Saturday, January 19, 2008

35 years of Roe v. Wade: 22 January 1973 – 22 January 2008 Part 1

This is not an easy topic to address. Much has been written and spoken about the topic of legalized abortion here in the United States. There are loud and soft voices on both sides of the abortion argument. As a Catholic Christian, as a Franciscan friar and as a priest I vehemently oppose the willful taking of innocent human life, especially at its most vulnerable stages in the womb.

Annual March for Life, 22 January 2007, Washington, DC

My purpose is not to argue but to reflect on the reality we face as Catholic Christians in the United States of America, particularly around the painful and divisive issue of medical abortions.
First of all, I think it is important to note that while Roe v. Wade is considered to be the landmark case that opened legalized abortions in this country, legalized abortions were already being “performed” (for lack of a better word) in some States, like New York, since the 1960s. There were limitations, though, for these to occur.

Millions upon millions of unborn human persons in our country have been literally ripped from the wombs of their mothers. The medical procedures for these are visually and audibly hideous. There are now medications used which “facilitate” abortions and make the procedure seemingly less “difficult” and intrusive (e.g. the pill called RU-486).

While their lives have been terminated, the scars on the lives of their family members remain. As a priest I have had the privilege – and I do consider it to be a privilege – of accompanying several repentant people in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, men and women, who have either procured an abortion or assisted in its procurement. These have been remarkably healing experiences for the penitents and tremendously edifying for me as an ordained minister of the Church.

I have been moved by the recognition of these people of the gravity of what they did. Although what I share is anecdotal and not statistical, the vast majority of those who came to confession were contrite. They not only felt badly – they were still mourning, even after nearly twenty years for some! – they wanted to reconcile with the Lord and his Church.

Some people had rationalized and justified their actions in the past, and had come to realize that they were just fooling themselves. Others had been guilt-ridden and even confused for many years. Some were just plain scared because they did not see any other option for themselves at the time.

In all the circumstances I remember encountering, everyone wanted to know if God still loved them and if God would ever forgive them. Without overusing the word, I must say that I have found these moments truly awesome!
Annual March for Life, 22 January 2007, Washington, DC

Of course God still loves them and of course they can find reconciliation with God and with his Church! Within such Church-sanctioned ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, many people have found God’s healing power from having participated in a medical abortion.
Regrettably, I have also encountered several people who staunchly defend having had or assisted in a medical abortion. These people do not go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sadly they have become “hardened of heart” as the Scripture rightly points out (cf. Psalm 95:8). But just as sad is the reality of people who consider themselves so “pro-life” (i.e. anti-abortion in this case) that they have become very judgmental and condemnatory so that there is no apparent room for mercy! It seems to me, from reading the Gospels, that they may face a severer judgment!

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