A Chance Encounter
Have you ever had a moment when you weren’t sure how to answer?
The day after the powerful March for Life in D.C., I was standing outside the Holocaust Museum with my good friend, Ginna. It was grey, overcast, and freezing cold that day.
Thirty minutes had passed and the line had only inched forward. The wind and the rain began to pick up and I noticed there was a 20-something couple standing right in front of us who were shivering with no gloves, hats, or scarves. I will call them Jennifer and Josh.
As a former youth minister, I always pack extra stuff for anyone who might need whatever. So I turned to the couple and said, “Hi, I’m Karen. This might sound weird, but can I give you a pair gloves, a scarf, a hat or something?”
The wind started blowing harder and the rain was turning into sleet. Josh and Jennifer smiled and said, “Thank you,” accepting the gloves, scarves, and hats.
This interaction opened the door for a conversation. The couple asked why we were there. I told them that we were in DC for the annual March for Life. Before I could say anything else, the young woman said to me, “Oh, isn’t that just that abortion thing?” Then she mumbled something about “saving babies.”
I answered, “Yes and no. Yes, the March was mainly about ending abortion.”
Then I added, “Did you know every single life is sacred because it is created in God’s image?” I felt a little preachy, but I just continued talking from my heart. “A baby’s life is sacred. A mother’s life is sacred. A father’s life is sacred. Your life is sacred. My life is sacred. All life is sacred.” I thought to myself: it’s hard to argue with that.
I continued, “I have some good news to share with you. Did you know that our Church is pro-life in a whole-life way? What I mean is we are called to support others, born and unborn. We offer prayers and resources; not judgment.”
I could tell the word “judgment” resonated with them. There was silence and then they both looked away.
I knew I had struck a nerve. But what do I say next?
Asking for the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Silently, I prayed: “Come Holy Spirit, please lead me. Give me the right words.” I took a deep breath and the Holy Spirit told my heart to keep talking.
I said, “As faith-filled Christians we are called to respond with compassion and mercy to anyone who has been wounded by an abortion.” I smiled as I told Jennifer about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Project Rachel and Project Joseph, post-abortive healing ministries.
I told her about Jesus’ desire to forgive us. “There’s always hope. Jesus wants to make us whole again,” I said.
The line suddenly surged forward. Jennifer and Josh quickly handed back the gloves, thanked me, and walked away. I wondered: what was that about?
Seeing the Fruits of the Spirit
Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.
What happened next is truly amazing! Ginna and I were about to leave the museum restroom when Jennifer came up to me with tears in her eyes and asked if she could talk to me. I guess something the Holy Spirit led me to say pricked her conscience. Jennifer had an abortion about ten years ago and she had been away from the Church ever since. She had been in college and felt she didn’t have a choice. Incredible shame, guilt, and loneliness had bothered her for years. I got the impression that Jennifer had not shared her story with Josh or other post-college friends. I sensed that she carried a heavy burden silently for many years.
I thanked Jennifer for her trust and courage to tell her story. Jennifer reached out to hug me and I hugged her back while reassuring her of God’s tremendous love for her. My friend Ginna was stunned by what was happening, but she quickly to pull Kleenex and Project Rachel contact information out of my backpack.
I encouraged Jennifer to seek the forgiveness found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I urged her to seek the support and healing that takes place through Project Rachel – through its free, confidential, professional counseling, the retreats, support groups, and spiritual direction that are offered through that ministry.
Before leaving, Jennifer assured me that she was safe; she just needed to hear what I – and really, the Holy Spirit – had to say: that the Church welcomes all us, all sinners, with compassion and mercy. Jennifer said she was interested in going back to Church and checking out Project Rachel.
Spread God’s Mercy
In reflecting on what happened, I am reminded of how Pope Francis likens the Church to a field hospital. Meet people where they are. Don’t force our faith on anyone. I realized that by meeting Jennifer’s physical needs, the Holy Spirit used me to meet her spiritual and emotional needs, or at least open the door to the next step in the healing journey.
During this Year of Mercy, remember if you speak the truth with love, you have nothing to fear. The Holy Spirit will lead you. Trust Him.