October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The effort is focused on building awareness about what is domestic violence, what resources exist for those impacted by it, and the reality that this issue is unfortunately too common in our communities.
As I reflect on the readings for this first Sunday in October, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is hard not to read the readings through the lens of someone who experiences domestic violence in their own home. I imagine someone sitting in the pews this Sunday listening to these phrases in our first reading: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene,” and in our second reading: “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” In our Gospel, we struggle with the story Jesus tells about a servant working at the hands of a seemingly ungrateful master.
These are the types of phrases and readings that can be twisted against those who experience domestic violence. They can be used to keep people from speaking up for their needs. They may silence the laments of those who would cry out to God but feel unheard, or they may confirm to someone “I do not have a right to complain – this is the hardship I bear.”
It is important for preachers, teachers, and all people of faith to draw a distinction between the “demands” God places on us for fidelity to a vision of the Reign of God, and the unfair demands of those who extend violence and intimidate others. Our God does not intimidate us but strengthens us and dignifies us with unconditional love. Even within today’s readings, we can focus on different phrases and themes that align more clearly with the vision of the Reign of God where all have dignity and contribute to the flourishing of the common good. We are not being told to endure violence and hardships because it is God’s will; rather we are being asked to consider what will we do to participate in the Good News.
In our first reading, although Habakkuk is lamenting the impending violence and feeling God has looked away, we need to take heart that God answers him. God is in fact with us, has never left us, and promises a vision of hope. In the second reading, we are told we have not been given “a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” And again, that “the Holy Spirit dwells within us.” This sense of the Spirit dwelling in us empowers us to value ourselves, to recognize the power we hold, and express the type of love that reflects God. Even in the Gospel, as strange as it seems that the servant is being asked to give more and more, we remember that Jesus himself does this for us out of love; no one demanded it of him or intimidated him into sacrifice. And the same is true of the Gospel’s message for us: What work are we willing to do to participate in the vision of God’s Love? God’s reign is not a vision of sacrificial work under oppression or under intimidation, but of God’s love poured out for us, present to us, and dwelling within us.
We have a promise that each person of the Trinity accompanies us. Our God remains with us, the Spirit dwells within us, and Jesus’ love sustains us. When we think through this amazing promise, we can encourage another to know they are not alone, to remind them that God values their life, they deserve unconditional love.
We are reminded in the second reading to “stir into flame the gift of God.” Let that gift give you strength and let that strength encourage a faith not clouded by violence, but a faith that seeks justice and proclaims the promise of God’s love and devotion.
This October, I encourage you to pay attention to the ways Domestic Violence is discussed in our public, communal and private discourse. Raise your own awareness and share a light of hope with those in your life who may be impacted by domestic violence. Below are some resources to help you in this journey.
The Archdiocese of Chicago Domestic Violence Outreach website has a number of resources including videos from Pope Francis, Cardinal Cupich and many others. Perhaps allow yourself some time this month to listen to these stories and raise your own awareness:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) (Link)
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) (Link)
- Love is Respect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1.866.331.9474, 1.866.331.8453 TTY You can also chat live online with a trained Peer Advocate from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (CST) daily (Link)
- Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.877.863.6338 (Link)