I’m thrilled to have Fr. Henry Ogbuji as a guest blogger speaking about domestic violence from a ministerial perspective. Fr. Henry is one of the Church’s brave priests who isn’t shy about speaking out against domestic violence, and is the author of From Where Shall Come Our Help: The Lament of Abused Persons.
A priest from Nigeria, Fr. Henry writes about his own personal experience, which led to being a primary domestic violence advocate within the Church. He now guides clergy, lay ministers, and others to become aware of domestic abuse and how the Catholic Church can help victims protect themselves, and heal.
Love Is Not a Competition
Competitions are supposed to be fun. They're designed to challenge the stamina, talent and determination of those participating, and they should encourage strong camaraderie and social engagement.
Unfortunately there any situations in which competition gets out of control. It can become a manipulative power play, a one-upmanship, a display of vulgar and unwholesome opposition.
Abusive and narcissistic individuals tend to view all of life as a competition. They always have to be the winner. If they aren't—if they feel they’ve lost, or someone might be better at something than they are—then all hell breaks loose.
And that’s putting it mildly.
Sadly, love is no exception.
I was recently interviewed by Dr. Cynthia Toolin-Wilson of WCAT TV about my upcoming book, Don’t Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic’s Guide to Domestic Abuse. I took the title of my book from Jeremiah 4:3 because reflects the truth of abusive relationships; where love is neglected, fruitfulness is impossible unless real change and healing is achieved.
“The Catholic Church defines marriage as a continuous act of mutual self-giving,” I point out in the interview. “That's what marriage should be—a beautiful giving of self because you can be vulnerable. In a marriage you have to be vulnerable; if you can't be vulnerable you don't really have a marriage, and certainly self-giving is impossible. Mutual self-giving is giving your strengths to your partner, and your partner giving his strengths to you; likewise you give your weaknesses so you can share in both. In an abusive relationship you can't give your vulnerability because it will be taken advantage of. You can't show your weaknesses because they will get thrown back in your face. The ability to mutually self-give as the Catholic Church defines marriage is impossible.”
Yet there is hope, there is healing, and change is possible. What does change look like? For a victim of abuse, it’s a metamorphosis from victim to survivor, a renewal of self and soul.
I invite you to listen to my interview with Dr. Cynthia Toolin-Wilson, where we discuss various aspects of domestic abuse and healing.
Love in a Horse Chestnut
Nestled deep within my pocket, or sometimes clutched in the palm of my hand, I carry a horse chestnut. It's plain, it's simple, it's ordinary--at least to anyone who might see it. But to me, it’s a sacred object.
It’s easy to feel unloved when struggling through an abusive relationship. Victims are either blatantly told that they aren’t worthy of being loved, or sometimes the attack may come in different words but with the same meaning. Verbal abuse is just another way of being told we’re not cherished by our partner. An individual with covert tendencies will often say things such as “you hate me,” or play the victim in order to guilt their target into submission.
These words and actions also show a lack of empathy and love.
That’s why—for the sake of our mental health and emotional well-being—a group of understanding, supportive loved ones is so important. There’s a reason the LORD declares in Genesis 2:18, “it's not good that man should be alone.” He created us as social beings, living in a social world. Isolation is a detriment to health and healing.
And here's where my horse chestnut enters the story.
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.