By Kevin Burke, LSW
In our new book Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy we share some practical pastoral advice to those ministering to women and men after their participation in abortion. One area examined is the repeat confession of abortion.
Women and men can go to confession many times, yet still not feel forgiven. Sometimes they will go to multiple priests, confessing the same sin over and over again, feeling tortured by their inability to fully accept the forgiveness the sacrament offers. Others may not repeat their confession, but continue to struggle with strong feelings of shame, guilt and self-recrimination after receiving the sacrament.
The struggle to accept, and integrate the forgiveness of Christ and His Church is closely connected to the complicated grief that frequently accompanies the experience of abortion. Along with the abortion of the child, the natural expression of grief and mourning, are also in a sense, aborted.
The normal social support and religious rituals that help us negotiate the experience of grief and loss are not present after abortion. Women and men usually want to get as far away from the memories and feelings about the abortion event as soon as possible.
At the heart of this wound lies a deep hunger (often denied and repressed) to acknowledge, love and care for the child (or children) lost to abortion. In addition, the abortion experience is often one of great conflict. There can be some intense feelings of anger, betrayal, bitterness and rage directed at oneself and others for being put in the position of making this desperate decision.
The Importance of an Abortion Healing Program
Because of the complicated grief and feelings associated with abortion, programs like Rachel’s Vineyard are an essential resource that clergy can share with penitents. The abortion healing process allows women and men to safely journey to the heart of their abortion pain, and come to the heart of their wound – the damaged relationship with their preborn child.
As participants progress through the emotional work of the weekend, and the powerful spiritual exercises and meditations, their hearts and souls are set free to fully embrace the grace of the sacraments. Over time they can integrate this grace and blessing into their lives and relationships. (The sacraments of Confession and Eucharist are part of the Rachel’s Vineyard Catholic program.)
Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy would be a great gift to share with your parish deacon, priest, or lay minister/counselor this Christmas season.
Below, a beautiful scene from an excellent series about Jesus called The Chosen. In the series, Mary Magdalene is presented as a woman who was raped by a Roman soldier as a young woman. In the aftermath of that traumatic experience she falls into self-destructive behaviors and the occult. In this scene Mary is ashamed that she fell back into some sinful behavior after her initial deliverance by Jesus. Jesus uses this encounter to facilitate an even deeper emotional and spiritual healing of Mary.