Bishop Rhoades delivered the following homily during Mass at the Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance and Intercession on October 8th at the University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne:
October is Respect Life Month. It is a time to renew our commitment to the Gospel of Life and our deep respect for the gift of human life, from conception to natural death. It is important during this month to remember, as we do this afternoon, the impact of abortion on women who have had abortions, the mothers and fathers, the grandparents, and all who have been affected by the sin of abortion. We gather this afternoon, not only to remember, but to intercede and pray for those impacted and harmed by abortion. The Gospel of Life is the Gospel of mercy and love, and so we pray for all who are suffering from the wounds of abortion.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote a great encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life. It is entitled The Gospel of Life, (“Evangelium Vitae”). In his beautiful reflections on the dignity of human life, St. John Paul II communicated a special word to women who have had an abortion. He said the following:
“The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.” There are many women who have had abortions, repented, and are now strong defenders of the right to life.
St. John Paul’s words can also be extended to those who have been involved in abortion, for example, men who assisted women or pressured them to procure an abortion. Or the woman’s parents, the grandparents of the unborn child, who may have done the same, assisting or pressuring their daughter to have an abortion. Or those who did not help a woman in crisis to choose life for her unborn child. There are many wounds being carried by these mothers, fathers, grandparents, and others. These wounds may not yet have healed, as Pope John Paul stated. I say to anyone here who is suffering from these wounds what John Paul said, “do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope.” Entrust yourselves to the Father of mercies and to Jesus, our merciful Savior. And know that the Church, the house of mercy, does not reject you. We shouldn’t, and we can’t, if we are true to our mission of love and mercy.
In the second reading today, St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Anxiety and fear, provoked by guilt, is not uncommon in the minds and hearts of those wounded by abortion. Healing is needed, the healing that comes from forgiveness, the forgiveness received in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I know women and others who have gone to confession and been absolved, but still live with anxiety and shame over the past sin of abortion. They may even believe that God has forgiven them, but they can’t forgive themselves. Help is needed. God’s healing love and mercy is sometimes blocked by a person’s inability to accept that they committed such a sin. The problem in these situations is a lack of humility, the admission that yes, ‘I did a terrible thing, but God is greater than me’.
If we think that we are only valuable because of our virtues, we will never love ourselves and forgive ourselves. One’s pride needs to be uprooted by the recognition that ‘yes, I am a sinner and God still loves me. I am still precious to Him’. We are frail and needy sons and daughters of God who can fall, who do fall, but God rescues us. His grace is more powerful than our sins. We are more precious in His sight than we can imagine. He loves us, despite our weaknesses and failings. Our self-worth should not be dependent on our being perfect. None of us is perfect, and when we sin, even gravely, we must truthfully and humbly approach the Lord like the prodigal son and admit that we have sinned, that we are unworthy to be called His sons and daughters, and allow the Father of mercies to embrace us with His tender love and to restore us to life. Only then will we experience peace in our souls, the peace of God, which St. Paul says “surpasses all understanding.”
The Church’s post-abortion healing ministry, Project Rachel, is a vital part of our pro-life apostolate. As I said, the Gospel of Life is also the Gospel of Mercy. As life is a beautiful gift from God, so is His mercy. In the Diary of St. Faustina, we read these words of Jesus to Sister Faustina: “The greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy.” Jesus told her repeatedly: “I am love and mercy itself.” The Church has a great duty to help women who have had abortions and others to believe in God’s merciful love and to be enveloped in God’s mercy. People wounded by sin, and that’s all of us, need the courage to allow ourselves to be loved by God. As Catholics, we have the wonderful opportunity to encounter God’s mercy in the sacraments.
As we continue with this Mass, let us remember in our prayers all who suffer post-abortion pain. Let us pray for the healing of their hearts, that they will not give in to discouragement or lose hope, but that they will receive and experience the Lord’s love and mercy, forgive themselves, and become, as St. John Paul II said, “eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life.”
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