Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Sirach 3:2-6,12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23


December 26, 2005, Holy Family

A week and a half ago, the local clergy association invited two representatives from the Network for Women’s Lives ( come and give us an overview of their work. One of the volunteers who came and addressed us was Shirley Ormsby, our former Pastoral Associate and DRE. The Network for Women’s Lives raises awareness about Domestic Violence by providing information and resources for victims and for those who care.

As anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past few years knows, the abuse of children by clergy was a terrible tragedy, indeed a terrible crime. According to the John Jay College report, there were some 10,000 reported victims of this abuse over the 50 years covered by the study. 10,000 victims in 50 years.

In 2001, the last year I could find any hard numbers for, there were close to 600,000 victims of domestic violence, mostly women who suffered the violence at the hands of a domestic partner or boyfriend. In just that one year, more than 60 times the number of 50 years’ worth of victims of abuse by clergy. So what kind of a tragedy or crime does that make domestic violence against women?

One of the hard lessons we learned in the clergy abuse scandal was that one of the reasons it went on for so long was that victims and their families did not have the language needed to talk about what was going on. They were conned into thinking that this was not going on anywhere else and that somehow they were to blame. As painful as this scandal has been to all Catholics, we can rejoice that because of all the publicity and because of the hard work of many thousands of volunteers, including our own parish CAP team, tens of thousands of people just in this Archdiocese are trained to recognize this abuse, and help parents and victims to give voice to what is happening. And because of that our children are much safer.

We need to do that same thing for domestic violence. We can no longer think that it is a problem that happens somewhere else. Statistics show that nearly 1/3 of women in America report being physically abused by a husband or boyfriend sometime in their lives. That does not even count the non-physical abuse: verbal and psychological abuse. Think of what that means just for this assembly. If someone here is suffering from domestic violence, there is a very good chance that you are not alone, even in this assembly.

What should stir us as Catholics is that one of the major obstacles to victims and those who care for them having a way to voice this terrible tragedy is a belief that religion supports such abuse, using scripture passages such as the reading from the letter to the Colossians we just heard.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and avoid any bitterness toward them.

I would suggest that it is critical that we understand what Paul is saying here. To skip over this reading or to read it without examining it makes us conspirators in suppressing the voice of those enduring this domestic violence.  Where do we start to understand this saying? Right where we start when we try to understand any scripture: look at the context. The reading from Sirach urges children to submit to parents, and parents to children. Paul talks of wives and husbands and parents and children, and all the community, submitting to one another. The Gospel passage talks of Joseph and Mary submitting to the angel’s message, and aligns Jesus subordinating himself to become human with the history of the Israelites submitting themselves to God. All of our readings today talk about this wonderful Christian idea of submitting ourselves to each other as a way of responding to, and joining with, the radical submission of Christ to the Father’s will. The end result of this kind of submission is always love and respect and peace and an exaltation. It is never domination or pain or diminishing.

How many of you have seen the film, My Cousin Vinnie? Vinnie is a two-bit New York lawyer who has aspirations of being a successful trial lawyer. He is called down to a small southern town to try to defend his cousin and a friend who have been accused of murdering a convenience store clerk. The harder he tries in his defense strategy, the deeper he gets himself and his cousin into trouble. All along the way, he refuses to let his fiancée help him, because he has to prove to himself and everyone else that he is the brilliant lawyer. It is only when he gets himself in such deep trouble that he desperately turns to his fiancée. When he finally submits his ego and his skills to hers, lo and behold, he becomes the brilliant lawyer that he knew he was all along. He couldn't do it by being independent or by dominating. He could only become wonderful lawyer that was his potential by submitting to his fiancée and letting her display her talent and knowledge.

That’s the kind of subordination Paul is talking about. It is not something that diminishes but rather a path to fulfillment, the only path to true fulfillment. It is a subordination which puts an awesome responsibility to respond in love on the other person. We need to let this word of Christ dwell in us richly. And when I say we, I am mainly speaking about we men. We men have a special responsibility to correct this ages old attitude towards women that breeds this violence. We men in particular need to root out any vestiges of domination or devaluation of women. We need to watch the language we use, the jokes we tell, the movies or shows that we watch to make sure that we are not silently reinforcing negative values towards women. We need to teach our girls that they are never to allow themselves to be devalued, and we must teach our boys to treat all others, but especially the women in our lives with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And we must teach this by how we live.

We are all made in the image of God. But I would suggest that we men need to work especially hard to realize that we are made in the image of that God, who hangs on a cross in subordination to his Father and to those he came to save. In that attitude of subordination, and only in that attitude of subordination, do we become the image of God in which we were made.