We're blessed at St. James to have such a gifted homilist as Peter Hodsdon.
His sermon yesterday caused us to think about abortion in a whole new light. Christ is forgiveness and how can we, as Christians, do anything less than forgive?
The Gospel of Luke has been the favorite of many women over the years and here is a prime example of why that is the case. We are presented with the touching, poignant story of a so-called “sinful” woman who despite her life as an apparent outcast, has braved ridicule and rejection to seek forgiveness and healing from the one person she somehow knows will accept her, Jesus. She never says a word – she doesn’t have to. Her sobs, her tears, her gentle caress of Jesus’ feet as she anoints them speak volumes. Put yourself in the scene. She realizes that she has no towel, perhaps looking for something to use, anything, and in utter abandonment, uses her long hair, the very mark of a fallen woman in that era, to dry the feet of Jesus. And Jesus, moved by the woman’s humility and likewise irritated at the pomposity of Simon the Pharisee, says the words that He knows will bring peace to the woman and horrify the righteous guests. “Your sins are forgiven.” “Go in peace.”
We’re not told what the woman’s sin was – we assume adultery, of course, for what else would drive this woman to such a state? It’s interesting to bring this story into the 21st century and ask the same question. What would drive a woman to such a state? I’m not sure the answer today would still be adultery. Adultery is practically celebrated these days, especially in our overheated entertainment media.
But I think that there is one that has taken its place in our day and age – an act that despite its legality is never celebrated, and often mourned long after it is done. I’m talking about abortion. It’s interesting to see the collective tension in the Church rise at that word, and immediately the three elephants of politics, morality, and polarized thinking enter the room. I’m going to ask those elephants to leave, however, because I’m not here to discuss those points today. I’m here to talk about healing. I’m here to talk about forgiveness and new life.
About six million women in the US become pregnant every year; of these pregnancies, 1.2 million end in abortion, about 20 percent. I’m not telling this to you to shock you, but to point out that there is a very high likelihood that every adult in this Church knows a woman who has had an abortion, whether you realize it or not. There is growing evidence that despite the woman’s conviction at the time of the abortion that it was the right thing to do, many suffer from depression and related anxiety disorders for years following the event. Worse yet, women who abort their pregnancies are less likely to obtain professional help than women who have had stillbirths. My point is simple: there is a large population of women in our very real world who are in pain, who are suffering, who feel that they cannot seek help – all the consequence of a poor choice at a vulnerable moment. Their pain transfers to their spouses, their significant others, many of whom suffer beside them in solidarity. There’s an awful lot of weeping going on. So here’s the question: how can we be like Jesus to these women?
Reread the first reading. David, accused of murder by Nathan the prophet, acknowledges his deed and what does God do? He forgives David. Reread this gospel. Does Jesus shun this woman? No. Does he condemn her? No. Does he demand that she do penance? No. You can bet that this sinful woman would not have taken the immense risk she did if there was any hint of Jesus rejecting her. Somehow she knew that Jesus was a safe place to seek peace. This is the first step we need to take as well. Can we be a safe place for the woman who has had an abortion? Can we be there for her without causing additional grief and pain? I invite you to examine your emotional state, your own feelings on the matter. If a woman came to you today and divulged that she has had an abortion, how would you react? What if she wants to justify herself? What if she is depressed and angry? What if she simply needs to share?
Here are some things to consider:
A person going through a grieving process often displays many complicated emotions. Don’t get wrapped up in the emotions. See the grieving person inside.
Healing takes a long time, marked by many, often messy, setbacks.
As a disciple of Jesus, make the distinction between public rhetoric and the reality of a person who is sitting in front of you in pain. Once the abortion is a reality, a done deed, what good is there in labels, party politics, and talking points?
If the person comes from a strong religious background, understand that the shame and guilt can be doubly crippling. She can feel hopelessly condemned, to the point where she cannot imagine that she can be forgiven. Can you be the first one to say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I know it must have been difficult. How can I help you find peace?”
Don’t try to fix the situation or force healing. Use a method that works in prison – listen, listen, love, love. Communicate compassion.
Offer support resources. I’ll leave you with one resource to remember. There is an excellent web site called Abortion Changes You.com. This is a simple, completely non-political web site that offers resources for women who have had abortions and those who care about them. There is also a link to local counselors that requires only a zip code.
What if you know someone who you suspect is suffering from an abortion experience? Or who has confided to you in the past and you had nothing to offer? How do you approach them? Here’s a simple way. Mention that you heard a homily on Sunday about post-abortion healing and you thought of her. I have already posted this homily on my web site – www.dcnpeterh.com. Feel free to download and send it to her. Or, as I mentioned above, point her to abortionchangesyou. It’s noted in the bulletin this week. Above all, if you open the door, prepare to walk through it with her. We’re not into hit-and-run compassion!
This homily is not sponsored by a political party. There is no hidden agenda here. A number of weeks ago, I spoke about the difference between the container and the contents. This is about the content that is Jesus. Jesus demonstrates how to be in relationship with a person in intense pain. He is a safe place, he is available, he listens, he forgives, he heals, he sends in peace.
There is a difference between fighting evil -- and caring for the wounded, just as we distinguish between justice and charity. We are called to do both if we’re to be credible followers of Jesus. After all, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. And love transforms the world.