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By: Deacon Marques Silva

This past weekend, I was with 35 men and women on retreat. We all had a longing in our heart for something more than what the world can offer us. One of my fellow retreatants, a young woman from Seattle, shared that a week prior, she was looking for a retreat. Unable to find one in her area, she broadened her search across the country. She found our small retreat right here in McLean, Va. She took a risk, bought her plane ticket and, suddenly, she was in Virginia.

She answered a longing in her heart. She responded to a feeling that she needed something more. She took a risk and yesterday shared:

“This weekend was such a blessing and far surpassed my expectations…I am in awe of the way God knew just what I needed and lead me across the country…He is so good!”

On September 27, I will be attending the Risk Jesus conference at Hylton Memorial Chapel. I am going because I know I need something more. Come join me, take a Risk, and let Jesus address the desires of your heart. While you’re there, come find me and tell me that you took a risk and came – I would love to meet you and hear how He is answering the longings of your heart.

To learn more or share with your friends, watch the video below.

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By: Sarah LaPierre, Staff Spotlight

No sin is greater than God’s mercy.

These words can be hard to accept, but the truth is: God is waiting for us and wants to be with us. As Pope Francis recently said, “it is He who first wants to meet us, and first tries to meet us…it is He who seeks us and makes Himself discoverable, even for those who do not seek him.”

Take the first step, and turn back to God who is Love and Mercy. Read more below in this thoughtful piece from Aleteia.org about others who have accepted this invitation – and found healing after abortion.

 After My Abortion, Why Can’t I Feel God’s Forgiveness?

There is a beautiful Eucharist Prayer in the Roman Missal that says this: “God of love and mercy, You are always ready to forgive, we are sinners and You invite us to trust in Your mercy.” He does not force us. He invites us. He tells us that his mercy is there for us, and it is up to us to  accept his invitation. Mary had been to confession multiple times before she came to our “Entering Canaan” post-abortion ministry retreat. She often shared, “I have confessed my abortion so many times, but I just do not feel forgiven.” Because of various circumstances in her life, Mary had not been able to trustingly accept the mercy of God.

sadness raul lieberwirthIt is not unusual for someone who has been involved in an abortion to voice those feelings despite having received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many do not “feel” that they’ve been forgiven. In fact, in my experience, most Catholics who have lost a child in an abortion will confess this sin again and again. So much of what we believe as human beings is based on our feelings or past experiences. But feelings and experiences are not reliable guides to the truth.

Being forgiven and “feeling” forgiven are two very different things.

Part of the problem is that most of us can point to few genuine examples of forgiveness in our personal life. All too often, people dispense forgiveness in grudging, calibrated doses. The right words are said, but the heart nurses its hurt. It can’t let go and be free with acceptance and love.

Another part of the problem is being unable to forgive yourself. This is usually the second greatest obstacle to healing after abortion, and sometimes it is an even greater challenge than believing in God’s forgiveness.

Many also find it hard to believe that anyone could be forgiven for their involvement in abortion by the simple acts of walking into a confessional, telling a priest about it, and fulfilling a penance of three, or three thousand, Hail Mary’s. How can this ever equate to, how can it ever cancel out,  participating in the death of your own child? It just seems way too easy. Thankfully, it is that easy.

We can never make up for our abortions, and three or three thousand Hail Mary’s will never be enough. Neither is speaking out publicly or working in ministry or praying in front of clinics.  All of these are good activities in and of themselves. But no one has to “atone” for abortion by doing these. They are not required for forgiveness or salvation. And no one should feel obligated to take part in them unless they do so out of love for God and neighbor.

There is only one thing that atones for the sin of abortion (or for that matter, any sin): the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The healing we receive is  through his freely and generously given gift of mercy, not through anything we do, apart from making a worthy Confession.

Mary Ellen put it this way:

At first “mercy” was just a word, an idea, which in my mind was vaguely synonymous with compassion and forgiveness. I heard it in the prayers and blessings at the gatherings I attended. But, I heard it constantly. Every piece of writing from the “Entering Canaan” post-abortion ministry echoed the word Mercy. Over the years, without my knowing it, the word Mercy became for me a kind of mantra, something to hold onto in the dark. It began to work on me without my knowing it.

“Something to hold onto in the dark,” not a feeling. A knowing, while still in the darkness of self-recrimination! A choosing to believe in this mercy in which we’ve been invited to trust.

Believing that our “feelings” are somehow a gauge of our forgiveness can be misleading. Kathy had gone on a weekend retreat and left feeling totally healed and forgiven. She was experiencing a spiritual high. However, as the days went by and the old familiar refrains of self-hatred and despair begin to play again in her head, the “stinking thinking of abortion” once again told her she was not forgiven or healed. “He healed everyone else on that weekend but not me,” she thought, “My sin must be worse. He loves and forgave the others, but not me.”

Kathy reacted the same way Mary did to an absence of positive feelings. Both believed that forgiveness would bring permanent feelings of joy and peace—the opposite of how they felt after their abortion. Here is the truth: if you go Confession and receive absolution, you are forgiven, no matter what the sin or circumstances around it or how you feel afterward!

Healing from abortion is multifaceted. In addition to Confession and growth in one’s relationship with God, it’s important to understand the dynamics of the abortion and explore the reasons it happened. Also key to the healing process is identifying personal abortion connectors (i.e., people, places, sounds, odors or other things that subconsciously trigger vivid memories of the abortion experience). Often one needs to delve into other issues in one’s life that became manifest before or after the abortion, such as  abuse, addiction, or psychological disorders that need to be addressed for healing.

As people move through this process and confront other painful experiences and actions they regret, it may often seem to them that they are moving backwards. So it is crucial that they make an act of the will to trust God’s mercy no matter what. As they grow in their relationship with God, they are able to look honestly at their lives, knowing they are unconditionally loved regardless of what they’ve done. Having the support of others—through ministry, professional counseling, or spiritual direction—is essential in this process.

As Mary Ellen says so well:

I am learning Mercy, because it is a process and a journey into the kind of deep love and forgiveness of myself—and others—that I can only begin to grasp. From my first, almost neutral experience with Mercy as a simple word, it has evolved in my life experience as a tangible and effective tool, an action verb that I have learned can, more quickly than I ever imagined, bring a swift conclusion to the obsessive dark voice that would grind my spirit with self-recrimination and unbelief.  Be gone Satan!

Mercy is a way of life, and it is life-changing.  Now whenever darkness calls, I choose Mercy and life.

How about you? Will you choose Mercy?

Theresa Bonopartis is the director of the post-abortion healing program Lumina and co-developer of the “Entering Canaan” post abortion ministry model. This article was originally published at http://www.aleteia.org, and was used with permission from Aleteia; all other rights are strictly reserved. 

For confidential inquiries, please contact Project Rachel at 888-456-HOPE or info@helpafterabortion.org to talk to someone today.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Sarah LaPierre is the Program Director of Project Rachel and Gabriel Project.

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By: Erin Healy

When I was a child, my greatest fear was the darkness. I could not walk through a dimly lit room or fall asleep without the comfort of light. Now, when my prayer life falters, I often experience similar feelings and that is when I know I need to set apart more time for the Lord.

There are many distractions in the world that keep us from turning to God. Yet, we know that God is the only One who can fulfill our deepest longings. During these summer months, if you find that you’re too busy to pray and your focus is no longer on God… Take time to reconnect: Consider attending the young adult silent retreat weekend on August 1-3 at San Damiano Spiritual Life Center.

Led by Fr. Rich Dyer, Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, this weekend retreat will offer talks (guided by the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux), time for Adoration, Confession and spiritual direction. The weekend will address suffering, how to distinguish and carry our crosses, pride, how to truly pray for humility, and more.

YASilentRetreat

The cost for the weekend is $285. This will cover your materials, room, and board. The retreat is filling quickly! Register online at: www.arlingtondiocese.org/yamretreat. Questions? Contact Erin at (703) 841-2549 or yam@arlingtondiocese.org. Scholarships are available.

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I had an abortion in 1995. The next several years of my life seemed to be a series of one awful thing after the other, it became overwhelming. So many terrible things happened, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown.

At first I wondered if God was punishing me. Then I realized I could blame God, or I could take responsibility for what I did. It was MY DECISION. God had nothing to do with it, nor did He “punish” me for what I had done. I was punishing myself!!

I had no idea I could be forgiven for such a grave sin. Even though I went to church, it seemed like the priest only talked about “respect for life”, and never spoke about being able to be forgiven after having an abortion. The guilt I felt on Mother’s Day and March for Life weekend at church was incredibly painful.

For many years I wanted to confess my sin, but was afraid … I would not even tell my cousin who is a priest.

Then one day (17 years later), I was in a restroom at a church I was visiting when I saw a paper that read “help after abortion.” As I went on reading the piece of paper that was taped to the wall, it said there is healing and forgiveness after abortion. Even after reading it I thought “Forgiveness??? Really???” At the bottom of the page were tabs to pull off and a phone number to call. I pulled one off, and even then, I was hesitant to call.

After a week or so, I called and spoke with Jo at the Diocese of Arlington. She was so supportive and positive. She told me about Rachel’s Vineyard [our diocesan retreat]. It sounded too good to be true. I signed up to attend the upcoming retreat.

That retreat turned my life around!!

I feel so blessed to have experienced the forgiveness of God, and my retreat was on Divine Mercy weekend. It was amazing. The priest we had at our retreat was a Father of Mercy, and he was such an empathetic, kind man. He was not the priest that was scheduled to be at our retreat, but God sent him to us, and he will stay in my heart forever. What a wonderful man.

The women I met there know more about me than friends I’ve known for years. We stay in touch and we all went to Mass together last month and had a luncheon. We are planning a get together around the Christmas holidays and there is a true bond between us. It’s absolutely wonderful.

I pray that more people who need healing and forgiveness learn about Project Rachel and attend a retreat. It will be the beginning of the rest of your life. You can be forgiven and you can heal. Just let God in. I realized God never meant for me to hurt for all those years, He never did anything to punish me. He loves us. We are His children. Remember, He said: “Come to me, all who are weary.”

Please go to Him if you are weary and He will give you peace. God Bless You.

Note: There is a Project Rachel retreat occurring in Northern Virginia, November 2-4. There are still open spaces if you or someone you know is in search of healing after an abortion.

Diocesan Post-Abortion Ministry provides referral to specially trained priests and/or professional counselors, healing retreats and written materials. For confidential assistance please call 1-888-456-HOPE (4673) or email info@helpafterabortion.org.

 

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By Bishop Paul S. Loverde 

 

The Pope takes an annual retreat during Lent each year.

 

Were you aware that for a short time each year, the week following Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI suspends all of his meetings so that he can participate in a retreat? Yes, the Pope steps away from daily activity, valuing silence and time for meditative prayer. His time of retreat is not just another vacation, but rather a time to bring his intentions and his vocation before the Lord. Considering that the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ, is the shepherd of the universal Church, it is a great blessing for all of us that he sets aside this time each year to sincerely ask for grace and guidance. 

During my summer vacation, I will also be taking time for prayer and reflection in my own annual retreat: an eight-day, all-silent directed retreat with a group of my brother bishops. I am thankful for this opportunity to follow the example of the Holy Father; saints such as Ignatius Loyola, who spent many hours in prayerful retreat; and Christ Himself, Who spent forty days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. 

Each year in this special way, I bring my intentions, especially those concerning our diocesan Church, before the Lord. Recognizing that the Christ is the source of our joy and of the truth, I look forward to this time of discernment and spiritual rejuvenation. In those days of silent prayer and reflection, I hear the Lord in a way that is unlike the rest of the year. I come away from my retreat with a renewed understanding of my vocation and often with a clearer sense of direction and purpose for the coming year. 

Bishop Loverde blesses San Damiano Spiritual Life Center, which opened this year.

 

The purpose of a retreat is not so much to solve our problems, but rather to submit our joys, our sorrows, our cares and concerns to Our Creator in order to discern His will for us at that time. Spending time with the Lord never fails to bring about spiritual fruit in our lives and the lives of those dear to us. At the conclusion of my retreat each year, I write a brief prayer which I pray every morning through the rest of the year, thus always keeping before myself what the Lord had brought to my attention during the retreat. 

 I encourage you to consider planning a time of retreat, whether for a week, a weekend, or even part of a day. While all of us are busy, time with the Lord is always very beneficial. I know that each of you has responsibilities, concerns and intentions to bring before the Lord. While it is true that our busy schedules will be waiting for us when we return, the grace that comes from time spent in prayer gives us the wisdom and fortitude to live our vocations daily more realistically and faithfully. 

As I pray and reflect, I humbly ask for your prayers both for me and for our diocesan Church. Please know that I pray for all of you throughout the year, but especially during this grace-filled time of retreat. 

Encourage and Teach Note: If you are planning a retreat, don’t forget the newly-opened, first-ever diocesan retreat center, San Damiano. Located in White Post, VA, San Damiano is located on over 100 acres of land has room for over 100 daytime guests or 50 overnight guests. Call 540-868-9220 or email sandamiano@arlingtondiocese.org for more information.  

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Fr. Sam Vaccarella, T.O.R, is the director of San Damiano

 

By: The Office of Communications 

You’ve been meaning to take some time for the Lord: just you and Him. Why not be one of the first people to visit the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post, the new (and only) diocesan retreat center? 

The center was purchased in 2006 as part of the Rooted in Faith ~ Forward in Hope capital campaign. Here is the history of the building: 

“Prior to the diocesan purchase, the structure, built in 1960, served as both a novitiate for the Third Order Regular of St. Francis’ Sacred Heart of Jesus Province as well as a full-time retreat center. In the early 1990s, the building was converted into a home for the order’s older friars.” 

 So, it’s appropriate that Bishop Loverde announced Father Sam Vacarella, TOR,
(a Franciscan) to serve as the Center’s first director. 

 Here are some of the features of San Damiano

Peace and quiet is easy to find at overnight retreats

 

  • Chapel
  • Library
  • Dining Facilities
  • 105 acres of land
  • Room for over 100 daytime guests or about 50 overnight guests

 Bishop Loverde and the staff at the Spiritual Life Center hope that this will be a “place set apart” for 

groups or individuals seeking spiritual growth. 

 In late December, diocesan seminarians were the very  first to enter the doors of San Damiano as retreatants, why don’t you check it out as well? Call 540-868-9220 or e-mail sandamiano@arlingtondiocese.org.

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