27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
07 OCTOBER 2001
Scriptual Reference: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4, 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14, Luke 17:5-10

Violence In Our Homeland and In Our Homes

       Lately, our national situation has been very heavy, and our homilies here at mass have reflected the seriousness of that situation. But sometimes, you need a good joke to lighten things up a little bit, so here goes. What do you call a cross between a Catholic pastor and an international terrorist? The answer: Osama bin Staublin (don't call him that, or I'll get in trouble / Sorry, I just couldn't help myself!) Back during the World War II era, the producers of Looney Tunes tried also to lighten up the very serious situation that the American people faced at that time. Looney Tunes are infamous for their cartoon violence, after all, who hasn't laughed at Daffy Duck when he pointed to Bugs and cried out "shoot him, shoot him" only to have all of his feathers blasted off again.

       But, we know in real life, that violence is not a laughing matter. The prophet Habakkuk addresses the difficult issue of violence in the first reading today. "Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord," he says. Violence is a violation of basic human rights. Violence, inflicted on the innocent, creates confusion and a disruption of the order we work so hard to achieve. Habakkuk expresses great consternation about the presence of violence in his day. He is furious that God seems to assent to this violence by his silence and inaction. "Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?" he asks. We in recent days have been like the prophet Habakkuk. We have seen violence all around us particularly in the devastation of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. But even before September 11th, we as Americans have been aware of other forms of violence that in more subtle ways wreak destruction in our homeland. We hear about the millions of abortions performed through the years. We hear stories about the abuse of women and children in their homes in what is described as Domestic Violence. We stand with the prophet Habakkuk and we cry out "VIOLENCE!" We wonder why a God of justice would allow such things to happen. We even wonder if we deserve it.

       Since September 11th, the entertainment industry has been rethinking what entertainment means in the light of the terrorist bombings. The West Wing delayed their season premier in order to air a special episode relating to terrorism. Saturday Night Live featured producer Lorne Michaels asking New York Mayor Rudy Guliani if it was "OK" to be funny. And most interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to postpone the release of his movie "Collateral Damage." The plot of this film features, guess what? A terrorist attack, and Arnold plays guess who? A vigilante fireman whose wife and son are killed in the attack. It is obvious that all of us are beginning to think in different ways about violence. And a lot of people are beginning to ask the question, "why does violence happen?" "Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people?" Some have suggested that violence occurs "because we deserved it." If America, some suggest, was not a bastion of sin, we would not have been bombed. If we shape up our behavior, they suggest, we can avoid further devastation. This explanation is wrong, wrong, wrong. This explanation evokes images of a wrathful, vindictive God who would take the lives of innocent people to promote change in the sinners left behind.

       I would like to make something very clear this morning. GOD DOES NOT WILL EVIL. God does not make bad things happen to good people. His plan did not include the bombings of those buildings on September 11th. His plan does not include the murder and abuse of innocent people, here or anywhere in the world. God does not do bad things to us because "we deserve it." Rather, our God is a God of love, a God who gave every human person a free will. That means that a terrorist has the freedom to blow up a building, and God, because he gave us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, does not violate our freedom by stopping us when we are preparing do something wrong. However, God does not simply throw in the towel when it comes to humanity. We do believe in providence. We believe that God acts in the world. We believe that God transforms all that is evil and forms it into something that is good. And haven't we seen God open the hearts of many people as they have responded generously? Haven't we seen people who have been lackadaisical in their faith return to God? Violence does not happen because God wants to bring good from it. But when violence happens, God moves in to transform what was ugly into that which is beautiful.

       A few years ago in the seminary, my classmates and I took preaching classes. Part of the course required that we videotape our homilies in a studio with no audience present to us except for the camera operator, who was always another student. There was a classmate of mine who was particularly colorful in his preaching, most likely because he was a colorful individual. We called him "Big Joe" and big was an understatement. At one time, Big Joe had been a professional wrestler going by the name "Kodiak Joe." He had to be 6'8", and his girth had come to match his height. Needless to say, he was an imposing character, but he was a softie at heart. Big Joe decided that he was going to heed the challenge of the Catholic bishops by addressing the issue of Domestic Violence in his homily. So, in an empty studio with only the camera and its operator, he began, "today I am going to talk about a sensitive issue: the issue of domestic violence. So, I would like all of the children to leave the church." Then he stopped. After a couple of minutes, the student cameraman said, "Joe, what are you waiting for?" Joe replied, "I'm waiting for the children to leave!"

       Today is Respect Life Sunday, and it is appropriate for us to discuss the issue of violence, and to especially consider the issue of domestic violence. Many of you may be aware that the Hendricks County community is opening a shelter for abused and battered women in Danville called Sheltering Wings. Those folks involved in the endeavor have wanted to raise awareness of domestic violence, and let women know that there is a safe place for them to go with their children if they are being abused. They have asked that we who serve our churches address this issue publicly, especially during October, which is domestic violence awareness month. They have shared stories with us about women, right here in Hendricks County, who are regularly intimidated, beaten and verbally abused. Every 9 seconds, they said, a woman is physically abused in the United States. In 1999, here in Hendricks Co., over 1200 domestic violence police runs were made. 40% of the women murdered in Marion Co. were killed as a result of domestic violence, usually after the women had left their husband or boyfriend and were subsequently sought out. Statistics also show that children are profoundly effected by domestic violence, even if the batterer is not 'touching' them. Boys from domestic violence homes are 1000 times more likely to commit abuse against adult partners, and girls from such homes are 4 times more likely to be assaulted. "Violence!" we cry out, just as the prophet Habakkuk did some 2600 years ago.

       It is ironic that some of the same misguided thinking that has resulted from the acts of terrorism also pervades the thinking of battered women and their batterers. "I must have deserved it," many women think. "She made me do this," the batterers say. Such thinking is wrong, wrong, wrong. No woman deserves to be beaten. No woman deserves to be insulted, harassed, harangued or bullied. During this Respect Life Sunday, I would like to say to women who have been battered that there is help. Sheltering Wings is a place where you can be safe. If you need guidance or assistance, Fr. Dan and I are available here at St. Malachy to connect you to the resources you need. It might seem to you that your situation might never get better. But, if you can make the first step, God, through this community of faith and through the community of Hendricks County, will respond to your cries. In fact, the words he addresses to Habakkuk are the words that he says to women and children who are victims of Domestic Violence, God's vision of peace "will not be late...it will surely come." +

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