When Misery Meets Mercy

To any woman considering an abortion,

“Please don’t do it. I did. Twice. Unexpectedly, I have carried that decision within me, in my heart and my mind, ever since. It has never gone away. And I have never been able to accept that decision as 100% correct. Even at 99%, that 1% of doubt unleashes unbearable guilt forever. Do not do it to yourself. Listen to these words. I testify to you, the decision to abort a fetus will bring you suffering – it has me. Choose life. It is the right choice.”

Anonymous letter from a woman suffering great regret, and a great desire for forgiveness.

This was a real letter. It came to our Project Rachel ministry many years ago. The writer had sent it to our diocesan newspaper probably hoping it could be used as a letter to the editor. However, newspaper protocol dictates that with no name or return address it could not be used in such a venue. It was certainly powerful. We knew the anonymous writer intended her message to be shared. But how? Fortunately, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways and hopefully the way we’ve been able to use the anonymous letter has had an effect. Very often, I have been able to read the letter in the context of presentations to various audiences, and it has been particularly useful and moving when I speak to high school students. One’s heart cannot help but go out to this anonymous daughter of God in her great desire for forgiveness and peace. I always ask my listeners to pray for her. God knows who she is. I hope those prayers are taking effect in her life. I hope she has found the healing she so poignantly seeks. I hope her pleading words have helped others to choose life. These are hopes that perhaps we will only know in eternity if they were realized, but trust in the Divine Mercy is powerful and reassuring.

mercyAt the close of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Letter Misericoria et misera (Mercy with Misery). In it, he extended the Year of Mercy provision granting priests worldwide the faculty to forgive the sin of abortion. While this has been in effect in the United States for many years, it was not always the case in all parts of the world prior to this provision, and it has thus brought renewed attention to the availability of Project Rachel, the Church’s ministry of healing and reconciliation to those who have been wounded by abortion. In his letter, Pope Francis writes, “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father” (n.12).

Today’s world is replete with many forms of misery, and abortion is one of the most profound and devastating traumas a person can experience. It is no wonder it takes such courage for someone suffering so to seek healing. Pope Francis describes the Gospel account of the woman caught in adultery as an encounter of “a sinner and her Savior”, and notes that in Jesus’s gaze upon her, “the misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love”. He goes on to explain how Jesus gives the woman renewed hope when He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”, giving her the freedom to overcome sin by love which “makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently” from then on (n. 2).

It is not unlike St. John Paul II’s incredibly beautiful words in Evangelium Vitae, n. 99, where he provides those who have been wounded by abortion with a prescription for healing. He explains that the Church understands the complexities of this painful decision and the wound it has caused, acknowledges the terrible wrong that has been done, urges the wounded to not give in to discouragement and to have hope, to face the facts honestly, and “give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance.” He goes on to give encouragement that nothing is definitively lost and that their child can be entrusted to God’s mercy. He even explains how the pain they have suffered can be transformed and that they can experience and inspire others with a new way of looking at human life.

One of the most moving passages in St. Faustina’s Diary (n. 1182) contains these words which Jesus spoke to Faustina: “The greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all.” This is a message that our world desperately needs to hear today. Whether one is suffering from a past abortion or any other kind of sin and misery, we need to turn to God. Taking the first step is the most difficult. Mustering the courage and humility to acknowledge our sin and submit ourselves to God’s mercy is hard, but it is so worth it. Pope Francis’s letter explains, “Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives….Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart. The latter is warmed and healed by the former” (n. 16).

Abortion is one of the most heart-wrenching examples of complex pain in our world today. There are many more kinds of misery and sin haunting people’s lives as well. Yet no sin is too big for the mercy of God. A heartfelt acknowledgment of our wretchedness is never easy, but that surrender brings true freedom. For it is in that lowly place of misery that we find our utter dependence on God. And that is as it should be. It is in our misery that we can meet Mercy. It is in being embraced by Mercy – knowing that we don’t deserve it, but that God gives it to us anyway – that we can allow the grace of God to heal and transform us so that we might become His instruments of mercy to others who need it too.

Pope Francis says that the Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life (n. 11). Let us return to the Lord and stay close to the Holy Father’s reminder that “Mercy renews and redeems…I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am reborn; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy” (n. 16). If we can assimilate these words, turn to God with repentance in humility and trust, and remain open to His grace, we can have great hope for a renewed Culture of Life.

Allison LeDoux is the director of the Respect Life Office and the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of Worcester, MA. Mrs. LeDoux serves as coordinator for the New England region of Diocesan Pro-Life Directors and is a member of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference’s Pro-Life/Pro-Family and Health Care Subcommittees. She received her certification in Catholic Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in 2007.Mrs. LeDoux and her husband, John, a permanent deacon, are the parents of eight children.
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