Could the Gift of Life really be considered to be the ultimate in suffering?
By Amy Julian
Director of Family Life Ministries
In the 20 years since Rachel‘s Vineyard retreat was brought to the Diocese of Rapid City by Carol Kling, more than 170 men and women have found years and even deades of suffering redeemed and healed by the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. Every retreat is truly a miracle.
At the most recent retreat we were blessed to have Fr. Jim Hoerter as our chaplain, during which he had an occasion to speak about angels. In our culture today, people often confuse angels with saints and then envision their little ones who have been lost, as angels in heaven waiting for us. Fr. Jim gently reminded us of an important difference we have with angels. Angels do not have bodies. In fact, Angels would do anything to have bodies. Quoting St. Faustina, Fr. Jim told us “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” Because angels do not have bodies, they can do neither.
As a society, perhaps we have forgotten the sacredness of our bodies. Through our bodies, we were created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus was incarnated to be one of us in his own earthly human body. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left us his very own body and blood as a remembrance of him. As humans, we are body and soul composites, and the tragedy of death is the separation of our bodies from our souls.
Is it any wonder that, almost 50 years after the legalization of abortion in America, and the loss of more than 60 million little bodies, we have also lost an understanding and appreciation of the true nature of the Eucharist, Jesus’ very own body and blood? Could these be connected? It’s hard to imagine that they are not.
In the same way that we have divorced the reality of a child from their body in their mother’s womb, we have also detached the reality of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ from the Eucharist. Jesus’ mission to reunite heaven and earth, to heal the tragedy of the separation of body and soul in death, began as a vulnerable child in the womb of his mother, Mary. But incarnation alone was not enough. His mission culminated in his Passion; his suffering and death were a prerequisite to the resurrection.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained the necessity of his suffering to the disciples, before he gave them Holy Communion. As the angels know, both suffering and Eucharist are a participation in the life of Jesus. And just as he laid down his life for us, we are called to lay down our own lives.
St. John Paul the Great tells us that “Suffering is present in the world in order to release love.” Nowhere is this more tangible than in the love of a mother who carries a child to term, especially amidst difficulty. We have lost so much sight of that today. When a woman faces the anticipated suffering of an unplanned or difficult pregnancy or difficult situation in life, she is given the message that she can avoid that suffering, not by laying down her own life, but by laying down the life of her child. She is encouraged to think “My body, my choice.”
Carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term is considered to be unnecessary suffering, to be avoided at all costs. A suffering to be avoided through what is euphemistically termed “reproductive health care.” And yet the women and men who seek healing in the Rachel‘s Vineyard Retreat found that their suffering did not end with an abortion, rather it began a new chapter of deeper and far more painful suffering. An emotional and spiritual suffering that often lasts for decades.
Ironically, the suffering that an abortion purports to avoid is something the angels would do anything to be able to participate in. Perhaps they would laugh at the thought that carrying a child could be considered to be suffering. More likely they would cry. What a crazy world we live in that the Gift of Life could be considered to be the ultimate in suffering.
As our diocese prepares to begin the three year Eucharistic Revival, I have to wonder if there would be any need for revival in Eucharistic belief if we had never lost our belief of the gift of the life of a child’s body in their mother’s womb. Let us pray that a renewed belief of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist will recall our sense of the sacredness of our own bodies, that all mothers will find joy in the presence of their unborn child, and that all those who have been wounded by abortion find healing in the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats of the future.