Archive for December, 2015

The Cross Above the Manger: Coping with Grief and Loss Over the Holidays

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Manger 2

Christmas can be a magical time, especially when enjoying the season through the eyes of children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  However alongside the lights and festivities, the joy and wonder of this special time, many can quietly struggle with a sense of grief and loss.

You don’t have to be an Ebenezer Scrooge to recognize that the expectations for an idealized Hallmark Card Christmas by the fireplace fail to match up to the complex realities, the uncertainty and fear that are part of many of our lives.  Death of a friend or family member, loved ones serving in the military, illness and unemployment can cast a long shadow on our holiday celebrations.   Holidays can magnify any painful experiences of family dysfunction in the past and may linger and impact current family celebrations.

Those ministering in the abortion healing ministries know that this time of year, the focus on the Christ Child and the joy of children at Christmas can surface feelings of regret and sadness about a past abortion loss (or losses.)  We remember the son/daughter, grandchild, or a brother or sister who will never share in the wonder of the season.  This repressed and unrecognized grief associated with abortion and other losses can be expressed in substance abuse, depression, melancholy and a hunger to remain distracted and busy amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.  Often there is great fear to face that deeper grief and the often complicated feelings and painful memories that can accompany such losses.

If we can slow down the Holiday rush for a few minutes, we may discover something important in the deeper meaning in this great feast.  As the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus unfolds, before the choir of angels sings to the Shepherds in the fields, we see the first reaction of Mary and Joseph upon learning of their unique vocation and calling from God:

As the Angel Gabriel encounters Mary, he responds to the anxiety in her heart:

“Do not be afraid Mary…”

Joseph is sick at heart and very confused after learning of his beloved fiancé’s unplanned pregnancy; the Angel proclaims:

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…”

Of course they were both confused and afraid.

We think of the Christmas story in the context of cozy and warm family gatherings, with the smell of cookies baking in the oven.   But in the real Christmas story, the lives of Mary and Joseph are in the process of being turned upside down!  They will face even more fear and uncertainty as their vocations unfold.

Joseph and Mary, and the life of their newborn child will soon be threatened with terror and death from a demonically inspired Herod. They face dangerous travel and exile from their hometowns for years to come.  Joseph and Mary surely were challenged in many ways that the stories do not recount.  Their faith and trust in God were forged in the fires of these trials, testing and temptation that are part of all of our stories.  We can imagine that Joseph had other moments of doubt and confusion and in prayer would remember the Angel’s reassuring message:

“Don’t be afraid Joseph; God is with you, keep moving ahead…trust in Him.”

Fr. Bernhard Speringer shares:

  …the Cross above the Manger is more than a mere decoration…The birth and death of Jesus Christ, the Manger and the Cross, belong together indissolubly. God became man in order to die for us as man. God was born in Bethlehem in order to be able to lay down his life on Golgotha out of love for men!  Thus the Manger and the Cross form a union. Both the Manger and the Cross are for us the revelation of God’s love.

Emmanuel – God with Us

With the help of the Holy Spirit, this feast can be time of abundant grace and new opportunities for spiritual growth, healing and joy – even when the Holiday time is far from ideal.  In fact, just as with the Holy Family, suffering can lead us to a deeper encounter with our Christian vocation:

  • The movie Inside Out very beautifully illustrated how grieving can help us to move beyond the denial manifest in hyperactivity, addiction and numbness. As the story of Riley in the story reveals, healthy expressions of grief can help us treasure what has been lost, more deeply embrace those we love, and empower us with new energy to embrace the future. Make time to be with friends, family or see a priest/minister or counselor who you can share your heart with.
  • If you have a friend or relative who is going through a tough time or had a rough year, make some time to be with them. Acknowledge their loss and invite them to share their heart with you. If a relative is missing a loved one, offer them the greatest gift of sharing their dearest memories and feelings.
  • If you know a friend loved one who was impacted by an abortion and they have shared this with you in the past, share a pamphlet or contact information for an abortion healing program in your area. If they want to share about their experience, receive what they are ready to share from their story, and offer the good news that this is a perfect time in the upcoming New Year to bring this suffering to the Lord, and attend a program for spiritual and emotional healing after abortion.
  • Sometimes it can seem like life is giving you the short end of the bargain. You can struggle with anger at God and others for various trials and challenges. Try to remember that the anger, bitterness or sadness from your life wounds are a potent spiritual reservoir of grace when united with the suffering of Christ. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice to our Heavenly Father. We can unite our imperfect sacrifice (some of that pain may be the fruit of our own sin or the sin of others) to the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary on the altar at each mass.
  • Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently. Confess from the heart any bitterness, resentment arising from those areas of sin and darkness that are part of your life story and may be especially painful this time of year. There is powerful grace and peace when we open our heart to Christ through the Priest, and with God’s grace move to grieve our losses, let go of what is out of our control, and experience a new freedom and peace. Cry out to God for His mercy and peace. This sacrament is especially fruitful in times of suffering and temptation.
  • Exercise daily if your health allows. It’s the best medicine in the world for anxiety and depression. Just a brisk walk in the woods or by the water can lift your heart from the depths and help you see the sky, sun and the hope of new beginnings.
  • Make a resolution to get involved in service in your local church. Reach out of your own pain, and offer the love of Christ to the homebound, prisoners, the homeless and children in need.

Surviving Family Celebrations

Celebrate and rejoice in and through the pain.  Things were far from perfect for the Holy Family.  It’s ok that your marriage, family and holiday celebrations are far from idyllic.  Lower the heavy expectations you place on your shoulders to provide the perfect holiday.  It’s more important to take more time for mass, adoration, and prayers such as the rosary.

At Holiday gatherings, avoid those conversation topics and encounters that will feed into conflict and stress you out; ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to avoid getting pulled into any toxic dynamics and exchanges and let the peace of the Christ Child reign in your heart.  Give yourself permission, especially if you are struggling with your own grief and loss, to avoid or at least limit certain situations that will drain you emotionally and spiritually.

If you are fortunate to enjoy the company of friends and family in sharing the joy of the season, praise God and treasure this great gift.

If sorrow and pain are part of your journey and at times darken your Holiday celebrations…you have not been abandoned.  You have been called, and Jesus would say, blessed to share in the suffering of the Holy Family:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.  Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   (Matthew 5, 3-10)

Imagine: The Impact on Modern Music If Abortion Was Legal in 1940’s England

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Rock and Roll

By Kevin Burke, MSS

Let’s imagine that abortion was legal in March of 1945 in the United Kingdom. A 16yr old girl named Patricia takes the bus to her local Planned Parenthood center for a pregnancy test and discovers she is pregnant. Patricia explains to the counselor that she was impregnated from a torrid affair with Edward, a married soldier who will be ending his time of service in the next few months. Edward will be returning to his wife in Canada prior to the expected due date of the baby. Patricia is afraid, embarrassed, and does not want to parent this child.

If you are in favor of abortion rights, you would likely agree with the Planned Parenthood Counselor that the only rational and compassionate solution to this young woman’s pregnancy would be termination of the fetus.

You just aborted blues/rock guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton.

Let’s imagine another scenario: It’s Wartime Britain in 1940 and German bombs are reigning terror on the civilian population. A young woman named Julia is pregnant by Alfred, a merchant seaman who by nature of his profession will have little time to father his son and support his wife. The pregnant mother is a creative and free-spirited woman unprepared for the responsibilities of motherhood with a partner away at sea. Julia’s sister would very soon have to assume the parenting of any child she birthed as the county social services would consider Julia unfit to provide sufficient care and protection of children.

Now, if this mother were to enter a Planned Parenthood or other abortion provider today, what course of action would the counselor most likely advise? Based on the thousands of testimonies of women after abortion, she would have been strongly counseled to abort.

Julia’s son was born and soon raised by his aunt Mimi after Julia relinquished the child. As a teenager, her son would form a band that would launch a seismic revolution in culture and music in the 1960’s. This boy later wrote a very moving and beautiful song for his mother, Julia:

… Julia, ocean child, calls me
Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering
In the sun
Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

If abortion were a common, socially validated and readily available choice for women in 1940, the world would have never heard the innovative and beautiful music of John Lennon and the Beatles. John would have likely perished in his mother’s womb.

The Paradox of Abortion Support in the Creative Arts

Each child lost to abortion reflects the great diversity and endless possibilities of every life that comes into this world. Many of their stories would have featured the combination of triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow that marks many of our lives; simple lives of love, life, routine and family.  Some, like John Lennon and Eric Clapton would impact an entire generation and change the course of culture and music.  Many of these men and women would have shared their own creative gifts as writers, artists, musicians, actors and poets.

As we learn more and more about the complex and dynamic creative process that begins with the conception of each person, we see that God is the consummate creative artists. What amazing diversity, wonder and beauty are reflected in all of nature from the farthest reaches of the cosmos to the genetic complexity of the fertilized zygote.

This creative power is also shared in a special way with those who are born with and develop those gifts we find in the creative arts. The musical artist has the capacity to take the normal experiences of desire and love and touch us deeply with the power of song and lyrics.

Consider Eric Clapton’s aching love song for the lovely Pattie Boyd, Bell Bottom Blues:

Bell bottom blues, you made me cry.
I don’t want to lose this feeling.
And if I could choose a place to die
It would be in your arms.

The music of the Beatles and Clapton, the thrill of a theatrical production, and the power of story in song, books and movies brings such richness and joy to life. It holds the power to deeply move and even change us and the world we live in.

Across the Universe

There have been nearly 60 million abortions in the U.S. alone since 1973. Consider for a moment how many amazing artists were lost.

Yet most women and men in entertainment, music, art, and theater embrace what they see as the progressive and compassionate position of supporting and promoting abortion rights.

It is time for the artistic community to rethink the promotion of abortion as a human right and social good.

This world and the entire universe are the great majestic canvas of our Creator. Let’s return the providence over life and death to the One who from nothing, unleashed the multitude of galaxies and stars, the diversity of life on this planet, and his crowning achievement, the human family. While God loves all of his creation, he shared his Divine life with human beings alone; offering us the great gift of sharing in His eternal nature.

This is what draws us to an artist like John Lennon. With all of his success and fame, faults and failings, Lennon had that very special God-given talent to touch our hearts and souls with his words and music:

Across the Universe
By John Lennon
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me…

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe…

Sounds of laughter, shades of life are ringing through my open ears
Inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on, across the universe

.

.

25 Years After Two Abortions Woman Finds Healing After Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

 

Monstronce

By Jen ReedThe Catholic Witness

Twenty-five years of utter grief and guilt from two abortions before the age of 16 was more than Becky Biter could stand.

So relentless was her anguish that she planned to take her own life.

“I started searching for a tree to slam my truck into, because I couldn’t take it anymore,” she recalls.

The tears come fast as she recounts the lowest points of her life, with her husband, Shawn, sitting close at her side.

“Abortion changed my life forever. You cannot take death back. I cannot get my children back,” she cried, striking at the heart of the issue. “It brought me to my knees many, many times, and there just wasn’t relief. There was so much pain and weeping; terrible feelings that I couldn’t let go of.”

Becky endured a tough childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and a gambler who often left his family to fend for themselves, leaving her mother very bitter to the point where the atmosphere at home was even more unstable and full of anguish. By the time Becky turned 13, her life turned upside down when her family became homeless. Refuge was finally found in two local motel rooms because her parents separated once again; one parent living upstairs, the other downstairs, and Becky back and forth, being forced to decide on whom she loved more. No longer able to deal with her parents, she left one night and went to live with a childhood friend.

Searching to fill the void for love that she couldn’t find from her family, Becky entered a physical relationship with a boy when she entered high school.

When she became pregnant, the boy told her she had to have an abortion. He dropped her off at a clinic and drove away.

At the time, Becky didn’t know what abortion was, so when the lady at the clinic offered to pay for it with her own money, she accepted. She was 15 years old.

The abortion procedure proved unsuccessful, and Becky had to return to the clinic to endure it again. She was offered no counseling or follow-up. No one asked her about her situation. She was given birth control and sent home.

She continued her relationship with the same boyfriend, and became pregnant a second time, so she walked herself to the clinic once again, had another abortion, and went to her after-school job at the local hospital.

“I never gave it any thought,” she told The Catholic Witness. “To me, it was the obvious answer.”

Life went on. Becky continued with school and worked at the hospital in the evenings, first in the dietary department and then in the pathology department.

On the first day of Becky’s job in the pathology department, a courier showed up, delivering what are known as POCs (products of conception).

“My job was to sort through the fetal remains and pick out certain items necessary to confirm a successful abortion,” Becky recalled, the weight of the memory evident in her sobs. “I cried over those babies. I would hold their tiny hands between my thumb and index finger, and just caress them and weep. My eyes were opened to what I had done; my eyes were opened to the horrors of abortion.”

To escape her past, Becky entered the Air Force after high school. “I just needed to get away. I buried everything in order to even function, and I kept my abortions a secret for 25 years,” she said.

A Safe Place for Healing

Becky and Shawn met during the Gulf War, and they married on Sept. 14, 1991. Yet, even as a wife and mother in a caring and committed family, and a convert to the Church, Becky found herself in the grips of despair, desperate for a lifeline.

“I was begging God to forgive me, but I couldn’t even forgive myself,’ she said.

She found that long-desired mercy and healing during a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend.

The worldwide ministry offers healing for people who have suffered because of abortion – including mothers, fathers and family members of aborted children, as well as people who have been involved in the industry.

The program gives retreat participants an opportunity to examine their experience, identify its impact on their lives, and acknowledge unresolved emotions.

Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are Scripture-based, strictly confidential and non-judgmental.

“The best way I can describe a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is that it’s a safe place,” Becky said. “No one judges you. There is only love, and you get a true understanding of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.”

She admits that she initially fought the idea of attending a retreat when she first learned of the program, for fear of shame and opening up old wounds.

While working at the Priests’ Retirement Residence in Harrisburg, cooking breakfast and doing laundry for the priests there, she was talking with Father Clarence Olszewski about his plans for the weekend. He said he was preparing to minister at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.

Becky hadn’t known about the program, so she looked it up online, but wasn’t convinced right away to attend. Soon, it surfaced again, this time when she found a Rachel’s Vineyard information card in the ladies’ room at a hospital.

“I realized it could be what I needed, but I didn’t call the number because I was ashamed and I didn’t want Father Olszewski to be there and see me,” she said.

She continued to suppress her emotions, and the Biters struggled in their marriage. Although Shawn was aware of Becky’s abortions, neither recognized that those experiences were the cause of the stress in their relationship.

“We were active in the Church. We taught CCD for 17 years. Becky was baptized into the Church at the time when her infant son was baptized. We sat up front in church, raised our children in the faith,” Shawn said. “We were doing everything right, so why would our lives be such a mess?”

Becky was jealous of Shawn’s friendships, mistrusted him, battled depression, and considered suicide.

“I was thinking, ‘I killed my children. My husband hates me. My kids don’t love me.’ Thoughts like that are poisonous,” Becky said.

A visit with her parish’s pro-life group to pray at the Hillcrest clinic in Harrisburg began to unravel all the bottled up emotions.

“Everything came back to me there outside of Hillcrest,” she said. “The wounds opened up, and I started crying right there.”

“Then at my lowest point, I dropped to my knees and begged Jesus to drown me in the sea of His mercy, and He embraced my soul and pulled me from the pit.”

She confided in a friend, who offered a sympathetic ear and suggested that Becky attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Before long, she was on the phone with Joy Crimmins, the local Rachel’s Vineyard coordinator in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

On March 28, 2014, Becky and Shawn began their weekend retreat experience together.

“One thing that men need to know is that they need healing, too,” Shawn remarked. “I had no involvement in her abortions; I didn’t even know her then. But right before the retreat, Becky asked me to spiritually adopt those children. And now, because she is my wife and because I’ve adopted the children, I’m invested too. Rachel’s Vineyard is not just for women who have had an abortion. It’s for anyone affected by abortion – husbands, boyfriends, family members.”

“When you arrive for the weekend, everyone is nervous, scared; blank faces with looks of despair. But as you get further along on the weekend, you find that the people there are probably the only people you’ve trusted, even though they’re complete strangers. And then you become very close friends,” he said. “By the end of the weekend, you don’t want it to end; you don’t want to leave the safety of it. It’s a sanctuary of love and protection.”

The Biters, members of Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Shippensburg, are now team members for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, helping other women and men to work through their grief and guilt and find healing. They’ve also found genuine love and a renewed marriage.

“The Holy Spirit is at work at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat,” Becky said.

“I had never felt true joy before in my life,” she remarked. “Yes, when my children were born, I was happy. But I never experienced true joy knowing that God loved me. I couldn’t fully laugh, didn’t want to experience happiness because I hated myself. I built a wall and didn’t want to share good times. But after the retreat, it’s amazing the burden that is lifted.”

Love Conquers Abortion

One in three women will be a victim of abortion by the age of 45 – a staggering statistic that crosses all cultural, economic and religious backgrounds.

You can’t tell who they are just by looking at them. But they’re in our lives – in our families, our workplaces and our churches.

This is why Becky willingly shares her story, and why she offers her time and efforts to bring awareness of Rachel’s Vineyard to women and men leaving the Hillcrest clinic in Harrisburg.

“I don’t want them to have an abortion, and, if they do, I don’t want them to have to carry the burden for 25 years like I did,” Becky said. “We want them to know that God loves them very much and that a healing retreat is available to them, even if they feel that they don’t need it.”

The “prayer warriors” and “alley counselors” at Hillcrest and at Planned Parenthood in York find sanctuary in the “Undefeated Courage” houses near the clinics. The pro-life contingencies who give prayerful witness there made efforts to lease the houses, where silent prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass are routine. The houses also offer a safe haven for women and men seeking counsel or resources when they reconsider their decision to abort.

“Some people are receptive to our presence, some lash out at us, some completely ignore us,” Becky said. “We know we’re meeting them at a very difficult time in their lives. Women don’t just wake up one day and want to kill their children…what we know is that abortion is a symptom of other trauma, and when they show up at an abortion clinic, they’re already broken and suffering. We are ‘alley triage,’ and our goal is to connect them to the resources they need in order to choose life. Our intent is to win a woman’s heart and the baby will come along with her.  She is our focus; she is the one in crisis because she is the one who is rejecting the precious gift that God is trying to give her. Women need to know that their child has a destiny and a purpose just like she does. We empower her and lift her up: ‘You are beautiful, you are special, you are loved!’ Seeing the ultrasound image and hearing the heartbeat of her child is essential and heart-changing.

“I know that not everyone is going to be receptive to us, but I want to be a lifeline for those who need it,” Becky continued. “I know that if someone would have intervened or tried to help me when I entered the clinic, I would have broken down and accepted their help. But there was no one there for me.”

The Biters stressed the importance of being acutely aware of the words they use in counseling near clinics, serving at the retreats and talking about abortion.

“We all need to be aware that in speaking against abortion or talking about healing and forgiveness, we need to refrain from judgment, name-calling or harsh words,” Shawn said. “Look around. It’s likely that someone near you has experienced an abortion or knows someone who has – a mother, a daughter, a sister or a friend. Harmful words can do even more damage to them.”

“The prayer warriors at Undefeated Courage are the hands and feet of Christ who reach out in love to those who seek abortion. This is the only way we will change hearts and foster healing,” Becky said. “I’ve walked down that road, I’m still on the journey, and that’s why I want to help others.”

“I want to be for women today the person I wish was present for me when I entered the abortion clinic.

“For Mary Grace and Joseph Michael, my precious babies in heaven, I do this so that others may live. Love conquers abortion,” she said.

(For information on Rachel’s Vineyard, contact Joy Crimmins, director and facilitator for Central Pennsylvania and Maryland, at 717-788-4959 or rvpamd@gmail.com. All inquiries are confidential. You can also find additional information online at http://www.hbgdiocese.org/respectlife/respect-life-rachels-vineyard/ or www.rachelsvineyard.org.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness