June 13, 2008

Be Our Guest / Christine Harrington

Abortion: One woman’s journey

Abortion. I hate the word. Up until a few months ago, I could not even say it.

Whenever a cable news story came on about abortion, I would quickly change channels. In a group of friends, if the discussion came up, I would remain painfully silent, hoping not to disclose my dark secret.

Judgments would be vocalized. “What kind of a woman would do such a thing?”

“She would have to be very irresponsible, selfish and godless.”

The comments and condemnations would flow. I would sit and slowly die again inside.

I was that woman they condemned, and no one knew or suspected me. My dark secret I had kept for the last 20 years would remain a secret forever—or so I thought.

The long-lasting impact of abortion is real. It sits inside your soul, slowly tearing you into hideous pieces. The effects are patient as they slowly erode your mind, body and soul, one day at a time. One year at a time. You cannot escape the damage it causes you and your family.

Often women cope by developing compulsive behaviors by turning to alcohol, drugs, food or sex. Many women, like me, live their lives in denial, running away from the event.

That’s how I saw it—as an event. It was too painful for me to accept that I was actually taking the life of my child, so to cope, I made it into an event.

Whatever the story we tell ourselves, the truth is most women turn to some type of destructive behavior. We live with self-loathing each and every day. We will do anything to turn off the pain.

As if the self-loathing isn’t punishment enough, add in the fact that some of us are Catholic. The shame intensifies 100 times.

“How can I tell my priest? Surely I will be excommunicated,” we tell ourselves.

Logically, we know God will forgive us because he is an all-forgiving God, or maybe he is not?

What if the priest says the sin is unforgivable? Another fear emerges. How could God forgive us when we cannot forgive ourselves? Our final

self-condemnation. We all know what Satan has been whispering into our consciousness: “You cannot forgive yourself. It is impossible. You are not worthy of forgiveness.”

Jesus tell us in chapter seven of the Gospel of Luke, in the pardon of the sinful woman, “So, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He adds, “Your sins are forgiven,” and “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 7: 37-50).

“Your sins are forgiven. … Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Hang on tight to this promise. Embrace it. This is the truth.

It took me 20 years to come back to the Church and to finally understand it was my faith in Jesus that brought me back to face my sin, to receive the forgiveness Jesus promised and to heal my spiritual conflict. It all came about by taking the first step—acknowledging my denial of having an abortion.

Then came the awareness to start the healing process. Confession is the next step. This part was agony for me. To sit eyeball to eyeball with a priest and reveal my most hideous sin was paralyzing. Let me suggest you choose a priest that you are comfortable with.

Since I had been away for 20 years, I felt God was directing me to a priest that had been a family friend of my parents, Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, vicar general and pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

What I experienced through the sacrament of confession with Msgr. Schaedel was nothing short of a miracle. It started my journey to spiritual wholeness, forgiveness and healing.

Msgr. Schaedel, through his love, kindness and compassion, heard “me” and absolved me. He gave me another gift: a pamphlet about a spiritual retreat that deals with healing the damages of abortion called Rachel’s Vineyard.

My final step of forgiveness was attending the Rachel’s retreat in my area. My priest, Father Brian Dudzinski, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, gave me the ­encouragement and prayers I needed to attend the retreat. I had talked myself in and out of going so many times as others at the retreat admitted as well.

Through the love, kindness, courage and acceptance of all the participants and facilitators, the process of my journey and the other participants was taken to a higher level.

Jesus showered us all with his love, mercy and grace. It took courage and strength for every woman and man to attend. I walked away with a deeper respect for the Church, for my fellow brothers and sisters and for myself.

I encourage anyone who has had an abortion or anyone who has been directly affected by abortion to give themselves the gift of attending a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. God is working with and through everyone there.

You will no longer feel the isolation and desperation that the effects of abortion cause. You will feel love, acceptance and mercy. You will start to put the shame, guilt and self-condemnation behind you.

You will walk in God’s light again. He will fulfill his promise to you. The healing that occurred for me at Rachel’s retreat has changed every area of my life.

It is a life now that walks in the light and love of Christ as he promised.

(Christine Harrington is a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers. She was previously a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis and graduated from Cardinal Ritter High School. The next Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in Indianapolis will be held on July 25-27. For more information, call Servants of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo at 317-236-1521 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1521, or Bernadette Roy at 317-831-2892. To find out about a Rachel’s Retreat near you, go to www.rachelsvineyard.org.)

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