Published October 4, 2007
Every year on Respect Life Sunday, there are people sitting in the pews whose hearts are breaking.
On a day devoted to reminding the congregation that life in the womb is precious, there are men and women who are recalling the day, whether it was a year ago, or five, or ten, when they took an innocent life.
These people will sit fearfully, hoping their dreaded secret can’t be spied on their faces, and praying the sermon will soon be over.
Fortunately, many compassionate priests are well aware of abortion’s terrible effects, not just on the little ones that are gone forever, but on the lives of parents—and they temper their sermons accordingly.
They know these parents may have seen abortion as a simple solution, which is an understandable assumption in a world that often depicts pregnancy as a problem, rather than a blessing.
In truth, if every unwanted, unexpected and unplanned-for pregnancy ended in abortion, many people sitting in the pews wouldn’t be there. Because, let’s face it: Many of us came into the world as a big surprise to our parents, who thought they were just fine with one child, or two, or 10, or even 12.
On Respect Life Sunday, it’s important to remind people that taking a life can never be a solution, but only causes more problems. And this is true whether someone is eight weeks old and still in the womb or 80 years old and in a hospital bed.
But I also hope everyone will be reminded of God’s mercy, which is extended freely, and, yes, includes those who have had abortions.
These people often harbor sad, secret memories for years, and even if they’ve been to confession, may still dwell on dark images. True, God forgives us, but sometimes it is hard to forgive ourselves.
Some, like me, were lapsed Catholics at the time they had an abortion and thought it was a straightforward medical solution to a wrenching problem.
Others were practicing Catholics, but perhaps felt they had no other recourse. The list of reasons is endless and heart-rending: a broken relationship, a one-night stand, financial troubles, loss of a job, or fear of disgrace.
There may be terrible flashbacks that haunt us for years, and a worry that we have committed the unforgivable sin.
For me, there was the agonizing question, “What happened to that little soul?”
Returning to the Church, I found forgiveness in the confessional, where the priest let me pour out my heart and gave me absolution. He also assured me that “God takes care of the little souls.”
I left the confessional feeling immensely relieved, but before long, the nightmares started again. It was clear that the hard part came next, which was forgiving myself.
One day, I picked up a church bulletin and saw a notice about a ministry called Post-Abortion Treatment and Healing. Truthfully, I was surprised, because I thought the Catholic Church was too strict to bless such programs.
I had forgotten the whole mercy thing.
Mary Ann McNeil, a Catholic mother who heads the ministry, came to my rescue. I made an appointment and soon was telling her my story amidst a storm of tears.
She met me weekly after that, and together we read a book based on Scripture, designed to help people heal their hearts after abortions.
Little by little, I was able to accept the big truth: God really had forgiven me, and it was time to accept His mercy.
Writing this column stirred up old painful memories again, but I’m writing it for all those who will be cringing in the pews on Respect Life Sunday.
And because I believe what the bumper sticker says: Abortion does stop a beating heart.
But I know it often crushes two other hearts in the process.
There is the father, who sometimes isn’t told about the abortion until after the fact. Or perhaps he knew but thought it was a simple solution at the time. There are the mothers who feel a sword going through their hearts every time they see a newborn infant and wonder, “What if?”
These parents surely can attest to the truth: Human beings may be annoying, maddening, costly and time-consuming, but they are never really problems. And causing death can never provide a solution.
The solution is found in Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
He promises undying mercy and forgiveness to all who seek Him in the sacrament of confession.
And my prayer for those in the pews whose hearts are breaking is this: May they find healing. May they know His mercy. And through ministries like PATH, may they finally find the peace that surpasses understanding.
For information on PATH, check the Web site www.healingafterabortion.org or call (404) 896-6521. Artwork for the print edition is by Jef Murray. Readers may e-mail Lorraine Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.