“No one needs to live in fear. I repeat don’t suffer in silence. Seek help and stop the abuse now whether it be emotional, psychological, physical or coercive control” – Bishop Nulty
“In the beginning was the Word” Saint John reminds us this morning as he did at the later Mass on Christmas Day; nine days later the reminder is all the more succinct. These are the days when we look on the crib and ask ourselves … what’s it all about? John’s account is more philosophical, more theological than the Christmas narrative of perhaps Luke or Matthew.
What was born in the manger is the Word made flesh; what was welcomed by angels is the Word made flesh; what was visited upon by shepherds was the Word made flesh and that Word continues to live among us – to challenge us, to chastise us, to confront us – we pray for forgiveness …
Words are very powerful. They can heal a rift that has torn a family apart for decades and they can equally drive another family into oblivion over what is said, the tone, even the body language. We’re reminded in survey after survey of how the violence of the word, the violence of silence, the violence of body-speak can be even more devastating than physical violence. Not that physical abuse, domestic abuse should ever be tolerated, it’s just that the word can cut sometimes to the bone.
Christmas, Saint John reminds us, is a celebration of the Word, long before Twitter, Facebook, Tik-Tok or Instagram! The Word written in capitals is the Word wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Word welcomed by angel, shepherd and king, but don’t leave the Word behind in the crib, make that Word, your language, your rhetoric, your speak! In other words, spread the Word. Do exactly what the shepherds were invited to do; what the kings were reticent about doing and the angels never stopped doing – telling others of the birth of Christ.
The words we use in everyday conversation are words with a small ‘w’. A good example, the word COVID was unheard of a year ago. At best we knew there was an outbreak in Wuhan, nothing more. It seemed far enough away not to bother us. Little did we know. In a matter of a few months we would learn a new language. Phrases like ‘circuit breaker’ we felt were used up in Mondello, or at the more posh Monaco Grand Prix are now part of the strategy for dealing with this pandemic. ‘Lockdown’ we understood was a term from the Second World War days when there was some rationing of tea and other essentials, now lockdown is every couple of weeks, with very significant consequences. ‘Close contact’ we thought was the simple answer for who to phone if the operation didn’t go according to plan or you got into some bother at school, now its everybody! What a difference ten months makes!
The capital ‘W’ denotes the Word when it refers to that made flesh in a manger in Bethlehem. The smaller ‘w’ refers to the words we use that cause offence, are taken up wrong, someone is slighted, someone else is hurt, someone feels diminished and is unsure as a result. These are the words we don’t want taking flesh and embedding themselves in our lives. We don’t need to live with negativity; the crib is a positive message of God stooping down and becoming one like us in the person of the child of Bethlehem.
This COVID pandemic is challenging the best of us. There is a hidden silent pandemic which is more prevalent whenever the more severe restrictions come into place. I speak of domestic abuse which can take many forms. In this time of pandemic couple relationships are being tested and challenged in ways that none of us could ever have foreseen. Lockdown introduces a unique set of new and unfamiliar stressors in a relationship, that might struggle to cope in normal times. With the pressures of a loss of income, with the stress of working from home, with increasing family demands from the little ones, it can become harder and harder to avoid the daily frustrations that can flare into full blown rows that might feel like the family is tearing itself apart. Often it starts with a word, a jibe, a cutting searing remark that can cause deep pain. Don’t suffer in silence. Be aware there is help there through ACCORD, Catholic Marriage Care Service’s counselling service, through Women’s Aid, through Men’s Aid Ireland and most importantly in an emergency through An Garda Síochána. No one needs to live in fear. I repeat don’t suffer in silence. Seek help and stop the abuse now whether it be emotional, psychological, physical or coercive control.
If there are words or actions we are using that are hurting and not healing, let’s focus on them for our New Year Resolution. If there are words common to us that we only whisper, because we are embarrassed by their innuendo cut them out of our everyday vocabulary – another New Year Resolution. And finally if there are words we are not saying because of stubbornness in the past or a misunderstanding from another time, think again, it’s New Year Resolution time. The Word became Flesh and it was there or thereabouts at the beginning of a New Year, what words and actions do we need to take flesh in our lives in the year to come and what words and actions do we need to root out?
- Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin. This homily was preached as part of a broadcast of Mass on KCLR 96FM at 9.30am this morning.
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