from the interview with Patricia Marie Barnette, RGS, author of the new book: God's Mercy Awaits You: Find Healing After Abortion
Sister Patricia Marie Barnette was already a Sister of the Good Shepherd when she heard a call within her call. “As Sisters of the Good Shepherd, we take a fourth vow,” she explains. “We vow to labor with zeal for the salvation of souls. And zeal is from the heart of Jesus, the spiritual energy that keeps all our sisters praying and working for the salvation of souls.” Thirty years ago she looked around and saw a need responding to that fourth vow presenting itself: the millions of women who'd had abortions and who were in deep pain because of the experience.
So Sister Patricia Marie took on the challenge…
“I felt a deep call to get involved in this ministry,” she says. She started training and eventually received her master’s degree in counseling. There is a post-abortion ministry in her own religious congregation and she became intensely involved in working with girls and women who were suffering as a result of their abortions.
The impact of abortion, she discovered, has depth and breadth that reveal themselves over time…
“A woman feels bereft for so many reasons,” Sister Patricia Marie says. “She hasn’t grieved the loss of her child. She’s stuck in this extremely complicated grief. I find that, emotionally, a lot of women are stuck at the day of the abortion; their emotional and spiritual life hasn’t moved past that day.”
That kind of grief holds women in stasis, unable to feel love, unable to feel many things other than sadness and shame. They isolate themselves because of that shame, because they are afraid someone will know what they’ve done and will judge them for it.
In fact, in many cases, others have judged them. They may have been abandoned at the time of the abortion by people they trusted.
“I don’t think God wants anyone to suffer to that extent,” says Sister Patricia Marie. “Because of the trauma and the shame and the isolation, some women are so petrified that someone will find out—there are so many negative thoughts. It takes a real act of courage for them to come forward. To admit to even one person the abortion in their past. That act may stem from a life event that causes them to say, I’ve had enough, I need help.”
Post-abortion symptoms can mirror the symptoms soldiers experience coming back from combat. In fact, says Sister, “this trauma is deeper, because it involves her child and her decision about her child. It’s a deep wound that only God can heal. We cannot judge the soul of another person. Mercy calls us to look at all the ways they need healing, and that takes the aspect of judgment out of the situation."
Sister learned that the first step when a woman comes to her is to help that woman reconnect with God...
It’s important, Sister Patricia Marie found, for women to understand one fundamental fact: while others may have abandoned them, God never did. “I start with what their current relationship is with God, and I try to help them reconnect with God,” she says. “No one can go very far without that connection.”
It may take time. “We work through the reconciliation with God so they can develop their prayer life,” Sister says. “As they come to know God loves them, that gives them the strength to continue on the healing journey. It’s not a clear pattern for every person; there are no directions to do x/y/z. It doesn’t work like that. It's only after reconnecting to God that we can work through the anger regarding people involved in the abortion.”
And then, perhaps, the hardest part: “There comes a time when the woman can reconcile with the child. Women may have certain ideas and fears: where is my child? my child must hate me!” It’s here that people begin to fully experience the love of God, as they accept the fact that God is taking care of the child. That the child is safe. That the child is surrounded with love because they are safe with God. “It opens the door for them to eventually have a spiritual relationship with the child,” says Sister Patricia Marie. “This is very powerful in their lives.”
They understand that “peace can only be found in the broken heart of Christ. Not in anyone else's heart.”
Sister’s experiences led her to understand the delicate interaction of the people involved...
No one can tell anyone else when it’s time to reconcile around an abortion. “It’s God’s timing,” says Sister Patricia Marie. That’s when it’s a safe time for them to address the issues. "Defense mechanisms protect us for a period of time, but then at some point they make it worse. When women finally begin to ask for help, it has to be at a pace that doesn’t retraumatize or overwhelm.”
What she learned, also, was that age is irrelevant. Many people make the assumption that people affected by abortion go for help right away, but Sister Patricia Marie found that not to be the case. “Women often go for years—five years to even thirty years—before asking for help,” she says. “A couple of years ago, a hospice nurse got requests from some women who were dying, who wanted to talk to someone about their abortion.” They had kept the secret for decades, and as Sister Patricia Marie observed, no one should have to suffer that long.
“There’s a hidden massive need of healing in our country,” she says. “So many women—and men. It is beautiful they want to go to God with peace in their hearts.”
Sister Patricia Marie’s journey has led her to speak publicly about the issue...
Everyone knows someone who has been involved in an abortion—even when they don’t know they do. Some people know an individual who has had an abortion and don’t know how to reach out to her; but Sister Patricia Marie says it’s a mistake to be the one to broach the subject. “Respect the woman, and respect when it is her time to tell,” she says. “Pray for the woman, and be kind, and wait until she is ready—and that is difficult.”
And if the woman confides her secret, even more delicacy is called for. “Be firm in your commitment to love her in this relationship. She is afraid people will leave her, so it’s most important to, first, just listen to her. Sit through the fears and the pain. Be with her… Just be with her, comforting her. You might be the first person she has ever told her story to, so receive her with love. Be a person of welcome.”
And finally the journey led Sister Patricia Marie to write her book, God’s Mercy Awaits You...
She was on her annual retreat when she picked up a book on healing from trauma, telling the story of a person’s journey of getting back to life. She was overwhelmed with the parallels between this trauma and the trauma of abortion, and she wondered if a similar book would be helpful. “I have a friend who encouraged me,” Sister says. “I prayed. I talked with people I worked with. I started writing. I wrote God's Mercy Awaits You because there are books out there for Protestant women, but there’s nothing primarily for Catholics.”
So she wrote a book that asks questions, gives some answers, provides prayer and Scripture and hope. “I hope to reach women in need of healing, counselors, spiritual directors, retreat directors, those who work in places where these women would be coming with their pain,” she says.
“It’s such a work of mercy. What is so beautiful is how God works. When I work with a woman who goes from being very depressed and abandoned and gradually gets more peace and joy—and I’m able to be part of that moment when she accepts the love of God and it transforms her. That is the work.”
Sr. Patricia Marie Barnette is a Sister of the Good Shepherd and the author of God's Mercy Awaits You: Find Healing After Abortion. Jeannette de Beauvoir adapted this story from an interview with the author.
God's Mercy Awaits You is a perfect book to make available in the back of churches, in parishes and retreat houses, youth groups and college campuses so that women can pick it up freely and anonymously and begin to heal through God's mercy and grace.
God's Mercy Awaits You is being offered at a 10% discount January 22 to January 24 online (US only).