Mary, Mother of God – Help of People Suffering Violence at Home
Now we have come to the dawning of the new year, and we welcome the chance for a new start, new possibilities, new hope. How right that we start this year by honoring Mary, Mother of God and our mother, too!
Mary, we welcome your love and concern for every person, every family. How we need your motherly care right now!
By celebrating a solemnity dedicated to Mary’s motherhood, the Church highlights the significance of her role in the life of Christ. In our Gospel today, Mary is the witness to the great events swirling around her, there in the little stable in Bethlehem.
The Birth of Our Lord was not like the peaceful manger scene from a Christmas card. Mary could tell us a more harrowing story. Imagine the shepherds all talking excitedly about the angels they had seen and their surprising news. Think of the animal smells and noises and hay everywhere! How she must have missed her mom and sisters! Thank God for St. Joseph! Imagine them trying to make the best of the lonely, drafty lodgings, and managing the baby’s birth with no help! Hear the newborn’s cries.
When Jesus was born, Mary suffered discomfort and stress…and actually danger. St. Luke’s account that we read today omits the drama and violence of the Holy Family fleeing for their lives. Those events are in the Gospel of Matthew. Still, Mary must have kept those frightening things in her heart, too. Despite trials and sorrows, along with St. Joseph, she made a home for Jesus where he found comfort, peace, and joy. Jesus knew he could turn to her. And she stood with him until the end, on the Cross.
When your family doesn’t feel like the Holy Family, take comfort in recognizing the challenges and upheaval Mary experienced. God loves your family.
We hope to have hearts like Mary’s. In his homily on this feast day in 2021, Pope Francis urged us to learn from Mary. He said: “How important it is to educate our hearts to care, to cherish the persons and things around us. Everything starts from this: from cherishing others, the world and creation…. (Mary), who know how to cherish things in your heart, care for us, bless our time, and teach us to find time for God and for others.”
Mary can truly relate to the stresses on our families. Giving birth in a strange city, away from the safety of hearth and home, she understands the challenges endured by so many vulnerable families, many of whom are sheltering in the cold and dark today in poverty or war.
Our hearts break for people who are suffering – some in circumstances that are more than just lonely or poor. Many people suffer in violent homes, violence caused by their own family members. What does Mary, God’s Mother and our mother, have to say to them? If there is darkness in your life and your family now, be assured -- Mary and her newborn Son love you and they want you to be safe!
Mary was chosen for the role of Mother of God, to make God present in the world. Someone experiencing a dangerous home situation may choose you – when they seek guidance and help. They may need you to reassure them that they are not alone. Many abused people, women and men, seek help first from the Church because they see it as a safe place. Even if their abusers isolate them from other social contacts, they may still allow them to go to church. You may be that person at church, the person of faith that they know and trust.
Do you know how to help?
I work on an initiative – Catholics for Family Peace -- that brings together experts in pastoral care, social work, and research who volunteer their time and talents to promote peaceful homes.
We recently conducted a national survey and listening sessions for the Synod on Synodality, inquiring about the Catholic response to domestic violence. We learned that indeed, hurting people yearn for help from their Church. We also learned that priests and parishioners often are unsure of Catholic teaching and how to help. We need to educate ourselves about the causes and signs of unhealthy relationships and what the Church really teaches about domestic violence.
These teachings are spelled out clearly in When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002. Preachers and teachers should know that we condemn the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form. A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love. No one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. (When I Call for Help is available in English and Spanish. https://www.usccb.org/topics/marriage-and-family-life-ministries/when-i-call-help-pastoral-response-domestic-violence)
With this knowledge, you can help other Catholics respond with compassion and correct information when someone turns to them. Prepare your heart and be ready if someone confides in you. Learn what to say and how to refer people to safety and help. Listen to them and believe their story. Help her (or him) to assess the danger to themselves and their children, and refer them to counseling and other specialized services. Maybe you can organize a domestic violence outreach ministry at your parish. You can find free resources on our website, www.catholicsforfamilypeace.org
May our mother Mary continue to be a source of comfort and inspiration to you. Like Mary, bring the love of Jesus into the world.
Now, receive the blessing from today’s first reading, from the Book of Numbers,
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Lauri Przybysz, D.Min.
Lauri Przybysz, D.Min.
Dr. Lauri Przybysz is Education Director of Catholics for Family Peace, http://www.catholicsforfamilypeace.org/, an education and research initiative that aims to inform everyone on ways the Catholic community can promote family peace and prevent and respond to domestic abuse. Experts in psychology, social work, and ministry volunteer to educate pastoral leaders, clergy, and parishioners to recognize domestic abuse and respond with compassion when someone turns to them for help, hope and healing. Their module for marriage preparation, free and downloadable in three languages, alerts people about potential abusive behaviors. For the Synod on Synodality, CFFP conducted a national survey and listening session, reaching out to survivors of domestic violence and those who minister to them.
Dr. Przybysz received the Doctor of Ministry at the Catholic University of America, specializing in adult faith formation. She is retired Coordinator of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and she is past-president of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLM). Lauri and her husband, John, are national leaders in the Christian Family Movement-USA https://www.cfm.org/ and they have twice addressed the Pontifical Council on the Family in Rome. Lauri now serves as RCIA catechist at her parish, Our Lady of the Fields Parish in Millersville, Maryland. She is the mother of six children and grandmother to 21. Her book, Catholic and Grandparenting: 5 Challenges and 5 Opportunities, is published by ACTA. A list of her other publications and workshops is on her website, http://www.familyministryresources.com/
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