The New Adam
Caravaggio’s Madonna dei Palafrenieri, first exhibited in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1606, is wonderfully disturbing. While Grandmother Saint Anne looks on, the Virgin Mother Mary allows the Child Jesus to place His little foot on top of hers; together the Mother and the Child crush the head of the serpent under their feet. The nakedness of the Child Jesus suggests that He is indeed the New Adam who, by His innocence, inaugurates a new creation: the Kingdom of God where only little children are allowed to enter.
Sexual Abuse: The Dark Sin
The darkness of this painting, so typical of Caravaggio, and the sinister writhing of the serpent combine with the purity of the Infant Christ to speak poignantly to the tragic drama of the sexual abuse of children. Adults who were sexually abused as children never really recover from the serpent’s venomous bite. The poison has a delayed release. Its effects are experienced over time, triggering emotional chaos, spiritual distress, and even chronic physical illness. The serpent, moreover, hides in the darkness, biding its time in anticipation of new attacks.
While therapy or some form of counseling is certainly helpful in dealing with the long-term effects of the serpent’s bite, it is not sufficient. Rarely is a complete healing possible through therapy alone. In my experience, most persons struggling with the effects of sexual abuse will suffer recurrent crises, although with time these may become less frequent and less debilitating. The benefit of therapy is in helping the individual to identify what things trigger crises, what things feed into the chaos, and what strategies are effective in countering recurrent difficulties.
Ultimately, one is obliged to confront the evil, in its origin and in its effects, on spiritual ground and with supernatural means. This is where the adult living with the effects of sexual abuse as a child finds it necessary to identify with the Infant Christ in entrusting himself entirely to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Lord God said unto the serpent, I will put enmity between Thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and her Seed, which same shall bruise thy head, alleluia (Antiphon at the Benedictus on December 8th)
Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary
Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads one to place one’s own foot on hers in total confidence. So long as the serpent’s head remains under the foot of the Immaculate Virgin and one’s own foot rests on hers, the effects of the abuse are held in check. The serpent may writhe and hiss, but ultimately the All-Holy Mother of God and her Seed, that is the Infant Christ and those who belong to Him, will crush its head.
The Immaculate Conception
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is of all days the most favourable to make or to renew a personal consecration to the Immaculate Mother of God, especially if one struggles with the long-term effects of sexual abuse. The renewal of one’s consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary opens again and again the floodgates of the graces given her by God for distribution to the weakest and most wounded of her children.
The Rosary: Where Hope Flowers
One will also find in the humble prayer of the Rosary an indispensable protection and a source of inner healing. The mysteries of the infancy and childhood of Christ are supremely effective in countering the effects of a childhood marred by abuse. In the presence of the Immaculate Virgin and her Child there flowers the hope of a serene and fruitful life. “Give glory to the Lord for thy good things, and bless the God eternal, that He may rebuild His tabernacle in thee” (Tobias 13:12).