The Face In The Pew

bound handsShe’s sitting just in front of you at Sunday Mass.  You see her at church occasionally, but you don’t know anything about her, even her name.  When Mass is over, she quickly makes her way out and is gone.  Until the next time.  Maybe next week.  Maybe next month or even six months from now.  She drifts into your parish life and then evaporates out of it.  It’s really a miracle that she connects with the Catholic Church at all.  She comes, not because of your parish’s lukewarm hospitality to her or to hear your pastor’s seven-minute homilies.  Mass for her, is both grace and torture.  She craves what the Mass offers and yet she feels a great barrier between her heart and the life of the Church.  My friends, that barrier is us.  You and me, with our own sins and secrets, our private judgments and hidden (and not-so-hidden) prejudices.  You’ve never said an unkind word to this woman.  You’ve probably warmly taken her hand at the Sign of Peace.  You’ve exchanged polite smiles and nods of greeting.  But there’s something that keeps her at a distance, something in her heart and something in your heart and in my heart.  And that something is abortion.
I’m thankful our Catholic faith supports life.  Standing up for the unborn marks us as stewards of God’s greatest gift.  For the most part, we do good corporate pro-life work in the public arena.  We have strong leadership in this from most of our bishops.  Many of our priests and pastors preach about life issues on Sunday.  Some of our parishes have pro-life ministries and a few offer retreats like Rachel’s Vineyard for women healing from the emotional and spiritual consequences of abortion.  At at the level of our hearts and our hands, we do a pretty poor job of offering the love and mercy of Christ to all the women, men and families wounded by abortion.
Imagine you’re that woman in the pew in front of you.  Hear what she hears us say about abortion and imagine what she might feel.  “It’s the greatest evil, the most horrific sin.  Killing an innocent baby.  Destroying God’s most precious gift.”  And what we say is true.  We must put an end to abortion.  We need to hold prayer vigils and marches for life.  We have to support candidates for political office who will help end abortion in America.  But for every condemnation of the sin of abortion, we have to remember that woman in the pew.  We have to be mercy and love for her.  Not as a theory.  Not as part of our parish mission statement.  But as the heart of Christ.  We have to imitate Him.  And how does Jesus love?  How does He offer mercy?
He meets people where they are.  At a well at noontime.  On their sickbed.  As they are about to be stoned.  As they are hung on their own cross.  As they lie dead in their tomb.  Or in their pew at Sunday Mass.  He meets them where they are in their pain and sin; in their despair and their need.  When they are with Him, He is there for them.  And we must be there for these hurting women.  The only Church they have is us.  They may feel accused and forgotten by us.  They may be ashamed and hate themselves for what they’ve done.  They may expect that we hate them too.  They may feel that their abortion is unforgivable.  Many of them may never set foot in a Church again.  But you can bet that at any given Mass there are dozens of post-abortion women in the pews with you.  The statistics of abortion support this.
Every unknown face at Mass is a child of God drawn to His Church by hope and by the working of the Holy Spirit.  And every time we fail to welcome them, we fail Christ.  Every time we overlook the person behind that unknown face, we fail to do His will.  When that woman in the pew feels unwelcome, she may not come back.  When she feels that her sin, any of her sins, is too great or too dark for God’s mercy, we have failed her as His Church.  As we stand against abortion, we must also stand beside  and reach out in love to its many victims.  For every word she hears condemning the sin, she must hear seventy-times-seven words of His love and forgiveness.  And not just words, but our actions must reach out to her.  A few moments meeting her after Mass.  A conversation over coffee in the social hall.  It can start out so small, but our hospitality can lead to great healing for her, and also for us.  Don’t forget the old saying that each one of us is fighting a great battle here in this life.  As His Church we are called to take care of our own.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

                                                                   –Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Donna
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 07:52:42



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