When I arrived at St. Joseph’s Monastery, I felt immediately at ease. I met several women at once, all of whom seemed to be beautifully healed. Their hearts were supple and open. They had a wonderful connection with each other and accepted me readily. There seemed to be no time lost in loving each other and truly wanting the best for one another. They made me feel warm and welcome. I got myself ready for the evening.
I arrived at the monastery carrying my wounds with me. They had been revealed in their depth and their fullness at Rachel’s Vineyard. In order to cope with them, I had erected a shrine in my backyard where I could set aside time each day to go and grieve. Otherwise, the grief came upon me in waves and at unexpected times. In order for any wound to be healed, it has to come into the open, breathe in the air, be brought into reality. Rachel’s Vineyard was a great leap, but there was more, much more. When I converted to the Catholic Church, everything in me pressed forward and wanted to become a saint. When I encountered the wounds of my abortions, I got stuck. Here was a wound that was not healed at my baptism. Rachel’s Vineyard was a great step forward, but I needed more healing. I arrived at St. Joseph’s monastery carrying my scars and my pain with me… whatever was holding me back from being with the Lord.
The retreat began with a talk by Father Ben about how we too were called to holiness and that holiness, as I hoped, was attainable even for me. The fire of my baptismal hope from two years prior rekindled and a small, though strong ember was struck in the midst of the darkness that had overcome me since confronting my past actions at Rachel’s Vineyard. You see, before I went to Rachel’s Vineyard, my wounds were hidden… even from myself and because they were so hidden, they had been hidden from Jesus as well, the Jesus who dwelt within me. I denied Jesus my sins to heal because I denied them from myself. Perhaps they were denied because I couldn’t cope with the ramifications, because I needed Jesus to help me bear them, but they were hidden nonetheless.
The retreat continued Saturday morning with prayer with the Passionist nuns in the morning, a sweet breakfast in common, and another talk. We prayed, we meditated, we listened, we walked, we entered into our healings, each of us personally with hope. The retreat was great; however, I kept wondering when the barrier around my heart was going to give. It was almost palpable to me. I could feel the hardness around it and I couldn’t stand it. I wasn’t completely open. I was still scared, still wounded, still wanting to condemn myself. Was this retreat going to bear fruit? Was I too scarred?
Saturday evening was set aside for Eucharistic adoration. My hour to pray with our Lord in the chapel was 3 a.m. I went to adoration late and knelt down on the kneeler. This was the early morning of my birthday. In five hours would be exactly the time of my birth. At this moment thirty-four years ago, my mother was in labor and I was ready and waiting to come forth new from her womb.
Now I was knelt down on a kneeler in front of the Eucharist wondering why I could not feel any of the graces that I thought would come at this retreat. I had been feeling the weight of my wounds for so long; I was used to it. I stayed there on the kneeler. I felt nothing. I was tired. At 4 a.m. another person came in. I could have left, but I stayed. I fought the voices telling me to go to sleep and it paid off. My prayer was beginning to take hold. The tiredness and the coldness and the hardness I had been fighting for so long were beginning to break, not of my own will, but His. I was speaking to Jesus for the first time in months. I saw the Eucharist again for the first time, in its glory, felt its presence. After days, months, years of coldness and an hour and a half of prayer, the dawn was breaking.
God showed me my sins again, the ones I thought I saw when I was converting, the ones I glanced at like a scratch, though they were a gash, the ones I hoped had nothing to do with my conversion, the ones I left in the closet of my consciousness. I was making a new conversion here in this place with these beautiful nuns praying close by. Only with that kind of help could I say what God wanted me to say. I looked at my sins. I accepted them. Five abortions. Five wounds in my body. Five wounds in Christ’s body. At my initial conversion, there was a no. My yes was not complete. Here in front of the Eucharist, I brought everything to him, including my sins, in all their completeness. I gave them to Christ. I gave my life to Him. Tears were coming, beautiful tears, tears that one by one erased the no’s I had given God since my conversion, every ‘no’ I tried to pretend was not there. My sinfulness was apparent even at my baptism. All the things I would do that would hurt my relationship with God were there on the day of my baptism. At my conversion I had been sorry for what I knew to be sorry for and perhaps for what I could handle at the time. Now I knew more, could hold more because he showed myself to me and then held me so I could bear it.
I was shaking with tears, conversion, sorrow, remorse, thanksgiving, love, awe, terror. Another person came. Another person went. The person who came was someone I had grown close to in a short amount of time. Earlier in the day she shared with me that she had stopped on a run she took through the Stations of the Cross. She had paused at the station where Jesus stops to console the weeping women. She shared that with me. Now here she was in this room and I was weeping. She was trying at this retreat to understand how to become Christ for women like me, women who were suffering from abortion, this great wound in our society. Here she was in this room with me and all my suffering, everything I had tried to deny for so long, my five wounds. Slowly these things are revealed in accordance with our readiness to accept them, to be able to accept them. I was weeping, but I was holding something back. I did not know I was holding back. Another person came. She brought some tissue and stepped away. I was telling God I was sorry, sorry for all my disobedience, sorry for how I had denied him by denying myself. The tears were pouring, but joy was coming to hold them.
She knelt down beside me on the kneeler. Her presence so close to me, Christ’s presence so visibly close, she had been so Christ-like throughout the entire retreat, so loving, such an embodiment of Christianity and she was there and I was suffering, not alone anymore, but with her close by, with Christ close by, with the other women close by. Christ stopped to console the weeping women. She did not have to be there. She did not have to be going through this. But she was there and I was weeping. There was a shift. The wound came upon me, the full weight of it and now I was Christ and she was Simeon. I couldn’t carry it. She put her arms around me. Now I was abandoned, without thought of myself, of pride, of anything but truth, I was sobbing. The sea was breaking. The pain that had been holed up, the scar was being dug out. I was shaking and I heard myself saying to God, to Christ, to her, to humanity. I am sorry. I am so sorry. I am sorry. I was sorry that she had to be that person, that I had done what I had done, that the world was what it was. I was sorry on behalf of the world and it felt that the world’s pain was gushing forth from me. For minutes we were like that. I leaned into her. I rested my head on her shoulder like she was Christ. I felt Christ’s arms around me. I had not felt that since I became Christian. True Christian love, support, arms around me, holding me, letting everything come, holding me enough to hold this cross.
The wave passed. She returned to her seat and then left, left me there. Now I was Mary. My fiat came as gently as a sweet whisper in my soul, the kind that can come after a storm. Sweetly, my heart was awake again, it was soft and alive and it was speaking: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. All generations shall call me blessed. And I was glowing in Christ’s peace, for a moment united with him in my yes. At once crucified in pain, at once his mother looking upon myself with eyes of mercy, at once a young maid professing my yes to my Lord and savior, my complete yes. Whatever you want, Lord. I made a beautiful promise to him, a promise not to deny him of anything he would ask me for.
I looked at the Eucharist in the Rachel’s Vineyard monstrance. It was glowing and nestled sweetly in Mary’s arms. She was holding it, holding Christ so gently and that gentleness was in me now. I was become gentle again, new, soft, beautiful and Christ in me was so; I could feel it. She was telling me to be gentle with him and I promised to be, not to hurt him by hurting myself, by hurting others. She told me to love myself like she loved him, to hold myself as she was holding him, to hold him as she was inside myself, to be gentle, to be sweet, to be kind. I basked in the glory, in the peace, in the life, in the newness inside myself, my glorified self. I saw my wounds, glorified, I felt resurrected and my wounds were too, the ones I denied him, the ones I would not let him have. I sat there, whole again, giving all of my life to him. There was nothing else I could deny him if I could not deny this. I did not know what he would ask me to do, but I understood that I must listen for him to tell me what to do and to let him love me gently and help me to grow gently. I had been forcing things, hurting myself. I would try not to force things anymore. I would be a Christian. I understood that if I was healed, then the sign of that is that ordinary life would become better somehow or my reaction to it would be. I sat for a long time just basking in the light of the Eucharist, looking at myself in this new light, looking at everything again, looking at Christ again seemingly for the first time. It seemed it had been so long since I had seen Him in that beautiful, clear light. He seemed so clear to me. Love was so present, love for all. I had mercy for everyone again, so much mercy to give.
It was almost 7 a.m. I went to bed and slept the sleep of angels. Angels were waking to pray, the Passionist nuns. I wanted to join them, but I slept. I asked Christ, the infant inside me, What do you want? He said, Sleep. I slept. Mass was at 8 a.m. I would be at the mass of Resurrection at the time of my birth. And what a resurrection it was. It was the mass of my early Christian days, the fullness of life, the beauty, the reality, the pinnacle of existence. I stood before him in my full yes, ready to go where he called. I felt I could not deny him anything. I was able to kneel to take the Eucharist, something I was denied at my first Eucharist. This was like my first Eucharist, my first Eucharist in my full yes. This yes was full, not because I was someone less or more than I was before. It was full because I had given myself fully to the Lord, in all my sorrow, in all my weakness, in all of my woundedness, so that He could live in every part of me, glorify every part of me, especially my wounds. The greater they are, the more glory they can offer Him… once they are offered to Him.
I will restore you to health; of your wounds I will heal you, says the Lord. From them will resound songs of praise, the laughter of happy men. I will make them not few, but many; they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.
Jeremiah 30: 17a, 19