Rachel mourns her children. She refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning. Wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward. There is hope for your future.
Jeremiah 31: 15-17
In the 39 years that Voice For Life has been speaking for the protection of the unborn child a new reality has emerged in New Zealand—the ‘new normal’ of one in four pregnancies ending in abortion ( 17,940 abortions, 64,140 live births, 2008, the average for the past 10 years is 17,360 abortions against 58,500 births pa;the figures for 1970 are not easily available, but a comparison can be found for 1974 which is 3270 abortions against 59,336 pregnancies [about one in 20] Statistics NZ ).
Behind the statistics is a deeply personal story of loss. Post-abortion counsellors describe the symptoms of a grief unlike any other and the complicated effects that ripple through a person’s life as a result of an abortion decision.
Abortion hurts women, men and their families, not inanimate objects. Irrespective of how a person might be involved in an abortion, Christ and the church are there to meet them.
The work of Rachel’s Vineyard, the Catholic three-day retreat model of post-abortion healing that originated in the US, has shown the power of the Catholic sacraments in healing this loss.
Catholic model lauded
At a recent Rachel’s Vineyard Leadership Conference in the US, I asked mostly American Catholic retreat leaders about why the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats work. They all said, ‘Because the model is Catholic’. Their advice was to follow the format and don’t try to tweak it too much for local conditions or to leave the Catholic bits out.
Most of these people had first-hand experience of abortion and I still cannot completely reconcile the thought of lives in chaos or despair with the smart, gifted and gracious people I saw them to be.
I was curious about how non-Catholics experienced the retreat. They each quite separately told me that they never felt excluded or inferior; they felt honoured to be sitting alongside others who knew more about the sacraments and what was going on.
They felt they were being treated with genuine dignity.
Everyone I spoke to could identify a crucial moment, a turning point during their retreat weekend. For the Catholics it was in the sacraments—for some the Eucharist, others reconciliation, others the baptism/requiem ritual for their lost children. All of the non-Catholics said it was sometime during adoration. This experience of ‘presence and prayer’ changed everything about them. After this, they had ‘a knowledge of wholeness’.
Few people are undecided about the moral implications of liberal abortion laws, but many are uncertain as to what might constitute the right balance between protecting life at all costs and respecting the rights of the individual even to the extent that they are allowed to make ‘poor choices’. As fascinating as this may be, it’s what we do with those poor choices that matters.
‘Respect Life that we might believe, Choose Life that we might know.’
Rachel’s Vineyard is a Catholic response to the grief and loss of abortion. The weekend retreat, modelled on the Easter Triduum, is an opportunity for healing and reconciliation for men and women of any faith or none who have struggled with the emotional or spiritual pain of an abortion. During the weekend, retreatants, the retreat team and a priest gather as the suffering Body of Christ and through prayer and the sacraments, minister to each other in God’s name focusing on God’s forgiveness, compassion and mercy. Psychological exercises help work through repressed grief and anger and many spiritual exercises help to grieve the loss of an unborn child and to accept God’s forgiveness. As well as Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing, there are times of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The retreat ends with a memorial service and Mass of Resurrection.
Rachel’s Vineyard is a totally ‘Catholic’ experience open to all. Voice For Life is bringing Rachel’s Vineyard to New Zealand next year. For more information, please contact: Suzanne O’Rourke, 04 973 0904 or 021 549 528 or firstname.lastname@example.org www.voiceforlife.org.nz