More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Domestic Violence: A Cry for Its Victims, A Plea for Its End

Sr. Margaret Gannon, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
September 15, 2004

The following reflection was offered at an evening of prayer to remember the victims of domestic violence. Included in the evening was an opportunity to view the "Empty Place at the Table," a display provided by the Scranton Women's Resource Center in remembrance of local victims of domestic violence.

We have two groups among us tonight:

  • the families and loved ones of those who have suffered, and especially those who have died, as a result of domestic abuse;
  • those of us who, while not family members of victims, are concerned about the tragedy of domestic abuse and want to help eliminate it.


We appreciate the Women's Resource Center's preparing and sharing with us the Empty Place at the Table display. Each setting helps us to know that an individual suffered from domestic abuse, an individual with her own tastes, and gifts, and dreams. The setting helps us to see beyond the statistics, statistics that may not reveal the reality hidden beneath them.

But we should take a look at the statistics, to get some sense of the magnitude of the concern.

  • Every nine seconds a woman is abused by her husband or intimate partner; in the single hour of our prayer 400 will be abused.
  • Abuse is the largest cause of injury of women between 15 and 44.
  • Of all female homicides, 31% are attributed to domestic violence.


What does the Empty Table mean to the bereaved? To the ones who love those who have been murdered? I know I cannot know the experience myself. Forgive me if I try to speak of this.
What does it mean?

  • lost presence--smile of greeting, embrace of affection
  • lost expectations--of those who died young; 6 months old
  • lost wisdom--of those who died after some years of life
  • grief beyond expression
  • remorse--wondering if some way this death might have been avoided Psalm 27



Trust--when it is practically impossible. Not that the terrors do not come, but that in the face of such terrors, God is my light, my salvation, the fortress of my life.

Lament--helplessness, abandonment

Back to trust--This I believe: I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage. Let your heart be bold, and wait for the Lord.

What does the Empty Place mean for the rest of us?
A plea for the end of domestic abuse

Until recently, the legal system treated domestic abuse as a private matter. Thirty years ago there were no criminal penalties for abuse. The medical community was not attentive to abuse issues; the churches had not recognized their responsibility to abused women. The media never spoke of such abuse; silence was the primary betrayer.

What changed this? The commitment of individuals and women's groups, speaking out, challenging the legal system and the media, educating the medical community and the churches of their responsibilities. If we are farther along now, if we are more aware and active in combatting domestic abuse, it is thanks entirely to the courage, the determination, the perseverance of those individuals and groups.

What can we, who are here tonight, do to help bring an end to the abuse?

  • speaking out against the glorification of violence, and exploitation of women through pornography;
  • taking on some of the structures that tell women they are weak, powerless, inferior, not free to shape their own lives;
  • educating ourselves about the responsiveness of agencies that should be assisting women in danger, asking the necessary questions, and offering our voices to the challenge for justice;
  • becoming directly involved in supporting the Women's Resource Center and the women they serve.


The Beloved says, "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm." Meaning of the seal: Let me be a constant presence; let me be a part of your identity. The victims say it to those they have left behind; those who mourn can say it back to them, for Love is as strong as death, (stronger than death), and passion is as fierce as the grave.