Years ago, when I was teaching here in our Academy, I had a student who often shared her dreams with me, the way that happens in a boarding school. After she graduated, she called me one evening at the end of her freshman year of college. She was sobbing. She told me she had become involved with a married man, and when she told him she was pregnant he convinced her to have an abortion. Within days, she was devastated and reached out to me for help. Her dreams were shattered.
There were no words I could offer to stem the flood of her tears that drenched my heart from a thousand miles away. I was rather young myself and this was my first experience with such agony in another's soul. I could only help her cry and try to remind her that all was not lost. But I was wrong. In her eyes, all was lost. I know that because she called me regularly for years. Her words were predictable.
“I have a child now.... I have two children now.... I have three children now. But no child will ever bring back the child I destroyed. I measure every child I see against the child I will never see. She would be that age. She would be on that bus. She would be going into that dance studio with her ballet slippers hanging over her shoulders.... She would be walking down the aisle now, Sister, into the arms of the man who would be her husband. What have I done? I've been to confession, but I can't forgive myself, so how could God forgive me? What will become of me?”
Gradually the calls became less frequent. I was worried about her, and never stopped praying for her.
Then, one night I met her at the bedside of a dying man. She was a nurse, and I was ministering in the same hospital in Pastoral Care. I had never expected to see her again, but here we were together, two people who had spent two decades talking about an unborn child sent out of season into eternity, now sitting with a man who was about to enter that same eternity.
In the dim light of the nurses' station outside the room, she leaned over and said softly, “Can I tell you something, Sister? You will want to hear this. This past weekend I made a Rachel Retreat. It's for women who have had abortions. I told my husband I needed to go. He knows about what happened. I'd heard these retreats were good for people like me.”
“Saturday night we had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament all night,” she continued. “There was a life-sized statue of Mother Mary in the Chapel and she held her arms as though there was a baby in them. But instead of a baby, Mary was cradling this huge Host framed in gold. Mary was gazing down at the Host, but I felt Him gazing out at me. I looked at the Host and I knew it was Jesus. I told Him for the thousandth time how sorry I was for what I had done. And do you know what happened?”
The man who lay between us just then took a last gentle breath as I waited for her to finish her story. We looked down at him and began the prayers for his departed soul. Slowly we both straightened up. She looked at me over his now empty body, the temple that had once housed the entire Mystery of God.
“I knew that I was forgiven at that moment when Jesus in the Host looked at me,” she whispered. “I will never forget the awful thing I did, and I'll always carry the pain with me, but now I know there is hope for me. I think someone must have been really praying for me, Sister. I'm sure of it. I know I am forgiven.“
I could not tell whether the tears falling on the man's graying hands were hers or mine. Maybe they were both. And the tears of Jesus, too, because He was there in that room as well. I realized in that moment, in a way I had never known before, just how fragile a gift life is. From conception to natural death, we say.
Don't ever think your prayers aren't enough or aren't being heard when you pray for an end to abortion, and for the culture of death to give way to the Culture of Life. There are millions of women out there, and men, all dying little deaths over and over again. They need our prayers. They need to be reconciled. And we can help.
Perhaps today we can go in spirit to the place where broken hearts go. Perhaps we can pick up just one and carry it all day, close to our own heart, begging God for healing for that shattered one. With all the suffering in this world at this moment, may one soul who cannot believe in forgiveness be transformed into wholeness and come to trust in the merciful Heart of God through our prayer. I know it happens. And greater things, too. With God, all things are possible.
By Mother Marie Julie Saegaert, SCMC
Are you grieving from an Abortion? Call Project Rachel, the church’s post-abortion healing program, for a confidential referral to a priest who can help: 860-861-4439.