Dear Seminarians and Priests,
I was asked to write to you regarding post-abortion and a ministry of the heart called Project Rachel. Project Rachel is help for those hurting from an abortion experience. Whether it is the mother of the aborted child, father, grandparents or friends. Abortion not only takes the life of an unborn child; it deeply wounds the hearts of those involved. At Project Rachel, a team of support including those healed from their experience, trained priests, and counselors help individuals cope with the pain of an abortion.
Society paints the picture of having an abortion as a solution to a crisis pregnancy. It seems as simple as getting a tooth pulled or a wart removed. Most women who seek abortions are lost, scared, alone, or being pressured by family, friends, or the father of the child. A majority are teenagers who live day to day and are unable to look too far into the future. Their minds race when they discover they are pregnant. They turn to find a "quick fix" for the crisis they are in. Much like teenagers do for any trouble they find themselves within.
What society doesn’t reveal is the heartfelt pain that comes after an abortion. When the reality of what they have done strikes their minds, hearts, and souls, they find themselves trying to cope with a part of their innermost being that died the day they had an abortion.
I know from my experience of having an abortion when I was 18. I buried the pain for over 15 years before I realized I was self-destructing. I had created an inner prison of self-condemnation, self-hatred, guilt, shame, and a fear of God’s wrath and punishment. I had committed the unforgivable sin and there was no way out of the pit of my abortion. I knew what I chose to do. I saw signs that read "Abortion is Murder", and I knew if I was truly a murderer, I deserved to be locked up in a prison cell for the rest of my life. If no one in society would place me there, I would have to do it myself. I didn’t know of God’s love or His mercy. I thought I deserved to rot in hell for throwing my child into the trash.
It wasn’t until I was on the edge of suicide in 1996, wondering why I should be alive that I saw a small ad for Project Rachel in our Diocesan newspaper. I was overwhelmed that my Church would be a source of help. I thought the Catholic Church despised and hated me because I knew of their stand against abortion. I had heard speakers, sermons, and read articles from the Church and no where until then had I heard anything about healing.
I called the Project Rachel phone number and spoke to someone who understood my pain and she wanted to help me begin the climb out of my self-imposed prison and lead me to freedom. I met with a Project Rachel priest who spoke of God’s love and mercy yet I was still blinded by my own perception of myself. He gave me a book to read and I found myself sitting near a lake, in a remote spot contemplating suicide. With basically, a gun in one hand and Father’s book in another, I chose to read the book before I ended my life.
At that point I thought I had sent my baby to hell and to be with her in the place I put her seemed to be the right thing to do. As I read the book, it spoke of aborted children being with the Lord, not in hell as I had thought.
It was that moment that God came to me in a very profound way and told my heart that my child was with Him and He wanted me to draw close to Him and come to know Him as a loving and forgiving God. My heart was filled with such joy and hope that I put the gun away. I made a commitment to find a way to know this "God" whom my aborted child was with.
I didn’t know where to begin searching. I didn’t know if this could be true. Could God forgive me? Accept me? Love me? I called the Project Rachel priest again and unknowingly talked to him when he was overwhelmed within his parish work. He was short and abrupt with me and asked what I needed…I didn’t have an answer. He set up another appointment with me but within a few days before I was scheduled to meet with him, my heart had returned to the self –condemnation. I perceived the priest’s impatience as a sign that I still wasn’t worthy of the Church’s forgiveness, acceptance, or love. I canceled the appointment and fell back into despair.
The longing in my heart continued to grow to search and seek "God", not knowing what I needed. All I knew what that I needed God. My heart knew I had found "God" that day by the lake through a priest. My heart began to observe my parish priest----searching for God. My mind told me that he, the priest, knew God…after all, he was chosen by God to be Him in this world. I observed the priest in prayer before daily Mass, longing to have a small crumb of his prayers to God. I saw his reverence for the Lord during Mass and his kindness and compassion towards his parishioners. I saw his love for the children as he spoke to them. He was showing me who our Lord is; yet I never felt I could approach him with my wounded heart and my sin of abortion.
I felt like an outcast and could only stay at a distance: much like the hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel.
A deacon was staying at the parish for the summer and I felt maybe I could talk to him without telling about the wound I was carrying. He had spoke of God’s mercy and love in his sermons and one day I found the courage to approach him and ask him….What is God’s mercy? I knew I needed it. What was it and how can I receive it? What could I possibly do to make up for my abortion?, I thought. The deacon spoke straight to my heart when he said, when we say, "Lord, have mercy", we are asking God to "deal with us gently". Oh, how I needed those words and I began to beg God to "deal with me gently". I was so afraid of God’s wrath and punishment. The deacon’s words were a small step in my healing.
I would return to the deacon frequently asking more questions but afraid to tell him why I needed God. I was sure he would reject me and cast me out of the Church if he knew what I had done. The deacon returned to the seminary and I turned back to observing the parish priest. I wanted to approach him with my heart. I needed to receive some of the love he showed to others but fear, shame, and feelings of unworthiness kept me away. I needed to tell him of my sin, but what would he say? How would he look at me? What would he think of me? I cried in Church when no one was around, telling God how sorry I was for having the abortion and begging for His love.
Another year passed as I struggled within myself. Our diocese sponsored a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat weekend in the summer of 1997. This retreat brought me together with nine other post-abortive women, a support team, priests, and a counselor. We shared our pain, told our stories, and cried many tears as we began to honor our babies lost to abortion. We opened ourselves to each other and to God. As my heart listened to their pain, I wanted to love them and help them ease their pain. It was then that I realized I also had to let others love me through my pain.
I returned to the parish priest and asked to see him. I was finally feeling accepted, forgiven, and loved by God when the priest accepted me. My heart began to accept the love that I saw the priest give to God and his parishioners into my own wounded heart. His love became the bridge between my heart and God. His acceptance of me began to tear down the walls of my self-hatred. His compassion gave me the hope to begin to forgive myself. His willingness to listen to my pain opened up my heart to talk with the Lord.
As seminarians and as priests, I want you to know that your love for those who have been effected by the trauma of abortion can be the source of life to a wounded soul. I now work within Project Rachel and facilitate Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. I have walked with over 100 hurting hearts. These hearts, like mine, need to know there is hope for healing. They need to be loved, accepted, and feel forgiven by the Church and the Lord. Post-abortion healing is a matter of the heart. We, as post-abortive parents, know the seriousness of what we have done. We know the pain, the shame, the guilt, and self-hatred. What we don’t know is there are people who will love, accept, and forgive us with our sin of abortion. We need someone who will listen to the pain of our hearts including the story of our abortion experience and still love us. Many of us have carried the pain and the story for decades without telling a soul.
Many post-abortive parents begin their healing journey within the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I ask you from my heart to love and accept them. If possible, invite them to come to talk to you. If you have a Project Rachel ministry or offer Rachel’s Vineyard retreats in your Diocese, please offer this to them.
Know that many wounded hearts are looking to you as a source of God’s love and mercy. You may be the one person who can save a life…. not only the physical life but the emotional and spiritual life of someone who has been involved with an abortion.
Never underestimate the power of your words, actions, and example to a heart that is searching for God through you!
May God bless you and your journey within His priesthood!