More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Domestic Violence Prayer

Sr. Susan Hadzima, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
September 16, 2005

The following reflection was given at a prayer service at the IHM Center that centered on the problem of domestic violence.

We gather tonight as people deeply concerned about the issue of domestic violence. We come together, our hearts united in the power of prayer, aware that within this space sits a variety of people-women and men, students and teachers, the young and the retired, the concerned and the outraged, victims and families of victims and yes, even perpetrators of violence. We gather tonight, conscious of our individual and collective power, painfully aware that we must recognize and use the power that we have. The gospel account of oppression and isolation, struggle and abuse, courage and healing, offers much for our reflection this evening.

The women with the hemorrhage and the little girl lived in a society that for centuries had been threatened from the outside. Governments had changed, conquerors had come and gone and the Israelites were seldom free to rule their own state of affairs. Because of their way of life, a solidarity and steadfastness had been built among those who were oppressed. In this atmosphere, from within, there arose those who became oppressors of their own people. They created laws, traditions and rituals that created an "us" and "them"mentality. Often these oppressors were the "religious" authorities of their day; those whose opinions were sought and whose lifestyle was seen as "holy." These religious authorities identified people who were pure and banished those who were impure. With their religious rituals and laws, it became an easy matter to proclaim who possessed holiness and who contaminated society. This is the religious climate in which Jesus and the unclean woman meet in our gospel this evening.

The woman who had suffered for twelve years was known by all in her community. For the protection of everyone, her condition could not be kept secret. Her inability to be healed made the woman suspect and her uncleanness even worse. Perhaps her ailment could not be cured because she had displeased God. She was not to be pitied, but feared, for she was a disruption and seen as a danger to the welfare of their holiness. People all knew about her physical condition but paid little attention to her "heart" condition. The woman was bent over from the weight of an invisible sign that had racked her body for twelve years. She felt beaten and defeated beyond the point of any resistance. Her heart was broken from loneliness and rejection. She was tired, weary, and almost without hope. The woman had no good dreams left, for each had ended in the nightmare of her present existence. No mention is made of family or friends, support or encouragement, outrage or concern that nobody seemed able to heal her. Rather we hear only of the doctors whose treatment seemed to make her worse rather than better. The emptiness she felt in the cave of her heart--there seemed to be no name for it.

The woman had heard about Jesus and his reputation as a healer. But more over, she had heard that Jesus also did the unthinkable in his day--he spoke openly with women and even counted them as his disciples. Each time she heard something else about Jesus, her faith was enlarged. She was convinced that she must meet this person, Jesus.

And so we know how the story continues. Forbidden by levitical purity laws to even approach a shrine or holy place, the woman dared to find Jesus in a forbidden public setting, in a gathering of people. Had she been recognized, she would have suffered more mistreatment and rude explosion from the crowd. But despite that very real possibility, she sought him out in the crowd. Cautiously approaching Jesus, she saw an interruption of her plans as Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had come, begging Jesus to go with him and heal his little daughter. Immediately Jesus had agreed and had started to go. Soon he would be out of her reach. She leaned forward as he moved, and in a faith-filled gesture, stretched out her hand. She could only reach the fringe of Jesus's garment. But immediately knew she had touched the one who was holy. AND POWER CAME FORTH FROM HIM and her body was made well. This encounter was a mutual exchange of giving and receiving that flowed from one to the other as if words had been spoken. Jesus also knew immediately that power had gone out from him. He stopped, with the large crowd surrounding him, and asked the seemingly ridiculous question, "Who touched my clothes?" His irritated disciples and the impatient Jairus did not distract Jesus. He knew that an encounter of giving and receiving had occurred and asked again, "Who touched me?" In fear and trembling she fell down before him and told the whole truth. In the telling, she discovered a way to new life and experienced a blessing of peace and the benediction of restored health.

So much of this gospel story is the reason we gather tonight. We live in a culture where many women and children still live in isolation and fear, victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, mind control, racial discrimination. These victims are further oppressed by attitudes which condone violence, encourage silence, and nudge strongly at the possibility that somehow the woman must have brought this on herself and maybe is even being treated as she deserves. The attitudes and actions of Jesus suggest something very different and offer each of us the possibility of needed transformation. The courage and boldness of the gospel woman was affirmed and strengthened by the power of Jesus. He used her action and her faith to teach others that God desires healing and health for us, that oppressive laws and attitudes which separate and isolate are unacceptable, and that those in roles of spiritual, political, or educational leadership need to use well the power entrusted to them.

What is it that I have the power to do? Are there ways I need to better understand the causes of domestic violence and that which i do which oppresses others? Am I in a position to assist someone to break the silence, to tell her story, to speak the truth? Do I want to hear it? Or does that fear of not feeling able to help draw me away from asking the obvious questions? How could I take time to find out what resources are available? And what about the pain of journeying with someone who remains in an abusive situation; who just can't leave because it's still too dangerous. And so I watch and continue to support and assist, though feeling so helpless and even angry.

What is it that Jesus does for this woman? Beyond the obvious healing, Jesus listens to this outcast, affirms her value, explores her reality, risks the criticism of the powerful, and by his actions, challenges some very basic beliefs of his time about women, about isolation, about power. Jesus challenges us to do what we have the power to do. If we have the power to reach out and assist those in violent situations, let us do it. If we have the power to denounce the violence in our culture, let us do it. If we have the power to lobby for funding to support victims who leave and agencies that work with them, let us do it. If we have the power to teach others about domestic violence and to help change attitudes, let us do it. If we have the power to faithfully pray daily for an end to domestic violence, let us do it.

We have gathered this evening in prayerful solidarity to name the evil of domestic violence and to struggle in directing our sense of outrage toward action. We pray for courage, strength and support for the many victims of domestic violence. We pray for those whose lives are dedicated to working with them and for them. And we ask forgiveness for our own abuse of power, for our indifference and for our silence. May the power of healing entrusted to each of us, enflame our hearts, enlighten our actions, and increase our courage so that GOD'S POWER MAY GO FORTH FROM US. LET US DO WHAT WE HAVE THE POWER TO DO.