By SISTER MEG COLE
Catholic Charities Therapist
In the book “Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World,” Christina Feldman explains the importance of living with a deep sense of compassion in our lives. This sense of compassion needs to be toward others as well as ourselves.
It is essential, in our suffering world, to carry compassion within us when managing the emotional, spiritual and psychological pain of life.
Feldman states: “We are always beginners in the art of compassion. No matter how advanced or refined we believe our understanding to be, life is sure to present us with some new experience or encounter with pain we feel unprepared for.”
“To have pain unprepared for” – Women who have a pain they are not prepared for can sometimes be those who now have regret after making the decision to have an abortion. This unique pain of profound sorrow is associated with having concluded, in a time of intense and severe distress that an abortion was undeniably necessary.
After the abortion is completed, a woman can experience a great deal of disquiet within herself. She inwardly questions: “How could I have let such a thing happen?” She struggles with the excuses and explanations made before the abortion and believes the stories she told herself about why this was the right choice to make.
This can be a very lonely place for a woman as she now reflects on her fateful decision that has left her in dark despair. The woman has not anticipated such grief to be hers after terminating this biological and emotional mother-child union. But ultimately, she is in great conflict within herself as she comes to the awareness that a child has died due to this decision.
At some point the grace of God can nudge this woman forward to receive healing and forgiveness through the Catholic Charities ministries of Project Rachel (individual counseling sessions) and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat (a weekend of “God’s Unconditional Love, Mercy and Forgiveness”).
The bereaved woman is no longer able to ignore the thoughts and feelings associated with the abortion. Her voice reveals a deep sadness, “I had an abortion” she expresses with tense repose and regret. Crestfallen about her own unbelievable behavior and undeniable loss of what could have been a treasured child, this woman can feel a precise need to bring this sadness to God.
Since there is no escaping this pain, when a woman who comes to a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, she is provided a dwelling to heal this wound. It is a very lonely place for this woman as she presses to explore her fateful decision. A troubled choice has taken her to a distressed place, holding a dark secret in despair.
Such ministries allow this woman to mourn and grieve the loss of her child in the presence of the unconditional Mercy that is God. There is no sin greater than God’s Mercy.
This awareness can restore a sense of dignity in the woman as she desires to live life and continue her journey as one whose inner turmoil can now be forgiven by herself and by God.
In the words of Scripture, Jesus tells us (Luke 6:36), “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.”
The experience of a “Compassionate Father” is not necessarily a common one. Such a father is described in a book on compassion by Catherine Nerney.
Included in the book is a story of a “Compassionate Father” who approaches his growing sons and shares with them the ultimate truth – they are going to most likely make some grave mistakes in their lives, and he wants them to know that he is always available to them and will be faithful to them.
He holds himself out as a “resource” even when they may have done something they know he would find unacceptable and disappointing. He does this by providing his sons a code word: “Sanctuary.”
He informs them that he will always be their trustworthy, reliable and loyal father. At any time, no matter what the mistake, they are to come to him and just say “Sanctuary.”
The father will back down and show no anger or defensiveness, but will be there for his sons. Such an image, and to have this image of God the Father, is one many men need to know – especially those men who made the decision to be involved in an abortion.
Many men are now experiencing the emotional pain and great shame for having been involved and participated in the choice to have an abortion. Sometimes the man pays for the abortion and demands that his partner goes through with the appointment. On other levels, the man could have begged the woman not to have an abortion but could find no way to stop her.
For most men, this is a nameless and difficult suffering, one so exclusive that they carry the pain of this event deep within. However, men too can participate in the ministries of Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. Men too can come to healing and say to God, “Sanctuary.”
The man who allows himself to participate in these ministries and expresses his self-resentment and anger for being complicit in the abortion experience will only be embraced in the love of God.
God calls out to all those who are suffering with a pain they were not prepared for and wants them to know there is “Sanctuary.”
And in these healing ministries only God’s faithfulness, love and compassion will prevail. Restored wholeness and dignity will be theirs as they honor their child and have a conversation with God about all that has happened.
A Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat will be the weekend of March 22-24 in the Diocese of Allentown.
Individual counseling is also available. Contact Catholic Charities’ confidential phone line at 1-866-3rachel, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 610-332-0442 ext. 2019.
Feldman, C. (2005) “Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World,” Rodmell Press: Boulder, CO.
Nerney, C. (2018) “The Compassionate Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness,” Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY.