Divine Mercy Minutes with Jesus is a pocket-sized devotional featuring key passages of Jesus' own words to St. Faustina, following themes such as trust, deeds of mercy, and ... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
By Dan Valenti and Theresa Bonopartis
I love the Advent season. It's a time of rest and reflection, a spiritual justification to bow out of the consumerist frenzy that defines Christmas for so many Americans and consider the true meaning of Dec. 25. It was not, however, always like this. In the early 1970s, when I struck out on my own to college, I lost my faith — at least I thought I did. For a time, I became the worst believer of all, that of a declared atheist.
Today, I understand it differently. I didn't reject God. I rejected the popular conception of God, as if He could be neatly reduced to a coherent, containable, package of human conception, human thought, and human language. I rejected anyone's attempt to speak with certainly about the "All in all."
But what about God's Word? Didn't we have the Bible? That didn't cut it with me. I was slaving, learning the craft of writing, filling notebooks with poems, stories, essays, and journal entries. I knew how words worked. If God had inspired the thoughts behind the words, then surely the words themselves — by nature limited and connotative — would screw it up.
But didn't Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, come to us in the guise of an infant born to a virgin in a Bethlehem manger? Perhaps, yet I could find no hard, factual evidence to verify the claim. For years, therefore, I found the Advent season stripped of meaning. What were they but a series of cold days, each longer in night by a minute or two until Dec. 21? What were they but days of anger? I had long lost my belief in Santa, and now I found myself not believing in a God I could rationally understand. Pride ate me up.
Christmas became just another day. We exchanged gifts, shared a family meal, looked at colored lights on a decorated tree, and watched "A Christmas Carol" starring Alistair Sim, shown in black-and-white on TV. Jesus was nowhere. The Nativity story was a fairy tale. God was dead.
Except that I finally realized God was everywhere.
The way back was lit by the wonderful woman who became my wife, who told me of something called Divine Mercy, by fumbling and stumbling my way back into prayer again, and by realizing that employing human logic and "verifiable truth" as exclusive, absolute measures of God were illogical and false reasons for rejecting God. In objecting to what I dismissed as organized religion's pat conceptions of God, I had constructed an even more facile reason for declaring them nonsense. I had vast knowledge but knew nothing.
God had never abandoned me. He had simply hidden so I would seek Him harder, like going after someone who was good at playing hide-and-seek.
Today, Advent means something great and wonderful. It means waiting for the birth of Christ, who gives the season its name. It means the opportunity for forgiveness, redemption, a triumph over limited human nature, a victory of grace over sin, of life over death, and justified consolation in the midst of life's troubles and hurts.
Advent is a fresh start from God, who loves nothing better than to turn the pages of our past and write new words for us, now, in the moment. They are words of happiness, love, and joy.
I love the Advent season. It has become a real resting place, a "glorious expectation" of the coming of the Christ Child into our midst. But it was not always like this. Being a post-abortive woman, for years I found Advent and the Christmas season a time of great anxiety and sorrow. In the joy of the birth of Christ experienced by so many, I experienced nothing but fear, dread, and unending pain. I was always relieved to greet the New Year knowing I did not have to deal with it all again for another 12 months.
If you think about it, it's an understandable reaction. Feeling unforgivable and alienated from God, certain of eternal condemnation, why would anyone who was post-abortive want to "prepare the way" for Christ? Meeting Christ meant judgment and the flames of hell. It meant the fulfillment of everything I feared and felt about myself. The entire season spoke of my sinfulness.
Unlike Mary's fiat, I said "no." My "no" to God's gift of life was loudly resounding in my head. How could I appreciate Mary's courage, faith, and complete unselfishness when I had the complete opposite reaction? The shame was all-consuming.
Instead of the joy of the birth of a son, I was reminded intensely of the destruction of my unborn son. The grief and guilt it brought to me was overwhelming. While choirs were singing "Joy to the World," I was certain Christ's coming meant I would be alone to suffer, with no one to love and no one to love me.
While others shopped happily for gifts for their children, I was reminded of the child who would never get to experience Christmas joy, sit on Santa's lap, or open a present under the tree. The void was immense and seemed impossible to fill.
Things are different now. As I learned to take the focus off of myself and put it on Jesus, I came into a personal relationship with Him. I learned of His unending mercy and forgiveness in the face of my contrition for my abortion. Far from a damning God, I came to know His deep desire for my healing and my union with Him.
Instead of a dread of Advent and the Christmas season, I came to understand that it was in this act, the birth of Mercy Himself, that my salvation began. The immense void I had experienced slowly filled with His love and mercy, and I grew to know He came to this earth for me, a sinner, so that I could share eternal life with Him and my unborn child.
Yes, now Advent speaks to my heart of a "glorious expectation" of peace, joy, love, forgiveness, and mercy. This grace is not just for me but for all who trust in Him, no matter what their sin.
If you are post-abortive or suffering from other sins that keep you from the joy of the Advent, take your focus off of yourself and place it instead on Christ, born for our salvation. If you do, I promise you, you will not only feel joy but a glorious expectation!
Theresa Bonopartis is founder and director of Lumina/Hope & Healing after Abortion. You can reach her through postabortionhelp.org or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.