The other day, I wrote about the need for mercy when Catholics discuss NFP and the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Simcha Fisher was kind enough to share the link on her Facebook page and then in an article she wrote yesterday, and as a result I’ve had some great comments on my original piece (as well as on Simcha’s Facebook thread). I’ve found more women in that hidden sisterhood of Catholic women who deeply regret past sterilizations, who may have succumbed to the fear of another terrifying pregnancy and “done the deed” despite knowing the Church asks us to trust God and still use natural means.
For those who haven’t suffered that kind of fear — because, let’s face it, we’re not talking about the general idea our culture has that it’s good to limit family size for whatever reason you see fit — it’s difficult to imagine the kind of terror pregnancy holds for some women. For me, I couldn’t care for myself or anyone else while in the throes of HG, and even though I had family literally blocks away who were willing to help me, the idea of being in near-total isolation for 20 to 25 weeks (or more!) while I struggled to keep any kind of food or liquids down was pretty scary. For other women, the idea that pregnancy is going to bring on some new kind of health problem that could potentially cripple her for life (or worse, kill her) is more than she can bear.
Those of us who have suffered like that know that fear, and it’s difficult to put into words just how bad it can be. Suffice it to say that this sisterhood is made up of women who had themselves sterlized in spite of knowing it was a terrible sin. We risked God’s anger — we risked our souls — out of sheer terror.
Of course, we later confessed. Mind you, not out of a kind of “supposing on God’s mercy” kind of thing. Sincere regret is there, and real tears were cried. I can’t speak for other women in this sisterhood, but I confessed twice because I couldn’t forgive myself, even if I knew that God had forgiven me. Even though I taught my children that God forgives us in Confession, I could not stop feeling deep regret for this sin. The guilt I felt was oppressive at times, and there were plenty of occasions where being around my friends’ new babies could bring me to tears amidst a new tidal wave of guilt.
After my miraculous Confession, I would still feel guilty. But I remembered something that priest told me: God does not want you to feel this way. Satan does. Only Satan wants me to feel as if God hasn’t forgiven me, because it keeps me captive to the sin. God has forgiven me, and I need to remember that in those moments of regret and sorrow. When those feelings come, he said, tell Satan to leave you alone and pray to God for strength! Over the years, I have remembered this advice and taken it to heart. Gradually, the guilt has subsided, and while I occasionally feel a twinge of regret and sadness, I no longer feel overwhelming remorse. For me, this advice (along with a lot of St. Michael prayers) has helped.
In the comments to the NFP and Mercy article, I mentioned a story my younger daughter told me after she came home from the Steubenville Conference in Atlanta, which I think may help other women in our sisterhood:
My daughter told me that she met a girl at her Steubenville conference after they’d been to Confession. The girl was crying, and my daughter asked if she was okay. “I’m okay, I guess, but I have this penance to do during Adoration. I told the priest that I keep confessing this sin because I still feel so bad about it. He told me that when the monstrance processes past me, I need to look at Jesus and say, ‘All gone!’”
The two of them went to Adoration together, and when the procession came by, the girl looked at Our Lord in the monstrance and said, “All gone!” and burst into tears. She told my daughter that she finally felt free.
Maybe, if you have some time, go see Our Lord in the Eucharist, whether it’s at Adoration or even in the Tabernacle after Mass. Offer this up to Him, remind yourself that you’ve been forgiven, and then look at Him and say, “It’s all gone.”
Because it is!
I think that we need to remember that when God forgives, He really forgives. He holds nothing back from us. When we commit a sin that burdens us terribly, we should remember this. We need to remember that God will not hold a grudge against us, especially when we Confess with such sorrow in our hearts. If our children come to us and confess that they’ve done something terrible, but that they are truly sorry for it, do we hold that against them? Of course not! We still love them, and we are ready to forgive them.
Sometimes I think back to times when my girls were little and they would admit to me that they’d done something wrong. They’d have tears in their eyes as they said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” And when they did this, I’d scoop them up in my arms and hug them tight and tell them, “I forgive you. I love you!” And, of course, I meant that! How can you stay mad at those sweet faces?
God is a more perfect parent than we could ever hope to be. He loves us with a love that we cannot even fathom in this life. When we go to Him in sorrow, with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts, He sees it. He scoops us up in His arms and says, “I forgive you! I love you!” and wipes our tears away. We have to remind ourselves of this when we feel that same old sorrow creeping back into our hearts. Remember that Jesus has spoken through the priest to forgive your sins. He’s not holding a grudge.
I have this feeling that when we confess that sin again and again, or when we can’t move past it and we pray once more about our sorrow, God wonders why we can’t let it go as He has. Maybe he’s up there, quoting Firefly at us:
God has forgiven you! The only person left to forigve you is yourself. Maybe in this upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, we should all work on remembering that mercy isn’t just for others. It’s for ourselves, too. Extend that mercy towards yourselves, sisters!
I pray that if you’re feeling remorse and shame over your past sins, you can begin to heal and forgive yourself. If you’ve confessed it, God has already forgiven you. Cling to that knowledge and remind yourseslf of the fact when you’re feeling at your lowest. Go and speak to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. At the presentation of the gifts during Mass, close your eyes and imagine yourself walking to the altar and laying that burden down for Christ to carry for you. Offer it to the Father with the rest of the offerings, and then leave it in His hands.