Thinking about exorcists drew me back to the Catholic Church. A convert to Catholicism in graduate school, I ostensibly made an appointment with our local priest to start the annulment process for my first marriage and to return to the Church. What I really sought was absolution for my abortion – if it were possible. I figured if a Catholic priest could absolve me from my sin, then surely God would. Besides, I was hoping to wear a hair shirt as penance and maybe even lick the floors of the church clean for extra good measure – just as a beginning, of course, just as a beginning.
Our unsuspecting priest began our meeting with a warm welcome of gratitude for my returning to the Church. I immediately knew I had to put a stop to his kindness. So I interrupted him and blurted out, “I’ve had an abortion. Are you still grateful for my return?” He didn’t miss a beat. He quietly answered, “You need healing.” His peace disarmed me. As I choked back tears, I talked about my abortion. He listened patiently with all his heart.
Within a few days, he heard my confession in earnest. My penance was to read Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son and Fr. Michael Mannion’s book on post-abortion aftermath. He said Nouwen was for my heart; Mannion, for my head. I couldn’t imagine reading, one of my most beloved activities, as a penance. I thought there had to be a catch. Turns out – there was. The books sent me deeper into wanting to know about and experience God’s love.
Within a few months, our priest held a memorial service for my son. My husband and I in attendance, we buried my box of memories at the foot of my mother-in-law’s grave. My husband even had a little cornerstone placed there for our boy. Our priest gently sang, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Not long afterward, I attended my first Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
The rest, as they say, is history I’ve already shared with you. I received an annulment of my first marriage and celebrated the Convalidation of my second marriage. I was now invited to receive Holy Communion for the first time in almost 20 years – during Christmas 2004.
But hellfire and brimstone are hard to quench. Soon I was wishing I could continue kneeling at my pew while everyone else received Communion. I felt unworthy to be with the good people, especially cradle Catholics. So I attended my second Rachel’s Vineyard retreat – this time with my husband.
I would like to tell you I have never turned down Jesus’ invitation to feast at his table again. The truth is I still struggle with my shame. There have been times I have sneaked out of church during the collecting of the gifts, paralyzed by my own accusations of my unworthiness. My spiritual director has challenged me to embrace my shame with compassion. It is, after all, what Jesus would do, what he does. Almost always now, I receive Holy Communion, no matter how I feel.
Running wild in my soul has brought me to a place where I can no longer run. Jesus has stopped me with his embrace. I’m getting used to crying often, tears of release and joy that cleanse my heart and soul. For others who struggle after an abortion, all I can say is get used to the love and support. And let yourself get used to actually accepting the love and support. It’s like a good prayer relationship with God. God is extending the invitation to be a best friend. In turn, we must let God be our best friend for real communication to start. I hope some day all post-abortive women can say, “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”