Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Marianne Luthin, Director of the Archdiocese of Boston Pro-Life Office
Links from today’s show:
- Archdiocese of Boston Pro-Life Office
- Project Rachel Boston
- “A Nationwide Call for Healing After Abortion”, Tom Grenchik, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, US Conference of Catholic Bishops
- “Cardinals throw clout behind strengthened post-abortion healing program”, Catholic News Service, 11/15/11
Today’s topics: Project Rachel Boston
Summary of today’s show: Marianne Luthin talks with Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor about Project Rachel, an outreach ministry of hope and healing to men and women hurting from past abortions. Project Rachel Boston was one of two diocesan programs highlighted at the recent US bishops’ conference meeting as examples of the need to spread this ministry nationwide, helping women who often say, “God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.”
1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Chris back to the show. It’s the end of the semester at St. John Seminary. They had their big December 8 celebration on the Feast of Immaculate Conception. Bishop John D’Arcy,retired bishop of South Bend and and former faculty at St. John’s gave a reflection to the men on his priesthood. He said they should be aware of the beauty and dignity of the priesthood and live that with vigor and a desire for holiness. Fr. Chris said Bishop D’Arcy is on fire for the Lord and has a great gift with a real shepherd’s heart. Fr. Chris said the seminarians are now finishing up work and getting ready to head home to be with their families.
Fr. Chris said he is looking forward to this weekend for the Patriots-Broncos games which pits Tom Brady against Tim Tebow, who is very well-known as a devout Christian who talks about his faith. Scot said are criticizing Tebow for being willing to talk about his faith and being willing to live it,.
2nd segment: Scot said it must have an honor for Marianne to go down to Washington last month to do a press conference on behalf of the bishops about Project Rachel. She said three cardinals did a joint presentation to all the US bishops on Project Rachel, including Cardinal Seán, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC. The Project Rachel programs in Boston and Washington were being profiled and the hope is those programs can provide assistance and training to other dioceses who want to start one.
Marianne said the program is named after the Old Testament matriarch Rachel. In the book of Jeremiah, Rachel weeps for her children who are no more. The Lord comes to her and says to her to cease her cries of mourning because there is hope and healing. Marianne said an important part of the Scripture is that no matter how many tears Rachel shed or how many years, she couldn’t heal herself. On the healing that came from God made it possible.
Marianne said Project Rachel began in Boston in 1985, one of the first in the US. They started it with a full-year of prayer, every day a parish praying for it. The project cares for women who’ve had an abortion and all those who might have participated in the abortion. It provides retreats for women and men seeking wholeness and healing.
Every woman’s story is unique and so they begin wherever they can in that healing process. Many women come in after many years after seeing a brochure. Other women are younger and the wound is fresh. The women range in age from teen all the way to elderly. Marianne said it is all completely confidential. No one knows where the retreats will be and they don’t even publish the list of priests who are involved.
Scot said the Mass of Remembrance for miscarried children that we profiled a month ago showed that many parents don’t talk about the pain of miscarriage for years after. Marianne said a vast majority of women don’t talk about the abortion after. Where would you talk about it? Very seldom is there an opportunity to talk about personal experience because it is taboo. Much of what we know about post-abortion healing we learned from helping people deal with miscarriage and the very profound grief. Even up until recently, the medical community didn’t talk about miscarriage, never mind abortion.
Fr. Chris said many women have a difficult time forgiving themselves. The late Cardinal John O’Connor said we fall into a trap when we fail to recognize that the Cross is infinitely more powerful than any sin we’ve committed and that there is a loving God ready to forgive us.
Marianne said women sometimes say, “God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.”
3rd segment: In October, the Pilot published five first-person accounts of women who’ve been on Project Rachel retreats.
Marianne said Project Rachel provides a confidential support group that meets monthly with a Scripture theme or healing theme. Last summer, the women talked about letting other women know there’s a safe place to come for hope and healing. Several wanted to write their testimonies but doing it anonymously. The Pilot agreed to the idea.
My personal journey of healing began after six long years of the most deafeningly silent pain. Six years of the heaviest regret. Just as profound as my deep need to turn back the clock was my triumphant return to who I once was, thanks solely to Project Rachel.
I remember during those dark years, I would wake up each morning, and for a few brief seconds, all was well. Then I would remember what I had done. The grief was all-consuming. But, like so many other women, I kept it locked inside. I had accepted my fate. I was unforgivable. The enormity of what I had done actually made my steps heavier. Even my shoulders hung lower. I cried alone almost daily. For brief periods I could take my mind off of it. Sometimes I would even forget long enough to try and enjoy a comedy at the movies, but then mid-laughter I’d remember and my laughing would stop because, well, I didn’t deserve to laugh.
Growing up in a Catholic family that attended Mass every Sunday, I never expected that I, of all people, would be in this situation. I convinced myself that I had committed an unforgivable act. I felt utterly alone. I desperately needed to connect with other women who were suffering as I was, and I longed to be the woman I used to be. And then one fateful Sunday morning during Mass, my husband handed me a church bulletin, pointing out the words on the back: “Project Rachel — a program for post-abortion healing through the archdiocese.” I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It took me several months to muster up the nerve to call. I had done a fine job of beating myself up for years and I certainly didn’t need the person on the other end of the phone to make me feel any worse. But, when I finally called, it was not like that at all. The voice on the other end was warm and full of hope for me. My journey of healing began on that day that I made that phone call.
Thanks to Project Rachel, I am me again. The retreat allowed me the opportunity to experience God’s love and forgiveness — something I had decided I was not worthy of. Little did I know that God was there, all along, offering me his love.
Project Rachel literally lit the path for me. From the moment I arrived at the retreat house, the warmth of God’s love engulfed me. Furthermore, I was able to connect with other women who knew the despair that I knew, and we were able to experience the joy of receiving the gifts of hope and healing together. I actually feel lighter. The power of forgiveness is life altering. I am happy again, and the people whom I love sense that. I will always regret my decision, and I will continue to carry my quiet secret with me. It has become a part of who I am, but it no longer defines who I am.
Fr. Chris said it captures many of the points talked about here: the sense of hopelessness that she is unforgivable; the idea of the Evil One convincing us our sins are indeed unforgivable, yet we know in the fiber of our beings that this is why Christ came in to the world, to forgive our sins, to reconcile us to one another.
Scot said it was amazing that it takes several months to work up the courage to make the phone call after deciding to find out more about this ministry. Marianne said women will call when they are ready to accept God’s healing. Many women will say they couldn’t make the call until some time after picking up the brochure. But at some point the grace breaks through. she said the Number One referral source for Project Rachel is the parish bulletin. Women don’t want to pick up a brochure because people will notice, but the parish bulletin is more anonymous.
Marianne said the first phone call a woman makes to Project Rachel is a conversation, not counseling. They know why the woman is calling so they don’t have to have that awkward part of the conversation. Having the retreat going on gives an excuse to call.
Fr. Chris said his advice to anyone experiencing a need for confessing abortion is to go in and ask Father to help them to make their confession. Don’t hold back because you don’t know how to start confessing it.
Scot asked about Project Rachel’s format. Marianne said it’s held in a place that’s not too big and without other groups there at the same time. It’s primarily a one-day Saturday retreat because so many women can’t get away for a whole weekend. The purpose of the retreat is to provide an an opportunity for the women to have a healing encounter with God. There is sacramental reconciliation, adoration, private prayer and reflections. It concludes with a Mass. Attendance is limited to 10 participants. If you go higher than that, they’re concerned women may not have the time to get all they can out of the day.
The next Come to the Healing Waters retreat is January 21. They can find out more by calling the helpline 508-651-310 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4th segment: Marianne said the Living Well post-retreat support group assists women with ongoing help and a place to talk with people they can trust after going on the Come to the Waters of Healing retreat. They found after the retreats that many of the women wanted to grow in the spiritual life and many of the women didn’t have anyone in their circles to help them grow spiritually. It helps them to live out their Catholic faith. This is why parishes are such an important part of the continuing work of Project Rachel.
Scot asked for advice for someone who knows someone hurting from abortion and wants to help. Marianne said to trust your instincts and rely on the Holy Spirit. They can call the Project Rachel line for help and advice.
Marianne said she has a list of parish bulletin editors who are particularly committed to Project Rachel. If pastors know it’s important, they will pass the word on. Some volunteers also make calls from their office to parishes. Scot suggested a man can bring it up to the parish secretary or pastor. Marianne said one of the most effective arguments is the numbers: nearly one in 3 women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime and it’s the same proportion for self-identified Catholic women as for non-Catholic.
Marianne added that there is an incredibly dedicated network of priests across the Archdiocese providing assistance to women and men who are suffering after abortion.