MOMM's flagship presentation: This film brings the heart of St. Faustina's famous Diary to life in a moving and informative way. Tell All Souls About My Mercy: Includes Chaplet of... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
By Marian Friedrichs (Jan 1, 2011)
At St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull, Conn., we had just finished sharing the Eucharist at the annual Pro-Life Mass for the Diocese of Bridgeport two years ago. The most important parts of the liturgy were over, but no one was ready yet to say the final prayer and go home. We knew we were about to receive a precious gift: the witness of a member of Rachel's Vineyard.
After being introduced, Cheryl took her place at the podium and calmly greeted the congregation. Every pew in the spacious church was packed: with regular parishioners, visitors (some, like me, from other states), students from St. Theresa's school, families, priests, deacons, and our celebrant, Bishop William Lori. Before all of those people, without a trace of fear or shame, Cheryl opened her soul and told her story.
She was 19 years old when her doctor confirmed what she had already suspected: She was pregnant. The pregnancy was unplanned, and as I listened to Cheryl remember that day, I expected her to recount feelings of disappointment and panic. Instead, she described stepping out of the doctor's office into a sunny spring day with a heart full of joy.
Sadly, her joy did not last. Over the next few days, fear crept into Cheryl's heart, and when she called her boyfriend to tell him the news, his reaction was utter silence. "I kept hoping to hear the words 'Don't worry. I love you. We'll get married. We'll be a family.' But the words never came," she said. Eventually Cheryl's fear won the battle, and she arranged to have an abortion.
Like so many people whose lives are changed forever by the events of a few tragic hours, Cheryl remembers every detail of the day her baby was aborted. Some details, she said, were so graphic that she couldn't share them with us, but she did describe waking up in the recovery room at the hospital and seeing her mother sitting by her bedside. "I looked in her eyes," Cheryl recalled, "and I saw what she was thinking: 'What have we done?' This was not only my child; this was her first grandchild. We never spoke about my abortion after that. It was too painful for her and for me."
By letting her baby die, Cheryl said, she died inside as well. She struggled to keep herself numb with high-paced living: promiscuity, partying, and other self-destructive behaviors. Cheryl ended up in a relationship with a man who abused her physically and mentally. Like many women who have fallen victim to the abortion culture and suffer the torture of post-abortive trauma, she honestly didn't believe she deserved any better. The relationship eventually led to a second abortion and then a third.
As dead as she felt, however, Cheryl was about to be resurrected, for as St. Faustina tells us, "Beneath [the rays of mercy] a heart will grow warm even if it were like a block of ice; even if it were as hard as a rock, it will crumble into dust" (Diary, 370). In God's way and in His time, Cheryl found her way back to the Church and received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, although even after God had forgiven her, she didn't feel able to forgive herself. In October of 2005, however, He intervened again when Cheryl joined a pilgrimage to Medjurgorje. On Oct. 5, she woke up to a wet morning and left her room to go to daily Mass.
"It was the memorial of St. Faustina, and to me the rain felt like God's mercy pouring down from heaven," she recalled. The gospel reading that day was the story of the Roman soldier piercing Jesus' side with a lance and watching blood and water flow out. "When I heard that," Cheryl said, "I knew God had a plan for my healing."
Back home, she finally decided to take the advice of a friend who had long urged her to attend a Rachel's Vineyard weekend. (Rachel's Vineyard offers weekend retreats across the United States for any woman or man who has struggled with the emotional and spiritual pain of an abortion.) Cheryl made the retreat in April of 2006: the weekend of Divine Mercy Sunday.
At that podium in St. Theresa's Church, Cheryl didn't stand before us as a woman held captive by grief and shame, bent on punishing herself for what she had done. Rather, she stood before us as a woman healed by that flow of blood and water: a woman devoted to helping other women and men to find that same healing. Today, Cheryl is an active member of the Rachel's Vineyard team, running weekends not only in her home diocese of Bridgeport but also at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
Cheryl believes that part of her mission is to help the people on retreat — many of whom have long mourned the babies they sacrificed — to "spiritually embrace their children" at last. Cheryl's voice broke, and many of us in the congregation wept with her, as she described asking her own children in heaven for strength on every retreat she works: "I know I couldn't do it without them." Nor could she do it, as Cheryl's witness demonstrated, without Divine Mercy.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.