"There is an old expression used in the Church: the ‘victim soul’. We used to laugh at this expression, especially since the old German priest who visited us from his monastery in Minnesota spoke to us of those whom he called ‘wictim souls’. But we have not continued to laugh.
I have known personally at least three priests who offered themselves, literally offered their lives, for the souls in their charge. One was a young priest in a rural parish where there had been a number of suicides of children. His heart was torn by the sufferings of these little ones, and torn, too, by what he considered an intimation of the hardened state of the souls of the materialistic, middle-class adults whom he served. He was stricken, not long after, with the tumor of the brain and died some months later.
Another priest, whom we knew very well, and who stayed with us a year on one of our farms, was suddenly stricken with a loss of memory. He lost his mind, as the saying is. I was one of the few people he recognized, and when I visited him once in the hospital and found his face bruised from the attack of one of the other patients, I wept with him at what had happened and asked him, “Father, did you ever offer yourself as a victim soul?” Suddenly he looked at me and smiled. “We say so much to God which we do not mean,” he said, “but he takes us at our word.”
It would take too long to tell of other incidents where people have asked God to let them bear some of the sufferings of others to give them relief, scarcely realizing that with this request they are almost showing a lack of faith, because God has also given grace and courage to endure. I realize I am using religious terminology (one might say religious jargon) which is unfamiliar and even slightly ridiculous to many. But I cannot use the words “transcendence” and “immanence” without relating them to God, the living God, the personal God in whom I believe.
Dorothy Day, Selected Writings