A priest’s perspective

Finding Spiritual Healing: A priest’s perspective
I have been involved with Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for ten years and I have learned a tremendous amount during that time. The first thing I noticed about the women and men who joined us on the retreat was that so many had been deeply wounded by the experience. I guess I expected that. What I found a little disturbing was how deeply wounded they felt by the church. Some found it difficult to find forgiveness either because they couldn’t believe in God’s forgiveness or they couldn’t forgive themselves. Often these two are connected.
We might think this could be solved simply by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and seeking forgiveness. Surely this would reunite people to God and/or the church. Sometimes it was just the opposite. People who had begun to work with the pain, guilt and shame in the many ways available were confronted with a judgemental approach by various church people sometimes from their own perceptions or that of friends or the priest himself – even in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Priests told people they were forever damned for doing such a horrible thing. Other priests responded in a matter of fact kind of way with what seemed a lack of concern. The person then felt their experience was trivialised, not being taken seriously, and they felt in some way belittled while seeking forgiveness. These approaches left people alienated from the church and sometimes from God as well.
I have found that time taken to listen to the story in some detail is all that’s needed to help make the connection. Many people may have listened to the story – although usually it is only a few – but when the person is listened to by the priest something happens to connect the person with God, forgiveness and their need for spiritual healing. While God’s healing is not dependent on a priest, it is clearly important for some to hear the priest acknowledge the pain they suffer for this spiritual healing to take place. This is especially true for those who have felt rejected by a priest or the church.
The compassion of God is available to everyone. Everyone has a right to know forgiveness and healing. Jesus came to free us from the disabling power of low self esteem and self loathing by acknowledging that each broken person who feels shame, pain, guilt and heartache is a victim in many ways. This is not to deny personal responsibility but to identify the way forward so that each person may offer the gift of themselves freely no matter what brokenness lies in the past. Everyone is graced by beauty and love and it is a pity to have this gift dulled or shaded by past hurts and fears. I have found no shortage of people dealing with the personal responsibility of abortion; but I have found the corresponding freedom offered by the gospel sometimes hidden. I am sad to say that can be as a result of the perceived or intended message of church people.
Pope John Paul II said "I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. 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 ... do not lose hope ... 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 be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord." John Paul II Evangelium Vitae, 1995, #99 This is the message of the gospel and the church. I hope women and men who suffer the effects of post abortion pain and guilt will be able to find this healing for their spiritual lives.
Fr Peter Maher