'More Graces Than Asked'

"Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You..."

She didn't know how many hours had passed or how many times she'd repeated that one-sentence prayer that was all the hope she had left. She crouched on the bathroom floor with her hands over her head and the door shut so that she wouldn't wake her two young sons. They shouldn't have to see their mother crying again.

God was merciful. He loved her. That's what the priest had told her, and she had taken him at his word. She'd confessed the sin that had haunted her for so many years. And God had forgiven her; she believed that. But she hadn't forgiven herself. It seemed impossible.

Yet for months she had prayed before the Blessed Sacrament like Jacob wrestling all night with God. "I'm not leaving You alone until You heal me," she had told Jesus, clinging to Him as persistently as her shame clung to her. "They say You can do this. They say that You're faithful. I'm not leaving You alone until You heal me." Now, in the middle of a dark night - literally and spiritually - she called on Jesus with all her strength. He was the only One who could help her.

Years later, while giving her witness at Most Holy Trinity Church in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Theresa Bonopartis recalled that night when she had cried out to The Divine Mercy and He had answered.

"I was in such excruciating pain ... and ... my mantra for the entire time [was] Jesus, I trust in You," she said, "And ... at some point in the middle of the night, I felt like I had climbed on the cross with Christ ... I just surrendered myself ... And as soon as I had that surrender, rather than feeling the pain of the cross, I felt an intense love sweeping over me, because that's the only place where there is enough love to heal the wound of abortion."

I met Theresa, who now works full-time in post-abortion ministries at Our Lady of New York, a former Sisters of Life convent in the Bronx where Theresa and the sisters welcome post-abortive women, men and couples for days and weekends of prayer and healing. The first thing Theresa showed me was the chapel, where a large copy of The Divine Mercy image rested against the altar. "It's always there," she said, beaming.

The image had been donated during the first year of Entering Canaan, the post-abortion retreats Theresa conducts with the Sisters of Life. Canaan was the land promised to the Israelites, which they reached after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It's a fitting name for a retreat that helps women and men to emerge from the desert of post-abortion agony and find their way into God's arms again. The Divine Mercy image watches over the retreats and reminds the weary travelers Who is shepherding them on their journey while also watching the road, eager to welcome them home.

Theresa makes Divine Mercy central to the retreats because it was central to her own healing from the abortion she was pressured into having as a teenager. She knows from experience that without trust in God's mercy, post-abortive souls can't escape from the darkness that grips them. Theresa tries to help post-abortive women face their sin so they can begin to recover from the effects of it.

"You can't really do that without knowing God's love for you," she says. "It's too terrible otherwise."

Theresa doesn't play along when women attempt to minimize or rationalize their abortions or to imagine that they can make up for them somehow. She urges them to acknowledge their sin and to understand that they can never do anything to take away the horror of what they've done. The good news, she hastens to emphasize, is that they don't have to. When Christ died on the cross, He made up for every sin, even abortion.

Acknowledging their sin helps the women seek forgiveness from God, themselves and their babies, to whom they are invited to give a name that they can write in the Immaculate Heart of Mary book on the altar. It also enables them to have compassion for the parents, doctors or partners who may have coerced them into the abortion and for people who have judged or condemned them.

"To really know ... that you're capable of anything ... makes you more merciful," Theresa explains.

When Theresa tells her story, she always closes with these words our Lord spoke to St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy:

Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than asked (Diary of St. Faustina, 1146).

Theresa prays that all of the "tormented souls" who attend Entering Canaan retreats will learn to trust in God's love as she did.

"Abortion is what brings people in, but ultimately it's about God's mercy," she says.

Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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