On May 5, 2016 in Rome, Pope Francis celebrated the “Jubilee of Tears” and spoke of the bitter grief of losing a loved one:
“The bitterest tears…of those who have seen a loved one violently torn from them; the tears of grandparents, mothers and fathers, children; eyes that keep staring at the sunset and find it hard to see the dawn of a new day.”
This brings to mind the suffering of those who have participated in some way in the death of an unborn child; parents, grandparents, friends and others. We remember especially in this month of May those mothers who have experienced the horror of having their unborn child “violently torn from them.”
Pope Francis shares the medicine for grieving hearts: “We need the mercy, the consolation that comes from the Lord.”
Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries offered more than 1,000 healing weekend programs around the world in the last year for those suffering after abortion. Many of the symptoms suffered by women and men after abortion are connected to the denial of the grief from abortion loss, as well as the painful and conflicting feelings experienced by parents, family and friends who participated in the unborn child’s death (or were unable to prevent the abortion.)
Many in our society, including many medical and counseling professionals, denies the reality of the emotional and physical symptoms common after abortion. This leads many to suffer in ignorance and isolation. Without a cleansing of the heart by a cathartic experience of grief in programs like Rachel’s Vineyard, it is difficult to receive the mercy and healing that Christ and His Church offer to us.
Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel account of the death of Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus:
“In one of the most moving pages of the Gospel, Jesus sees Mary weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus. Nor can he hold back tears.”
This points to the benefit we see in Rachel’s Vineyard of gathering with others who share this unique and complicated loss. Participants speak of their own anger, humiliation, sorrow and grief and this enables others who have been stuck and numb to start to feel…and begin to heal.
Pope Francis continues:
“[Jesus] was deeply moved and began to weep (cf. Jn 11:33-35). The evangelist John, in describing this, wanted to show how much Jesus shared in the sadness and grief of his friends. Jesus’ tears have unsettled many theologians over the centuries, but even more they have bathed so many souls and been a balm to so much hurt.”
There is a very special time on the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend when the participants enter into an experiential scripture exercise based on the Gospel story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus.
The following is a couple’s account (shared with their permission) of their experience attending a retreat because of the damage a previous abortion was doing to their marriage. The Lazarus exercise was a pivotal turning point in their marriage:
“The abortion happened soon after we were married. I was in the Army and was called to complete my last year of service stationed in Germany. We would save our money, and she would begin looking at houses for when I returned. That was the plan.
“Susan called me shortly after I began my duty overseas and shared that she was pregnant. The first thing I told her was, ‘We’re not ready for this; I have to finish my service. We can’t do this with me away for the next year.” I convinced her that abortion was the right decision.
“The day of the abortion was the day I died. I felt dead for 14 years.
We arrived at the retreat center very anxious of what was to come, but quietly excited and hopeful that maybe this would help in some way…if it didn’t I was sure our marriage was headed for divorce.
“On Saturday afternoon we participated in the Living Scripture exercise based on the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John:
“Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died… Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved….Jesus wept….Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance. ‘Take the stone away!’ Jesus ordered.…After he had said this he called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in grave cloths, and a cloth around his face. ‘Untie him,” Jesus told them, ‘and let him go.’ (Gospel of John 11)
“The retreat participants are asked to name a part of themselves that has died because of sin. The facilitator then takes a strip of gauze bandage, and gently wraps the area we identify. Some in our group wrapped their eyes because they lost sight of God. One woman asked that her heart be wrapped as it was broken by abandonment of her father and later her boyfriend when she became pregnant. Another man felt powerless to stop an abortion he did not want and asked that his hands be wrapped.
“When the retreat team approached Susan my wife decided to have her left hand wrapped. Susan said, ‘This is the hand that my wedding ring is on, and I want to see our marriage restored.’
“As the team approached me, I shared ‘You have to wrap my heart….it is just broken. It’s been broken ever since I got the call that the abortion was over and my child was gone.'”
“Each of us was then given the opportunity to profess our faith. Through faith in Christ we believe that we can rise from the death caused by sin and be healed of our deepest wounds.
“After Susan made her statement of faith a team member went to unwrap her bandage. I received a gift of grace at that moment that led me to say, “No, no, please, let me do it — I think this is my place as her husband. I want a partnership to begin that we never have had. I want to be there for her, not so distant anymore.
“And so, I unwrapped her hand; Susan, in turn, unwrapped my heart and asked forgiveness for her bitterness toward me. For the first time since we were dating, we held hands as we walked along the road together to the cafeteria for our evening meal.”
Pope Francis concludes his remarks on the Jubilee of Tears:
“The power of love turns suffering into the certainty of Christ’s victory… At the foot of every cross, the Mother of Jesus is always there. With her mantle, she wipes away our tears. With her outstretched hand, she helps us to rise up and she accompanies us along the path of hope.”
Let us pray together with our Blessed Mother Mary, the Pope and the whole Church that this Year of Mercy will release abundant graces from God to open the mind and hearts of all those who have participated in any way in the death of an unborn child to embrace the merciful gift of repentance and healing in Christ.