by Kevin Burke. with Theresa Burke Ph.D., Fr. Frank Pavone
Reviewed by David O. Brown, O.S.M.
This is a specialized book designed to help by prayerful thought a fruitful ministry of post abortion preaching and to assist in pastoral care. After reading I would add that it is like was a solicitation for Rachael’s Vineyard Retreat, a very worthwhile enterprise.
The authors assert that in every congregation, every Sunday Mass will have one woman (and sometimes a man) who has had an abortion and still feels the pain of unhealed memories. To be silent is to suggest that we do not recognize that pain. They argue from public statistics that their assertion is accurate. While there are many profession therapists who argue that abortion does not result in trauma, the authors argue from the reality of their experience over the past several years that it does. The very success of their ministry proves it.
There are just four chapters in this small book and a number of appendixes which offer insights and more information into and about Rachael’s Vineyard Retreats. The first chapter takes us through a retreat weekend of a retreat with a description of some of the variety of activities and rituals which are calculated to bring back, examine and heal the pain associated with those memories. Divine grace is not mentioned but it is real. The description was so appealing that it prompted me to stop reading and check their web site.
Chapter two argues from the reality of the pain from suppressed guilt to the reality of the hurt and the need for healing. The chapter is filled with case studies and they are heart-rending. Sensitive to this hurt, they remind us, must be part of even the very gentle hope-filled invitation which may be offered.
This chapter closed with a short section devoted to parents who received a poor prenatal diagnosis. These parents are filled with a quiet sorrow and desperation. The subject is not treated at length but a number of additional resource are offered to them.
In chapter four, the authors address their primary concern for this book: pastoral ministry. It begins of course with confession. They begin with the example given in St. John’s Gospel of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus assures the woman that she may go. ”Your sins are forgiven.” Then Jesus adds that he has an expectation for her. She is to sin no more. Likewise, the absolution of the priest forgive the sin. While absolution is the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness, oftentimes a woman may not “feel” forgiven and there may be need for further counseling to uncover the deep hurt and promote healing. The suggestion of a Rachael’s Vineyard Retreat seems appropriate.
Mentioned also are some of the problems which might arise between priest and penitent. Borders must be set and even as those boards are approached, the priest if he is not well experienced, should seek help for himself.
Several priests engaged in this ministry recount lessons they have learned (and which I confirm in my own very limited experience). They summed it up by saying that one must “listen and get out of the way.”
Finally, why preach about abortion? The author reminds us that there are so many women (and men) who are hurting from the hidden guilt of abortion that our silence seems to be a refusal to acknowledge that pain. Secondly, it is a “big deal.” Statistics prove that it is a “big deal.” We may be hesitant to become involved because if we do, we may have to act on what we find. Of course, one may not be into street marches and demonstrations but there are alternatives offered. One simple thing is to examine some of the slogans: what do they say, what do they really saying when they say they are “pro-choice”?
Our book concludes with five appendixes with helpful comments, answers to questions about Rachael’s Vineyard Retreats and a list of resources.
One last note on style: the authors could have used an editor to tighten up the paragraphs and sort out the various topics. This would have helped in reading this book.