Is 35:4-7a, Jas 2:1-5, Mk 7:31-37
Prepared by Chris Shofner
Think back to when you were a child, 5 or 6 years old. Carefree days, playing freely and doing the things that you enjoyed, without the weight of the world on your shoulders. Life was without a lot of worry. That is, until you were faced with one of any number of situations that tested your courage. The dark, the big scary dog from next door, getting separated from your mother in the department store, lima beans. It was fairly obvious at these times, looking back, that you were only a child, not yet equipped with the strength to overcome all of these fears. You ran to those people you knew would protect you from the danger mom, dad, brother or sister, grandparents. They provided the comfort that calmed your fear.
Now we are grown up. We no longer fear the things of our youth. Yet we are still afraid. Afraid of new things and new circumstances. We're afraid of crime on our streets, afraid of disease and hunger in our world, afraid of not being able to provide for our family's welfare.
A successful career, gray hairs, a few wrinkles none of these signs of adulthood seem to take away the fears that transform us again into that scared little 5-year-old. We are taught as we grow up not to let others know what frightens us. We are taught to be strong in the face of danger. No tears. Anything less is a sign of weakness that can lead to rejection. It's enough to make you afraid of being afraid.
And yet we are still afraid.
There are those among us in our community who live in intense fear on a daily basis. Just like thousands of women, children and even men across our country, there are those here, your friends and family members, who will go home after Mass today not to a place of refuge and rest, but to a place of disharmony and violence.
I could speak to you about a lot of statistics in regards to this, but nothing compares with the real-life experience of one who has survived, and is still recovering from, an ordeal like this. Mary, which is not her real name, lived in another state with her four school-age children. She was divorced but dating a man twenty years her senior. He was a Christian, quoted Scripture often and always bought Mary little gifts to show her how much he loved her. But when he drank, things changed. One day after the children got home from school, Mary went to the grocery store. When she arrived home, her boyfriend was there, drunk and accusing her of being out with another man. The children inside the house heard the shouting outside and watched through the front window. Despite Mary's denials, her boyfriend got more violent. He got in her face, cussing and threatening her. At the height of the argument, he pushed Mary against the car, the groceries spilling onto the driveway. All that the children could see was the helplessness and shame in Mary's face. She refused to let him into the house again, but that was not the last of him. The next weekend, Mary received a phone call. He was drunk, threatening her life and the life of her children. When he arrived at the house later that night, he pounded on the doors, yelling and waking everyone in the house as well as many of the neighbors. If it were not for the neighbors who broke into his truck at this time and took his shotguns, Mary and her children would be another statistic today.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Mary and her boyfriend broke up, and he received counseling for his drinking. But this is not the case for so many. Your mothers, your sisters, your friends they are the victims of violence in the home. Some of you here today may resonate with the story I just told. Perhaps you are someone who is being abused. Perhaps you are an abuser.
Brothers and sisters, I can say this with confidence: God does not want this for any of us. The prophet Isaiah states very clearly to those who are frightened: "Be strong! Fear not! Your God comes with vindication, to save you." God comes to deliver those who live in fear. God comes to save those who are lost in sin. "Here is your God," Who has come in the person of Jesus Christ to a people without hope. If we fix our eyes on the Lord who is real and powerful and full of love, God will deliver us from our sin, from the violence of our day and time, from the hands of those who hate us.
Domestic abuse of any kind whether physical, sexual, emotional or verbal is wrong and is fundamentally pitted against our Christian way of life, for an abuser exerts undue power over another person. As Christians, we are called to stand with the oppressed and suffering. This is a mark of living a life of faith in Christ. Saint Mark tells us the story of the deaf-mute who cannot hear the cries of those around him and cannot speak the words he most wants to speak. Yet he can still see all that is going on around him the effect of sin that manifests itself in physical violence, sexual violence and emotional violence. Are we not like the deaf-mute at times? It is so easy for us to close our ears to the pain of others. It is so easy not to take a stand against the injustice of violence in our homes. Although we can physically see this suffering and can acknowledge its reality, we often refuse or feel unable to enter more deeply into their pain, to react with a spirit of action. Yet our faith can become active in the world in order to manifest God's grace through reaching out and supporting those who struggle with difficult and often violent home situations.
This is a call to each one of us to be part of the Body of Christ, which cannot be divided and will not be overcome by evil.
- We are called to see with our eyes the reality in our world there is domestic abuse all around us, in our own families, among our friends, in our community. May we educate ourselves about this reality. In the back of church, you will find information related to domestic abusewhat it is, and how to respond if you are a victim or suspect that someone you know is being abused. Please pick one up on your way out today.
- We are called to take this recognition with us into prayer Help us, Jesus, not only to see the problem but to listen more closely to the pains of those who suffer at the hands of others. Their cries are often faint. Grant us the courage and strength to offer an ear, a shoulder, or a safe refuge for victims.
- We are called to use our voices to proclaim God's Word to the world. To proclaim with confidence the message that Isaiah tells us today. Be strong! Do not fear! Here is your God, who comes with vindication, to save you, to turn your sadness into joy! If you are a victim, or know someone who is a victim of domestic violence, or are an abuser yourself, do not fear. Change can come if you are strong and put forth an effort. You can begin by referring to the information in the back of church or by calling the parish office. Our community is equipped with many resources that can help you find counseling and healing.
- We are called to enter wholly into the lives of those who are victims. Not just our eyes and our ears and our voices, but our entire being. What else keeps us from failing to act fully? Are our hands tied, or our feet bound? Are our minds free? Are our hearts empty of the world and ready to receive Christ more fully? Let us free ourselves of anything that may bind us to inaction, whether it be fear, apathy, a feeling of powerlessness. Brothers and sisters, we are the Body of Christ. When one member is hurting, we all hurt. May we respond so that we may be one.
We are still frightened children, even today yet we are children of the Living God, with the mighty Lord as our Redeemer. We are called to hear the voice of those who cry out. Called to proclaim with our voices and with our lives the Word that lives in us and can transform the world.