A Catholic Perspective on Healing and Spiritual Growth

The most personally challenging of life's events are meant to bring us back to God.

Fr. Patrick McAteer, S.J., Chicago, IL

Rachel Recovery Page

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The Blessed Virgin Mary

If you are still here and have read the Rachel Letter, you may be interested in examining some recovery possibilities. The pages below contain a little work outline for women who are suffering the painful effects of an abortion and are interested in finding ways of healing. Ideally one should work through this outline with one's pastoral minister.

This little program of recovery is a spiritual one because I believe the wound of abortion is essentially spiritual. Of course, it is also psychological and may have some serious physical effects like the inability to conceive another baby. Such a realization in itself can be traumatic. This outline is an effort to help the woman (and man) heal and return to some sort of normal living. It is written with Catholics in mind, but other Christians, indeed, any believer in a Good and Loving God may find it helpful.

Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola

My reason for writing this outline is that I thought some of my ministerial experience could help. Part of my work as a Jesuit priest for the past twenty-five years has been to guide priests, religious, and lay men and women through different forms of The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius himself gives us an idea of what he meant by Spiritual Exercises:

By the term "Spiritual Exercises" is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities that will be mentioned later. For just as taking a walk, journeying on foot, and running are bodily exercises, so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.

Though somewhat dated Ignatius' language is clear in its directness. Today we would use spirit for soul. Our salvation is to live eternally with God in glory -- to be fully human fully alive, to experience the fullness of reality. We want to live as a whole person.

First Meetings

My first few meetings confirmed what I had learned earlier from having worked with some women of abortion. They carried a lot of pain from their experience. They were angry and depressed. They were alone in their grief for their dead baby whose life they had taken. They were slowly more clearly realizing what they had done and were ashamed and guilt-ridden. I was convinced of one thing -- the women carry with them far too much pain and anguish to be resolved in one meeting. They might receive God's merciful love and forgiveness and be consoled that their sins are forgiven, but they were still not reconciled within themselves. These women must return to further explore their angers, grief, alienation, resentment at those who had left them, who had betrayed them and lay it all before God. In my opinion what they needed was a "mini-retreat." They needed a little program to give them a chance to see and realize how this abortion had affected them personally -- at all levels. These pages are that little program.

Help (with a pastoral minister)

It is good that you have come here. I am glad to see you and hope that we can work together. I believe we can. You have already indicated your intentions to be healed by being here. We both know the reason for this visit. You may be pained and fearful about revealing your past. I am here to try to help and to make this as easy as possible. Perhaps one way to start is by you telling me your story.

Tell Your Story (to a pastoral minister/spiritual advisor)

You have come here to receive absolution and reconciliation for a sin that both of us know about. You may want to "get it over with" as perhaps you did with the abortion. That's not a good idea. It's too much like running away, and you don't want to spend the rest of your life running. Now is a good time to set things right. I will leave it up to you to tell your story as you would like to tell it. It might be helpful to go back, if possible, to the beginning of the relationship which led to the abortion. You may want to include other events in your earlier life, and so make a general confession. This overview gives you a look at your whole life and helps you reconcile with the Lord by seeing how good and loving He has been during all of your life.

Sin

Sin really means "to miss the mark." Where love is meant to be it is absent. Where one should have been loving, they were not. God in giving the woman life loved her. In allowing her to be pregnant, He loved her again. The sin is that she refused his love by killing the love gift He gave her. Only God gives life and the woman cannot restore life to her child. I am sure that you are aware of the seriousness of this sin. If not, then we should talk about it and its gravity. The sin of abortion cuts at the heart of Christ's teachings -- "Thou shalt not kill" (Deut.5/17; Mk.10/19)." Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself" (Mt.22/38--39) God's life-giving love has been denied, the baby's life has been taken, You, yourself, have been wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Of yourself, you cannot restore any of these.

Forgiveness

For forgiveness to take place someone must first be offended. In abortion the first person offended is God because the sin is against him and his gift of life. The second person offended in the baby whose life had been taken. The third person is the woman herself. she has gone against her life-giving and nurturing self. She must forgive herself and allow feelings of sorrow and regret for herself to be present. She has made a mistake -- a grave one, but God forgives all sins. (A case could be made for the third person offended to be the community -- grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings, even if they don't know about the pregnancy).

God's

As the First Person offended forgiveness from God should be sought first. God's forgiving love is an ocean of mercy you need to experience. The state of reconciliation exists because someone first asked for forgiveness from the one offended. Only then can one begin to be at ease with God and with oneself.

Baby's

It is good to ask for your child's forgiveness. It, too, has a distinct existence somewhere in God's kingdom. I'm sure the abortion has helped you realize the separateness of its being and personality. It will never grow up in the natural world, but God who gave it natural life will take care of its supernatural life. Though we might forget to love , God is always loving and caring and will never forget us.

Self

Perhaps the most difficult part is to forgive yourself. You are the one who has had the abortion. The memory of that experience, and the sight of young children will be a constant reminder of your past action. Pray for God's grace to heal that memory: and use the memories as a constant reminder to pray.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is different from forgiveness. One can forgive without reconciling. In reconciliation the offended and offending parties not only forgive and understand but return to friendship and loving and respecting each other. This mutual love is constitutive of God and is a grace between true lovers.

Particular

The purpose of our coming together is that you might receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. The pain within has brought you here. As priest, I am meant to be as forgiving and as gentle as Christ was with the woman in Jn. 8/1--11, when He said, "Neither do I condemn you," and as firm when He told her to "avoid this sin."

General

If you wish to go into the events of your earlier life, then you may do so. You may be willing to make a general confession, and you can if you so wish. Your history may help explain your present spiritual condition. This makes the general confession easier, if indeed, it is ever easy.

Vows and Promises:

Occasionally a woman may vow or swear, never to return to Church, never to forgive the father, never to receive the Eucharist. These promises must be undone and taken back. They are usually made in anger or spite and are not of the Holy Spirit. They will hinder reconciliation and spiritual development.

Cults:

If you ever belonged to a cult, participated in their assembly or ritual, now is a good time to talk about it.

Future

Another visit -- decide on a definite date. A lot can be done on the first visit. You should come alone the first time to receive the solace of the Church and experience the beginning of personal spiritual revival. However, there are still some loose ends.

The father

The father of the baby is absent. If you are still in a good relationship, he may be interested in coming and entering into the program.

Second Visit

If the father of the baby comes the second time, then, he could go through a program similar to what we are doing now. Otherwise, we can address some of the following issues and explore them:

Loss

"Abortion is not just 'pregnancy termination' or 'cellular disposal' it is a personal and relational amputation. Parents are parents forever, even of a dead child." (Dr. Vincent Rue, "Post Abortion Syndrome, "presented at Healing Visions, the First National Conference, on Post Abortion Counseling, University of Notre Dame, August 11, 1986, P. 32).The sense of loss that many women who have had abortions experience is real and deep. It is something that takes time to work through and accept before integration and normal healthy attitudes return. Is this your experience? Can you talk about it?

Grieving

Loss of someone who will never return because of me --a growing realization that you have taken the life of your child. Feeling an emotional and spiritual void, mourning the passing of its life --an empty feeling -- allow this to be for now. Loss of all that could have been: the baby not birthed, the infant not nursed, the child that never saw God's daylight. but will see his eternal light.

Fears

One fairly common effect of the abortion is fear. Aborted women become fearful of what previously were normal events and relationships. A woman may: Have fear for her surviving children. Have anxiety in subsequent pregnancies. Fear punishment from God. Have a fear of stillbirth, miscarriage, a handicapped child. Fear she will be unable to bear other children. Fear of intimate relationships.

Anger

At self, and at them, " It's not like I thought it would be; it's not like they said it would be." You may begin to look outward angrily toward others. You may be angry at your husband, the father. or those who, in any way, helped procure the abortion.

Healing

Begins after I face up to a profound reality -- I have destroyed my baby, but God still loves me and forgives me. An encounter with God's merciful love through the sacrament of forgiveness, greatly helps healing.

Guilt

"This is my action; I choose this freely. Through the God-given gift of freedom, I choose to end the life of my baby and seriously wound myself" The unburdening of guilt eases the disdain for self and Christ's peace is able to enter the depths of your being.

Suggestion

In order to help integrate the abortion and its effects, now might be a good time to talk about naming the child, if this has not already been done. If the abortion is recent you may still be in denial and disowning your action -- quite the reverse is necessary. Naming the child is one help to accepting your action, yourself , and your child. The baby's gender may be known in which case, choosing a name may be simple. If its gender is unknown a name like Mary Joseph is appropriate and covers both possibilities. As you end the second meeting thinking about naming the baby, this decision can be finalized in the third visit or later. You may want to consider writing a prayer asking its forgiveness. You may want to pray for healing/gratitude/ unity/ within your family and friends, at the prayers of the faithful during the Eucharist. This praying together helps reconciliation in the community of the family. Family and friends who know the circumstances and wish to attend can be welcomed -- the grandparents of the child usually find this a consoling moment in what for them, too, is a difficult time. If you are alone in all this, a simple memorial liturgy can be of great help.

Name the Child

In the Old Testament when God gave the Israelites his name He gave them his identity and some power over him. They could call upon him and expect him to respond to them. That happens in a similar way when we introduce our friends to one another -- we give them power to call upon our friendship. To give one a name or to give one the power to name is a favor and a blessing.
If the gender of the child is known, give it a name as a sign that it is accepted into its family on earth. As a little creature it's part of God's creation and is loved.
In Genesis God created them male an female: "He blessed them and gave them the name Man, when they were created" (Gen. 5:2) To name one is to bestow a blessing on them.
God gave the power of naming to mankind. In Genesis God brought the animals to man to be named and he gave names to all cattle, birds, and wild animals (Gen. 2:19, 20).
God commissioned Moses to represent him: "Tell them I Am sent me to you" (Gen. 3:13). The angel gave Zechariah the name to call his son and so John the Baptist was named. The angel told Mary to call her son Jesus: "You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son and you must name him Jesus" Lk. 1: 13, 63) After confirming God's working in her life she did so obediently and it was right and just and pleased God (Lk. 1:38).

Acceptance

The Church has long taught baptism of desire. If you are Christian then wouldn't the baby have been brought up Christian? Are not, will not, its brothers and sisters be Christian? If the family have been Christian for generations, then it is the baby's spiritual heritage as well!