Years ago I was browsing through the stacks at a Catholic bookstore one morning, one of my favorite things to do. I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation on the other side of the room. One gentleman was angrily stating his disdain for women walking in to an abortion clinic. I will never forget the angry, hateful, and unloving manner in which he spoke about such women. As a relatively new convert to the Catholic church at the time, I had learned well from my RCIA teachers that our faith calls us to be Christ to others. I felt sad and disappointed listening to this Catholic man talk in such a hateful manner toward women who chooses abortion. “Has he ever actually spoken with a woman or men who made the choice to abort their baby?” I wondered.
Did he ever listen to her with the ears of Jesus?
Did he ever talk to her with the voice of Jesus?
Did he ever try to feel compassion or empathy with the heart of Jesus?
Choosing abortion isn’t like choosing what flavor of ice cream you would like or which movie you want to see.
We want to stop abortion. Can’t we just tell them to stop? Tell them it’s a mortal sin? We can, but how far has that gotten us?
In a recent interview, Pope Francis was asked “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He answered, “I am a sinner who has been looked upon by the gaze of Christ.”
We have all sinned. And we have all been touched by Grace. We have all been transformed in small ways and in big ways by God’s grace. As Christians we’re asked to take up Christ’s work and to build His kingdom by helping others to be touched by grace. We are called to be an encounter with grace for others to lead them to transformation.
“The whole purpose of the Church,” Fr. Barron said recently, “is to draw everyone into that moment of encounter with grace so that every sinner can see the merciful face of Christ.” This means that we have to be an encounter with Christ to sinners. This means that we have to act as Christ would act. This is what it means to be a Catholic.
If we want to stop abortion, we have to start with the moment between the sinner and amazing grace. If we want to stop abortion, we have to transform hearts and souls. We are called to be an encounter with grace even for those who chose abortion.
Looking only at the sinner’s sin and judging the sinner will not lead to transformation of hearts and souls. We have to consider the person behind this “choice.” We have to consider who this person really is, not just who we think or judge she is. We are called to love this person in their sin and suffering, just as does Christ.
Long before women make a decision to abort their baby, they believed the evil one’s lies that are embraced by our culture. Independence, strength, self-sufficiency is more important than anything. You are weak and vulnerable otherwise. Having sex with your boyfriend is normal, even the smart thing to do. “Hooking up” is healthy and doesn’t hurt anyone as long as everyone agrees. Being an unwed mother is shameful. Choosing to go through with an unexpected pregnancy is unreasonable, naive and, well, stupid. These are the web of lies the evil one spins.
Long before women make a decision to abort their baby, their lives were influenced by the evil one. One of the most common ploys of the evil one is a physically and or emotionally absent parent, especially the father. God created each and every one of us with a longing to be loved. When this need for love isn’t fulfilled by a mother or father in childhood, the longing doesn’t just go away. The need continues on like a gnawing emptiness and desperate longing that drives the young woman to sexual encounters often starting in adolescence. She subsequently begins looking for love in all the wrong places. Sexual encounters become like a drug that momentarily satisfies but in the long run leaves the woman feeling disappointed, used, manipulated, confused, ashamed and alone.
More often than not, the woman faced with an unexpected pregnancy is tormented with the decision. Faced with overwhelming fear, regret, crippling guilt, fear of negative judgments from others (parents), and fear of destitution, these women chose to abort their baby even if they feel it is wrong. Post-abortive women often report that abortion clinic staff and doctors never inquired about their emotional state, and if they did, their feelings were minimized.
What these women are not told, and what they will experience during the abortion, is that the abortion itself is a violent, and thus a traumatic experience. It is a violent violation of a woman’s physical integrity. The parts of a woman’s body which are designed to protect and nurture new life are forcibly intruded upon. For many women this is their first encounter with death.
She can never talk about it.
She believed the lie that it isn’t a baby - that it is just a blob of tissue.
She believes she has no right to feel grief and loss because she chose to have the abortion.
She believes she has no right to feel regret and guilt and shame because she chose to have the abortion.
So she buries this terrible secret deep inside. She convinces herself that it was nothing. And she suffers silently for years.
As a Catholic psychologist, I ask about miscarriages and abortions when conducting the background and family history with a new client. If a woman admits to having an abortion, she’ll tell me that it happened 20 – 30 years ago, and then she begins to cry. I offer words of comfort and I listen. Inevitably she tells me that, aside from the father of the baby, she has never talked about it to anyone. I am the only person she has ever told.
As Chesterton has said, these women have not just lost their faith, they have lost their address. They don’t even know where they are going or where they belong. They don’t know that God is their father and loves them no matter what choices they have made in their life. They don’t know that God will welcome them into their loving arms and shower them with mercy if they but ask.
In order to know this they must encounter the loving gaze of Christ. We must offer this encounter. We must be Christ to them. We must see Christ in them.
Fr. Barron suggests that we think of the church as a field hospital that is filled with gravely wounded people. These are spiritually wounded people who’re in dire need of healing.
In order to love those who choose abortion, we need to first address this fundamental spiritual woundedness. These grave issues have to be addressed immediately. We need to offer acceptance, empathy, compassion, respect within an individual encounter between one person and another. Such encounters communicate “I love you.” Such encounters communicate “You are worthy, you are valuable.” Such encounters communicate “You are loved by God.”
Our Holy Father insists that a pastor should smell like his sheep. Smelling like his sheep means we have to get close in among them. This is how we love those who choose abortion.
We can transform our culture from a culture of death to a culture of life and love. It starts with one loving encounter with grace at a time, one person a time. I have seen such transformations through my volunteer work with Project Rachel and through therapeutic interactions with clients. Through loving encounters with deep painful woundedness, women and men experience true healing. Then they go on to spread the good news to other suffering souls who have believed the lie. Then they go on the transform our culture one personal encounter at a time.
Can you recall a time you were an encounter with grace to someone and you saw the transformation? What about a time when someone else was an encounter of grace for you and you experienced transformation?