Into His Marvelous Light (through Mary’s Seven Sorrows)
“…that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
“…a heart of flesh”
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
I am beginning this chapter in January, 2014, the month of the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I have been going through a painful inner tension in anticipation of beginning this chapter, which may be my most painful chapter. My first of the four abortions that I had as a young woman occurred in the summer of 1972, a few months before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which, with Doe v. Bolton, effectively legalized abortion up until the moment of birth.
It is a sad time of the year for me. The anniversary coming less than a month after the joyful, holy Christmas season, celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, it inevitably reminds me of the slaughter of the holy innocents over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. And I am reminded most painfully of the killing of my own holy, innocent children and of the slaughter of millions of unborn, innocent children throughout our world, which is covered in such spiritual darkness. I grieve for all of these children and for the spiritual destruction of their parents and so many others in this world.
Recently, as I anxiously anticipated writing this chapter, I again felt intense shame, and I dreaded revealing my shameful acts in this public way. “Why, I ask the Lord, would I expose myself again in this way?” And He answers me by bringing to my mind an image of Him sitting, scourged, crowned with thorns, with the dirty, ragged cloak draped over His shoulders. Then I see myself sitting next to Him, ashamed, and He removes His cloak and drapes it over my shoulders, and I know that He is claiming me as His own.
“But You are innocent, Holy Lord, like the children; while I am shamefully guilty. My soul is dirty and ragged like that cloak.” But, without saying a word to me, He communicates to me that the cloak is a cloak of honor, because it is His cloak, which He has bestowed upon me—and I know that I will reveal my shame, in union with His undeserved shame, once again. For love of Jesus and of all of those unborn babies and their wounded parents, I will reveal my shame once again.
One morning, as I was praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, I was as usual meditating on the sorrowful mysteries as I prayed the chaplet. At the 5th Sorrowful Mystery—“Jesus is Crucified and Dies on the Cross”—I see in my mind and heart an image of Him painfully nailed to the Cross. I am painfully aware of those nails in His hands and His feet. His two feet are nailed together, and I wince at the thought of how excruciating that must have been. Then images of aborted babies, torn into pieces, come to my mind, and I understand that Jesus is united with each of those babies in their pain, and in a mystical sense He is crucified again with each of those babies. And my heart is united with Jesus in each of those babies. And I offer the chaplet for an end to abortion; it isn’t a routine prayer, it is a prayer of compassionate intercession for all of the babies who are facing abortion; I am suffering with Jesus in them; I am grieving for the babies; I am outraged at the injustice against them; I am crying with them and also crying with their mothers and fathers; and my suffering with Jesus in the broken bodies of those little ones becomes the balm that comforts me, because I believe that babies will be saved through my compassionate prayer, in union with Jesus and His Sorrowful Mother. I believe that some women and men will be given the grace to choose life for their babies, and in so doing to choose life for their own souls. I don’t know when abortion will end, but I am confident that some baby (or babies) will be blessed and protected through this prayer of Jesus’ Heart in my heart. It is Jesus calling out to His Father: “Have mercy on the babies! Please transform the hearts of those who are tempted to kill them!”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (1 Corinthians 1:3-7)
In 2005 I gave my testimony about my abortions and the healing I have received from Jesus before a large group of counselors, social workers, physicians, and others who counsel and minister to women who have had abortions. Project Rachel presented the workshop. The Project Rachel director asked me to share with them, among other things, what it was that made me feel pressured into having those abortions, and I wasn’t sure in my own mind what it was, so I asked the Lord that question, and one word came to mind: “Alone.”
The fathers of the babies did not want the responsibility for the babies; I had broken off communication with my parents, and I feared I would be condemned by them if I told them I was pregnant; I had no one to give me support to carry and give birth to those babies. My greatest aloneness was a result of my turning my back on Jesus a couple years before, and so I felt utterly alone in the world. I was suffering from chronic depression and didn’t feel able to adequately care for myself, though I hobbled along in my “independence.”
A few days after my first abortion, I smoked some marijuana with a neighbor friend, and after a few minutes I “lost it.” I started screaming: “O my God, I’m a murderer! I’m a murderer!” Still, I didn’t connect that accusation against myself with the abortion. My youngest sister had died in a car accident a couple years before, and I thought my intense guilt was from some undeserved blame that I was laying on myself concerning her death. (I believe that denial can be, not only a psychological defense to protect us from looking at a too painful truth, but also at times it may be a form of spiritual blinders that the enemy places over our conscience to keep us from seeing a truth that might move us to conversion; but the enemy can only place those blinders on us if we have already chosen to enter into his kingdom of darkness through grievous sin.)After I lost it emotionally and psychologically, I went into a severe depression and spent eleven months in a psychiatric hospital. I saw a psychiatrist for a decade after that, and each time I got pregnant again he promoted the idea of having another abortion. I think he thought he was helping me when he did that.
I want to say at this point that not every woman who has an abortion has the same degree of responsibility. I know a woman who got pregnant when she was twelve years old, and her parents took her to have an abortion, and I got the impression when she spoke about it that she had had no sense of what was going to occur—nor, until years later, what had occurred. This occurred before Roe v. Wade, at a time when there was little public knowledge about abortion. How many women in China and other places—even some in the United States—have been forced to have abortions? Others are pressured by boyfriends, husbands, or parents to have an abortion. Some are threatened to be thrown out if they don’t have it, and some suffer physical abuse if they don’t consent to an abortion.
And then there are those like myself who decide on their own to have an abortion, for a variety of reasons. I believe that only God can know for sure who is responsible for those abortions, and to what degree. In writing all of this I am not denying that abortion is a great evil, and I believe that I grievously sinned when I chose those abortions and will always deeply regret them. (Thanks be to God for His tender mercy in forgiving me.)
But, when the Lord communicated to me that it was my sense of being totally alone that made me feel an inner pressure to have the abortions, I was deeply touched and a little healed by His tender understanding, which did not condemn. It is important to me that no one reading this who has had an abortion will feel condemned by anything that I write, and I also hope that those who have not had an abortion will be moved to a deeper compassion for women who have had abortions.
Here is a passage from Blessed John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), #99, which has been a source of light and of great comfort to me:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
When I spoke to my spiritual director recently about my abortions, in preparation for writing this chapter, I spoke to him about the intensely painful emptiness that I experienced after each abortion. I told him that it was a pain like no other that I have ever experienced. The Scripture that comes to mind when I think of that painful emptiness is:
“For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36)
It seems to me that my spiritual heart and my soul was sucked out, as the tiny bodies of my babies were aspirated from my womb, tearing them apart and causing their deaths.
My spiritual director told me that he has never experienced that kind of emptiness, and I told him that no man will ever experience that kind of emptiness, and no woman who has not had an abortion can know the painful experience of that emptiness.
My spiritual director added that he can relate to my emptiness as being like the emptiness of the tomb in which Jesus was laid after His death, and Father’s comment gave me a kind of comfort, having the death of my babies and my intense pain about their deaths spoken about in the context of one of the mysteries of our Lord’s life.
And so I meditated on that mystery and on that thought. What is the emptiness of the tomb? Jesus was not only the Son of Mary, but also her God. Imagine how painfully empty her Heart was when she stood outside of that tomb after helping to lay the dead body of her Son in it. Imagine the painful emptiness of the hearts of Jesus’ closest friends, those who had been with Him for the three years of His ministry.
But, paradoxically, when I think of Jesus’ tomb, my deep sadness and sorrow (in union with our Sorrowful Mother’s sadness and sorrow) is transformed into joy, because the tomb is not only the place where Jesus’ dead body was laid. It is also the place where Jesus was resurrected…the place from which Jesus was resurrected. Without the tomb there would not have been a Resurrection.
And so Jesus’ tomb reminds me that my babies are resurrected and are with God, the Blessed Mother, all the saints, and all the angels for eternity. And it is my enduring hope that one day I will be able to see them face to face and embrace them, telling them face to face what I have told them many times in my heart…of my deep sorrow for the pain I caused them, of the love for them that has been miraculously growing from the soil of that emptiness, once I brought that sin and all of the pain of it (along with my whole being) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It is a love that is expressed in my prayers and work to help save the unborn babies who are at risk of being aborted, and to help save the souls of those who are tempted to commit the sin of abortion, and to bring Jesus’ reconciliation and healing to those who have already committed that sin, or who already have had that sin inflicted upon them.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
Jesus’ tomb reminds me of the emotional and spiritual resurrection I have been experiencing since I turned back to God, the resurrection that continues to grow, the more I abandon my life to God.
When I became pregnant for my firstborn child, still it was in a relationship that was totally lacking in commitment. Yet, through God’s grace, some very important changes had been taking place in my heart and in my life.
In 1982 I became a member of a Quaker meeting in the city where I lived, and it is in that fellowship that I rediscovered faith in God. The formal name of the Quakers is the Society of Friends, and it was a well-deserved name in the group that I met with, because they were supportive of their members whenever there was a crisis.
When I became pregnant, without asking me any embarrassing questions, they rejoiced with me in the new life that was growing in me, and their support strengthened me and gave me courage to face a very uncertain future. I will always remember the beautiful baby shower they gave me, where their love and acceptance warmed me like a receiving blanket swaddling my heart. As my friend drove me home from the shower, an image came to mind of wildflowers popping out of what looked like barren ground. It was the barrenness of my heart coming beautifully alive.
The most powerful change that was taking place in me was in the very vibrant relationship I was developing with God. Though I was obviously still in darkness about God’s plan for me, especially in relation to my sexuality, I was fervently seeking Him, and He was responding lovingly to my desire to have a genuine relationship with Him. As I am reflecting and writing about this, I keep thinking of Pope Francis’ words:
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up.”
The Quakers were my field hospital at that point in my life, and Jesus was the Physician who was healing my wounds, starting from the ground up, the ground being my wounded heart.
When I was about two months pregnant, I began having some very strong doubts about carrying my baby to term, strong temptations to have another abortion. There was a very intense battle going on in my heart and soul, and I am certain that the warriors who were fighting that battle were Jesus Christ and Satan. The outcome, as long as I remained willing to cooperate with Jesus, was certain. Jesus is always victorious in the souls of those who seek His salvation.
I started having thoughts like: “It isn’t fair to bring this baby into the world without a father who is present to support it…You don’t even have a full-time job and can barely financially support yourself…” I felt such a powerful tension in me that I went out that night and walked and walked for block after block the streets of my neighborhood in the very dangerous city of New Orleans, where very few women would venture out alone at night.
In response to Satan’s temptations, the Lord in me countered: “You can’t continue to just ‘throw away’ your responsibility…The Lord will provide whatever you need…”
Then I suddenly came to a totally firm decision to carry that baby: “I’m going to carry and keep this baby. I’m not going to ‘throw away’ my responsibility again. I’m going to trust that the Lord will provide what my baby and I will need.”
When I arrived home from my long, compelling walk, I began to have doubts again, and then, in an instant, I felt surrounded and embraced by the love of God the Father, and He spoke to my heart more tenderly than I had ever before experienced words: “This baby is My baby. I am its Father. I will provide all that it needs and all that you need.” When I recall the Father’s Presence at that moment, I am still awed and grateful beyond words. After that I never had any doubts about the wisdom of choosing life for my baby.
So though that pregnancy was a heavy cross to carry, deep in my heart I felt joy. I remember, walking down the street one day in spring, and I felt part of nature: the trees growing new leaves, the grass growing more and more green, flowers blossoming…new life in nature and in me. The spring in my step reflected the vibrant life within and without me. A young man who was passing me smiled widely and said admiringly: “Yo, Mama!” And I smiled back, with pride and joy in the new life in me.
I sometimes struggled with depression during that pregnancy, but I had enough emotional support not to become overwhelmed by it. A woman friend of mine went to Lamaze classes with me to help me prepare for a birth that I hoped would be without drugs. In the last month of my pregnancy she let me know where she was at all times so I could always reach her. That friend, Cindy, one of my sisters, and my sister-in-law remained with me for the whole labor, which lasted for 14 hours, most of the time in painful induced labor, until I finally consented to have a caesarean section.
After my daughter’s birth, it seemed like Satan pulled a plug out of the bottom of my heart, and all of the joy that I had been carrying in my heart during my pregnancy drained out, and in its place my heart was drowning in the worst depression I have experienced in my life. But Jesus did not abandon me, and deep down I knew that He was with me.
I struggled for two months with that depression. I had the sense that I was barely hanging on, and I prayed constantly: “Help me, Lord, please help me…” In retrospect I have come to realize that at that time I was overwhelmed by the feelings of guilt and grief about my abortions that had begun to surface.
One day, after two months of that depression, I was lying on my couch, and I felt like I couldn’t go any more. I simply said to Jesus: “I can’t hang on any longer, and in my heart I simply let go. Then immediately I felt myself as if physically lifted up, and in a moment the Lord lifted me out of that depression. A little while later a poem came to, a poem of healing, a poem in honor of my daughter:
To My Daughter
In bearing you
and loving you,
I have lost a part of myself,
yet freely so,
like a bare tree lovely
in its open embrace of the sky,
even in it winter barrenness,
the fruit of letting go of autumn leaves.
It is never too late to love, by opening the door to the God who is love. It is never too late to choose life, by inviting Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” into our heart.
In the next chapter I will continue to share with you my journey of healing from the wounds of my abortions, and in particular my reconciliation with my aborted babies. My God enlighten and heal you as you reflect on this chapter!