"I felt I'd committed the unforgiveable sin."
So many women with abortion in their past have said things like this. They often feel deep shame, regret, loss or despair. They may have a hard time accepting that God loves them, and so stay away from the spiritual and psychological help offered by the Church and the healing balm of the sacraments.
Pope Francis has a message for these suffering mothers and all others who have been involved in an abortion: Great joy can be found in Christ's unfailing mercy and love for us sinners. He recently called for the celebration of a Jubilee Year of Mercy from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016. In the announcement, he said, "I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time."
In his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis reflected on the challenge of finding joy despite the experience of sin. He described how the women who entered Jesus' tomb that Easter morning entered into the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and Resurrection. They came face to face with the reality of death and of their own existence as sinners in need of God's forgiveness.
At the same time, they encountered His love, which is greater than the greatest of sins. The power of the Resurrection gives us the courage to face our sins, confess our mistakes, and then humbly receive God's forgiveness and accept the joy that comes with new life in Christ.
Accepting God's mercy brought happiness to "Sophia" (name changed to protect confidentiality) in her healing journey from abortion. "As the mystery of God's way unfolded, I recovered peace. That sense of peace has brought with it for me real joy and new hope for the future," she said.
Pope Francis' focus on mercy challenges us not only to accept Christ's mercy ourselves, like Sophia did, but also to be merciful to others. A beautiful way to answer his call is to be aware of, and address the particular needs of those who suffer from abortion.
Offer your attentive listening and non-judgmental attitude to someone you know who is suffering after abortion. Pray that you will see Christ in the mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings and others who have been affected by abortion, and tell them about God's mercy with love and tenderness. Offer them hope for relief of their pain and suffering, and provide information on nearby help. Project Rachel, the diocesan-based post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church in the United States, offers confidential, non-judgmental help. See the "Find Help" map at www.hopeafterabortion.com (en español: www.esperanzaposaborto.com).These websites include prayers, abortion stories, research and other helpful information.
Throughout this Easter season and the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, may each of us find the hope and consolation we need in the mystery of God's mercy. And may we be empowered by Him to be merciful ourselves and share the hope and help that is available, so those who suffer abortion's aftermath might also find joy in the great gift of mercy.
Mary McClusky is the Assistant Director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.