When you journey with women and men through an abortion healing program like Rachel’s Vineyard, at some point in the weekend you are likely to hear expressed some anger and regret at the silence about abortion from their church leadership.
If I had heard a message from my priest talking about how abortion impacts women, men, relationships and families…I may have been able to get help much earlier in my life…I may have been able to save my marriage and my children from living for years with this wound that was festering in my heart and soul. That pain led me to do things and try to cope in ways that hurt not only myself, but those I loved the most.
To be fair, our church leaders struggle with the same thing many of us do in our families, workplaces and churches:
- How do we address this sensitive topic in a way that does not hurt or alienate those that have been part of abortion decisions – especially those that have experienced the procedure and lost a child to abortion…yet does not compromise the moral truth that abortion is a grave sin against God and the dignity of the human person?
Is this even possible?
In fact Catholic and Protestant church leaders who have served in post abortion ministries like Rachel’s Vineyard, often have found the perfect balance of truth, justice and mercy in their preaching. This balance is rooted in their experience of accompanying those wounded by abortion on their journey to healing.
Fr. Pat Scanlan P.P. has been serving in Parish ministry since his ordination in1977 for the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland and has been a member of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat team in Cork since 2003.
The following interview with Fr. Pat is from the book Sharing the Heart of Christ:
Fr. Pat, how long have you been involved in post abortion ministry?
Since my ordination to the priesthood in June 1977, I have met with many women and some men who have been wounded by abortion. Almost invariably they were crying out for forgiveness and healing. In my experience the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation marks a decisive step in their journey towards recovery. Yet I have always felt that they needed something more. What that something was, I was not so sure. Yes the sin had been forgiven, but they had a deep need for healing and restoration.
How did you get involved with Rachel’s Vineyard?
In the summer of 2003, I had a phone call from a good friend Bernadette Goulding who shared with me her excitement at having discovered a movement called Rachel’s Vineyard. Everything she said convinced me that this was the answer I had longed for over many years. I agreed immediately to become involved.
The first Rachel’s Vineyard weekend in Ireland was held in Cork in October 2003. We were very fortunate in that from the outset we had the blessing and support of my bishop… I have participated in about fifteen weekends since that time.
Can you share from your experience serving as a member of the Retreat Team?
Being involved in these weekends certainly ranks among the most rewarding experiences of my priesthood. The essential role of the priest on a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat is to be present… to them as they journey through their pain and grief towards hope and healing the priest is making present the gentle compassionate Christ who cares deeply for his wounded sisters and brothers.
It is not an exaggeration to say that on each weekend we experience miracles of grace. The participants usually arrive bowed down by too many years of grief and self –loathing. Slowly, gradually as they enter into the process of the weekend they get in touch with, express, release and reconcile deep painful post abortive emotions.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is made available to those who want it on Saturday night, is a beautiful experience for both penitent and priest. Both begin to realize the truth of the statement “The church is a hospital for sinners and not a hotel for saints.” As they leave to return home on Sunday afternoon, many of them will have experienced the Mercy of the Lord at a very deep level. A grace that is truly amazing has touched wounded hearts and made of them beloved disciples who will in turn become instruments of his compassion to others. Some, because of their new found freedom, will in due course speak out and become part of a grass roots movement that will one day replace the present Culture of Death with a Culture of Life. I feel I am one of the most privileged of priests to have had this experience so many times and I encourage all priests, deacons, and seminarians to “come and see” at least once.
How has your work in post abortion healing impacted your preaching?
Prior to my involvement in Rachel’s Vineyard I often felt a bit scared at the prospect of preaching the Gospel of Life. I was conscious that in any congregation there may be one or more who had experienced abortion, and I was never sure how to effectively proclaim the truth while at the same time witnessing to compassion. The truth without compassion is a lethal weapon particularly for wounded souls. Compassion without the truth is a cruel deception. Now I actually enjoy preaching the Gospel of Life. I know from my experience of Rachel’s Vineyard that the Gospel is truly Good News for these women and men, who have fallen victim to one of the great lies of our time. I usually tell my congregation that what I want to share is what I have learned from women and men, who have had abortions and how the Good Shepherd is waiting to embrace, heal and forgive them. I share in a gentle compassionate way that abortion wounds the lives of mothers and fathers. I know that if there are women present who have had abortion they will identify, and realize that the church wants to help them. I have had people come to me afterwards to find out more about Rachel’s Vineyard. For the remainder of the congregation, when I then proceed to present the church’s teaching on the right to life of the unborn it is but an obvious and positive conclusion to be embraced, once they have heard a little about post abortion syndrome.
The Harvest is Plentiful!
You can see in Fr. Pat’s feedback the awesome possibilities for ministry and evangelization if we can expand the outreach in our churches to those suffering this loss. Sharing the Heart of Christ is a great resource for Priests, Deacons, Counselors and Laity in ministry to those suffering after abortion. The book provides a brief overview of some key issues in ministry to those with abortion loss, but also pastoral concerns and sample homilies to assist in preaching about this topic with truth, sensitivity and mercy.
Here’s what Bishop Robert Vasa had to say about the book:
Sharing the Heart of Christ provides an assurance of hope for genuine healing and peace for those afflicted with many manifestations of unresolved post-abortive guilt, grief and shame. This work helps us further understand the nature of the abortion trauma, the reason for its persistence and the possibility of healing. It is a book filled with hope. Here we learn how the healing power of God’s grace coupled with sound psychiatric principles can and does, in the midst of a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, produce an abundant harvest of healing and peace. I had the privilege of participating in a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat several years ago. The power of the experience continues to have an impact upon me. May God bless and reward your good work. - Robert F. Vasa, Bishop of Santa Rosa, CaliforniaShare this blog with your minister, priest or pastor today…better yet get them a copy of Sharing the Heart of Christ.