems I had over the whole “praying away the pain” thing. It puts it in proper perspective, that they’re the ones who did the wrong instead of internalizing it like I so often do.It’s okay for me to be angry; the evils of abuse is something we should get angry about. It’s okay for me to be sad and hurt; I’ve been horribly wounded in the most intimate ways a human could be wounded. It’s even okay for me to feel abandoned; even Jesus said, if in the past tense, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
This is a bit of a mysterious prayer. I don’t know how they could ever make amends to me, or to themselves. They can make amends to society by going to counseling, pleading guilty to a judge for their crimes, making amends to society and God by going to the Church over it. Even these are kind of vague. I likewise don’t know what would need to happen to change their hearts and minds to overcome that fear and selfishness, or what would need to happen to change the hearts and minds of society itself that seems to side with the abusers. Still…it’s the best answer I’ve got.
It’s what Ven. Fulton Sheen advised one girl who wrote him about being raped one night. She was ostracized by her whole community apart from her mother and her church’s pastor, especially when she found herself pregnant as a result. He wrote to her in words that aren’t easy to understand, trying to put her suffering in perspective of Jesus suffering for all of our sins. She understood what I’m starting to, writing back that she will pray for her rapist for the rest of her life. I’ve reason to believe that her prayer is the same as mine will (hopefully) be from now on.
This pain is a present reality. The actions done to me were in the past, but the pain is here, now. I broke my arm over 20 years ago, and though it’s mended, sometimes it would ache depending on the weather. The pain, therefore, is not in the past. The crucifixion happened over 2000 years ago, and yet Jesus still has His five wounds that still hurt, still bleed. That pain is therefore a present and future reality for Him, an eternal reality. I at least have the benefit of being healed one day; people can heal, have healed from PTSD, depression, and whatever else that ails me as a result of these traumas. God’s not asking me to carry these wounds to Heaven with me.
However, He is calling me to be a saint, the best, truest version of myself, just as He is all of us. Sainthood comes differently for each of us. We all have our own story, however similar they sometimes are. Each of us have our own experiences, talents, and struggles, and from all the other saints who’ve come before us, we can see that this usually reflects the sort of saint He wants us to be.
At Mass, the thought came to mind that maybe I’m called to be a martyr of chastity. A martyr of chastity, like St. Dymphna, St. Maria, or St. Jeanne, is someone who suffers and dies in the name of that virtue, which is to simply say, I think, “integrity and love”. They’re also called the “virgin martyrs”, as many of them are virgins, but there were others who were not virgins who are still very much considered martyrs of chastity.*
A/N: I think I mentioned before, Dawn Eden talks about the common misconception of martyrs of chastity only being so because they weren’t violated in her book, My Peace I Give You, and talks about it again in this article focusing on this issue where she quotes from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Regardless of if you’re Catholic or not, I highly recommend you read it. There are many in the Church, and in her hierarchy, who follow that frankly heretical error of physical virginity being the primary cause of their martyrdom for chastity, but as it’s clearly written, the Church herself doesn’t say so, as God absolutely doesn’t.
I’d thought about martyrdom before. Since I was little, I believed the ideal way for me to die was in a final act of saving another person from death. I’d daydream constantly (with suicidal feelings mixed in there, so don’t mistake this as something overly noble) of doing something heroic, like getting between someone and a bullet, save someone from being abducted, being hit by a speeding car, or some other mortal danger. Martyrs are said to instantly go to heaven; seemed like the easiest, most ennobling way to die, a final proof against all the people who talked down to me, to my abusers who projected every evil they committed on me.
Martyrdom is not a very strange concept to have; many cultures saw it, if just in glimpses, but it’s Heaven I want, not Valhalla. What does Jesus say? “No one can have a greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 13) He said this while teaching that greater than all the laws is to love God, to love oneself, and to love one another. While Jesus’ words came true in literal bloodshed, like many other saints, the martyrdom I think I’m being called to here doesn’t involve literal bloodshed. To live this way, share my story, pray for my abusers’ change of heart, that’s all still a very painful sacrifice of a life, my life, for the cause of healing and chastity.
It’s not something I can do alone on my own merit. I know me. I know it scares me to death. I trembled in my pew when the thought came to mind; this sort of martyrdom doesn’t sound nearly as easy to do as the bloodier sort. St. Maria suffered incredible physical and psychological pain after Alessandro stabbed her for resisting his rape attempt, but not for very long. Meanwhile, I’m being called to suffer for years, potentially for the rest of my natural life, which might very well last 70+ years if my health allows it.
This is not what I call “ideal”.
I did all kinds of things to run from it, from judging people as cruel on default to trying to murder myself. I guarantee I’m going to try to run again to whatever degree; I’m human after all. I’m going to fall down, throw tantrums, and try with all my might to give up. It doesn’t change the reality, though. It doesn’t mend the wounds.
I desperately need God, and the infinite courage He offers. I need the people He gives me, whose love encourages my heart. I can only learn to trust through trust. St. Francis of Assisi was therefore right; it really is “in giving we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying we are born to eternal life.” He used to be a knight, fighting on that literal battlefield, but he eventually died as that peaceful kind of martyr, going down fighting on that invisible battlefield, that saints like St. Margaret of Cortona, whose quiet life away from the promiscuity she lived in earned her a name as a saint for purity, even becoming an Incorruptible.
God is fair in the sense that He created a world where there’s always price to an action. He is also unfair in the sense that He “cheats” that sub-clause stating that the person seeking the gain should be the one to pay the price, though He cheats with generous mercy in direct response to us cheating with selfish fear. We can also “cheat” with mercy as He does, but as it goes against our tendency to choose that fear, we need Him to help make it possible.
If we can do this, especially if we’ve been abused, we can earn that martyr’s crown.