Divine Mercy After An Abortion
After having an abortion, BERNADETTE GOULDING couldn’t forgive herself — but found that God could
Abortion has made a deep and hidden wound in societies all over the world. Many women and men in and outside our communities are suffering from the consequences of abortion.
I had an abortion many years ago and know the pain, shame, guilt, regret and self-condemnation which follow. It is a life-altering decision.
Who are the women who choose abortion? They are our daughters, wives, sisters, relatives, friends and members of our parish communities. Very often they carry a secret wound in their hearts that is re-opened every time they hear a baby cry or see a pregnant woman.
The pain is so deep that very often many women cannot even say the word “abortion” without suffering interior distress
Many women choose abortion to save a relationship, or keep their boyfriend from leaving. Whatever the situation, the sad fact is that most relationships do not survive an abortion.
Even if abortion helps you to achieve some desired goal in life, many women discover, as I did, that the goal they have achieved has lost its meaning.
Abortion was presented to me as a very simple procedure. I was told by the doctor that nothing was there but merely some cells, and that I would be just fine afterwards.
I wasn’t. Instead, I suffered for many years from depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, self-hatred, low self-esteem, and undeniable grief. I believed that I had committed the unforgivable sin and that there was no way back for me.
For many years I was too afraid to go to confession because I believed that God would not forgive me. Eventually I went to confession, and for a short time I would feel peace — but very soon I’d begin to doubt that I was forgiven. Repeat-confessions are very common for women who have had abortions.
With abortion there is no focus for your grief. There is no body to bury, no graveside to visit, no family and friends to help you grieve your loss — so the grieving goes on and on.
I felt like I had a big A (for abortion) on my forehead. I felt that I deserved to suffer and that I had no right to be happy ever again.
Don’t waste your suffering
I kept the secret of my abortion for many years until one day I confided in a friend, who told me: “Don’t waste your suffering” — let God use it for good.
I went to confession and the priest was kind and compassionate. He told me that God had forgiven me, and now I must forgive myself. He asked me to give my baby a name. I named my unborn child Gabriel.
My life changed after that. I had touched the hem of His garment. I had experienced his unfathomable mercy. I had to give my guilt and my grief to the Lord.
Only those who have experienced such forgiveness can appreciate what I am talking about. It is life-transforming; it is the witnessing of a miracle, a participation in the Resurrection of Christ.
The wounds of abortion run deep. Healing can happen only when the isolation and secrecy are dismantled, and your story is shared with others who do not condemn or judge you. Only then is it possible to grieve.
Many women and men often consider abortion as the “unforgivable sin”. Feeling alienated from God and without hope of reconciliation has left many too terrified to confess.
Absolution takes away the sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders that sin has caused. For many the sacrament of reconciliation is not the end of the journey, but most often, it is the beginning. It’s a beginning made through stepping out in spite of fear, with courage and humility, to receive God’s forgiveness.
We know that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good (Romans 8:28).
When God forgives our sins, he casts them out into the ocean of his mercy, and he puts a sign up on the shore: No fishing!
God has healed me and freed me from the human shame of abortion, not because I have forgotten and don’t regret it, but because I have acknowledged my sin, knowing that I do not deserve divine mercy. I had to go before God without my defences, my denial and all my excuses. I had to face my life with honesty.
Miracles out of mistakes
God can make miracles out of our mistakes. I have been leading Rachel’s Vineyard retreats in Ireland for the past 14 years.
Rachel’s Vineyard is a beautiful weekend retreat for women and men who have been hurt by abortion. It was founded in the United States by Dr Theresa Burke. This beautiful retreat offers women and men an opportunity to examine their abortion experience, identify the ways that the loss has affected them, and acknowledge the pain and suffering the loss of their unborn child has caused them
I have also taken this beautiful retreat to several other countries, England, Scotland, Malta, Lebanon, Korea, the Faroe Islands, Hungary, and just recently had the first Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in Cape Town. For anyone who is suffering after an abortion, there is hope and healing at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. God’s mercy is unfathomable.
An Irish priest who works with me on the retreats had this to say: “These weekends are truly amazing. Women, who have felt isolated, ashamed and alone, finally get a voice, and are allowed to tell their story in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere, where they experience total acceptance. They come from all denominations and none, where they can safely talk, share, cry, and laugh together.
“The tears of the Catholic, the former Catholic, the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist are indistinguishable.”
They also strengthen the cause of advancing respect for every human life.
I have seen how these women — and men too — go on to become marvellous witnesses of hope and healing. In finding forgiveness they find humility and a renewal of their faith.
Emptying the grief to make room for God’s grace is the work of Rachel’s Vineyard.
Find out more at www.rachelsvineyard.ie. For Rachel’s Vineyard retreats in South Africa please contact Angie in Cape Town at 082 852-1284 or Moira in Durban at 084 468 8890.