From peace in the home to peace in the world
In his meditation on the Incarnation, St Ignatius invites us to imagine the Trinity looking down at the world and choosing for Jesus to be born as a human being. Ignatius suggests that with the Trinity we should look at the state of the world – the brokenness, the hurt, the harm, the despair, the hope – and then recognise God’s desire to be among us. Pope Francis this week articulated a similar vision of a Church ‘which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets’.
As we enter into Advent, I invite you to imagine the moment of the Incarnation, the gift of God coming to be one with us. Jesus chose to be born with his redeeming love into all the mess and brokenness of our humanity. The beginning of Advent is also in the middle of the 16 days of activism against women and child abuse. This year’s slogan, ‘from peace in the home to peace in the world’ deeply resonates with me. What are our homes like?
I find myself returning again to the disturbing statistic that 1 in 4 men in South Africa have admitted to raping a woman. Or the equally disturbing statistic that one child is raped every three minutes in South Africa. This is the real context of family life in South Africa which I hope our bishops will be aware of as they prepare for the synod on the family.
Sexual abuse and rape are part of our family context. These abuses are deeply disturbing and profoundly violating experiences. Many survivors of rape or abuse take years to process what happened to them, as they live with the physical and emotional scars. The Church needs to take account of the psychological and physiological damage that many people have suffered as the result of sexual abuse, and to speak to these problems.
Sitting in our pews each week we know we have men and women who have been damaged by rape and abuse. We also have – and sometimes these are the same people – the perpetrators of such abuse. We, the Church, are part of this damaged and damaging society. In the intimacy of our homes and families the effects of abuse are lived out.
Rape and sexual abuse are extremely difficult topics to talk about. But when priests do talk about them in their homilies, when they are brought to the surface, astonishing things begin to happen. When we speak only of consensual sex (which may or may not be in line with Church teaching) we endorse the silencing of those who have been abused. Pope Francis calls on us to notice, for example, those who are carrying babies as a result of rape: “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”
As the bishops prepare for the synod on the family, I ask that they remember the vulnerable homes in our society. The child-headed households, the single parents (many of whom have born babies conceived in coercive or abusive sexual encounters), the dysfunctional and abusive families, and the many good people struggling to come to terms with the abuses they have suffered. Francis reminds us of the many women who are “impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families”.
Jesus came to heal a broken world. This Advent let us, in our woundedness, be open to His healing gaze.