Si. 3:2-7, Col. 3:12-21, Mt. 2:13-15
Prepared by Ralph Talbot
When I served as a prosecutor in Miami, I became acquainted with a woman named Amy and her boyfriend, Steve (names have been changed for this homily). The two of them had been a couple for almost a year. The relationship started smoothly enough. They found each other to be fun and interesting and enjoyed their time with each other and with their friends. During this time, Amy became pregnant. Steve and Amy then married in April 1992.
Almost immediately, things began to change in their relationship. Their circle of friends and family with whom they shared time started to shrink. Steve started growing suspicious of Amy. He insisted on knowing where she was going and where she had been. He tried to control her every move outside his presence. Amy rightfully resented Steve's attitude and his treatment of her and so the two of them argued. A lot. Soon, the arguments escalated and Steve began physically pushing Amy around and striking her, one time hitting her in the head with a frying pan. Finally, she said enough was enough and, four weeks after marrying Steve, Amy left him, and escaped to a house in Fort Lauderdale. However, Steve tracked her down and drove to Fort Lauderdale looking for her. When Amy came out to tell him to stay away from her, Steve attempted to run her over with his car. Steve did not hurt her, but it was not for lack of trying.
Within a few weeks, Steve contacted Amy and apologized. He expressed sorrow for his behavior, promised it would never happen again and convinced her of his love. The two of them were back together. However, within a few weeks, the relationship began to break down again. One night, while at the apartment of some friends, the two started to argue again. The yelling continued as the two moved outside toward the parking lot. Amy tried to get away from Steve and he chased her through the parking lot. Finally, he caught her in the courtyard and punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground. As friends tried to separate Steve from Amy, Steve pulled out a knife and began stabbing Amy. She attempted to fend off the attack, sustaining cuts to her hands and forearms as she tried to block the knife. However, he succeeded in inflicting several fatal wounds and Amy died on the sidewalk.
I tell this tragic story today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I tell this story to once again raise to our consciousness the reality of domestic violence. Lest we think this happens only in other places, during the last five years in Minnesota, 124 women and 61 children were killed in acts of domestic violence. In addition, thousands more men and women suffered non-fatal physical, sexual, psychological and verbal assaults, consisting of everything from a pattern of put downs and name calling to yelling and screaming, and a curtailing of the finances, freedom and social life of the other.
These are not just poor people, or inner city folks, or minorities – the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence cut across all racial, economic and social classes. They include our sisters and daughters, our mothers and grandmothers, our friends and classmates – people right here in our city, people right here in this Church. And so, I want to state as clearly and as forcefully as I can: Domestic violence is unacceptable behavior and cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Any form of domestic violence is sinful behavior in the eyes of God and the Church and must be condemned.
Another reason for raising the issue of domestic violence is to erase the myth that domestic violence is a private affair that only affects the family. That savage attack by Steve against Amy did not only affect only those two lives. Their unborn baby did not survive the attack. Amy's mother and brother were devastated by her death at the hands of someone who professed to love her. People in the apartment complex who witnessed the murder, the officers who investigated the case, those of us who prosecuted the case and the jurors and judge who listened to the case were all deeply affected by the senseless brutality of the murder. And, of course, Steve paid for the consequences of his actions. He was convicted of Amy's murder and is now serving a life sentence in prison, not even considered for parole for a very long time. These cases of domestic violence always have a ripple effect throughout the family and the rest of the society. Children, especially, witness such behavior or, worse yet, become victims of it. Therefore, the contention that domestic violence is a private affair is nonsense. The entire community suffers with acts of domestic violence and therefore the entire community must speak against it.
A third reason for raising the issue of domestic violence is to reach out to those who are caught in its vicious cycle. Husband and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, children and parents, whether victims, batterers, or witnesses--I urge you to seek help and take advantage of the many resources in the community that are available to assist you or your family. I have included many of those resources, along with some domestic violence statistics, on a special insert in today's bulletin. In addition to the government and community agencies listed on the insert, I pledge my personal assistance and the resources of the Church to both victims and perpetrators alike, so that those involved can receive the assistance they need, the cycle of violence may be stopped and needless suffering and heartache can be prevented.
Today's readings and the feast of the Holy Family we celebrate proclaim that God does not intend for individuals, especially in the family, to live in a world of violence, disharmony and intimidation. Rather, God desires us to flourish in families in which love of God and love of the other guides our every action and thought. The first reading from the book of Sirach calls children to exhibit honor, reverence, compassion, and kindness toward their parents. Saint Paul writes to the Colossians that parents should not nag their children, children should honor and respect their parents, husbands should respect their wives and that wives should be subordinate to their husbands.
I know there is a lot of cringing and some smirking when that sentence is read. But do not let the language of subordination be understood as biblical authorization or approval for a husband to treat his wife anyway he likes or that a woman has to endure anything her husband or boyfriend dishes out. Rather, as Saint Paul explains in this letter and more fully in the letter to the Ephesians, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves. Both husband and wife are called to treat the other with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. That is a holy family, in which each member of the family accords the other with the same kind of mercy, forgiveness and love that the Lord shows to us.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus model for us the life of the Holy Family. Joseph exhibited great trust in God and demonstrated intense devotion and love in caring for Mary and Jesus. Scripture does not quote a single word of Joseph, and yet his actions speak volumes of a strong man devoted to God and family. Mary, too, showed tremendous faith in God and trusted in God's love for her. As wife, she helped Joseph in his quest for holiness. As mother, she cared for Jesus with great love and tenderness. Both Mary and Joseph created the environment which allowed Jesus to grow in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. Jesus, for his part, was obedient to Mary and Joseph and obviously loved them both very much. And, out of great love for his Father and for us, he was obedient to all that God asked of him, including death on a cross. This type of sacrificial love for the other defines a significant attribute of a holy family-- a love that allows all in the family to flourish in their quest for holiness.
Now, the holy family had Mary and Jesus, both sinless. That's a bit of a head start on most of our families and us. But that fact does not excuse us from seeking to achieve what the Holy Family achieved. The existence of sin in our lives does not give us permission to act out physically or verbally against another. Rather, the recognition of our sinfulness should call us to a greater spirit of conversion, to a greater awareness of God's love and forgiveness, and a greater willingness to give reverence and respect for others, all of who are made in the image and likeness of God. We must break this cycle of violence that creates slavery for both victim and perpetrator. We must continue to strive for the creation of holy families, in which all are able to live and flourish in mutual love and respect. We must start here and now, today. Lives depend on it.