Early in my work at Priests for Life a woman wrote, “I can’t help but think that if twenty years ago I heard a sermon in my Church against abortion, I would have found the strength to keep my baby instead of killing my baby.”
Since then, countless women, as well as men, have said the same. One day after Mass someone said, “Father, I had an abortion, and when I hear it spoken in Church, it does hurt – but please, keep preaching about it, because I gain great comfort in knowing that as a result of that preaching, someone else in the congregation will be spared having to go through all the pain that abortion itself brings.”
Many priests are afraid to preach about abortion, and many of the laity ask me why. Fear, ultimately, is irrational; it is the abandonment of the help that comes from reason.
Yet one of the most frequent answers priests will give to the question of why they don’t address the issue is, “I don’t want to hurt those in the congregation who have had abortions.”
Priests spend years of prayer and effort to develop the compassionate heart of a Good Shepherd, who tends to the wounds of the flock, applies the healing balm of God’s love and mercy, and never does anything to hurt the flock.
But that should lead to preaching about abortion, not silence about it. The reason? Silence hurts the flock. One reason silence hurts is that it does not interpret itself. The priest may indeed have the best of intentions for keeping silent about abortion. But the woman or man sitting in the congregation and suffering from his/her involvement in abortion does not know those intentions. The fact that nothing is said about abortion may lead such a man or woman to conclude one of three things:
a) Father doesn’t know about the pain I have from my abortion;
b) Father knows my pain, but doesn’t care;
c) Father knows and cares about my pain, but there’s no hope. Nothing can be done to heal it.
The fact, however, is that we do know, we do care, and there is hope and healing. Therefore we speak! We speak about abortion, which is devastating individuals and families more than anything else. We speak about its pain, and we extend the urgent invitation to healing, mercy, forgiveness and peace.
Apostolates of Priests for Life like Rachel’s Vineyard (the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion) and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (whereby those who have had abortions and have found healing speak out about it) can assist the priest to convey effectively the message of healing. And then all the rest that we say about abortion will be better accepted, and more will avoid the pain to begin with.
It’s time to flip the fear of preaching about abortion into a fear of what will happen if we don’t.
(© 2011 Fr. Frank Pavone)