By Fr. Corey Close
This past month I had the great privilege to be a spiritual director on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, a tremendously powerful and beautiful retreat to help bring hope and healing to men and women who have been wounded by abortion . It is a national ministry with branches throughout the country; we have one in Iowa that I was looking to help with. I had never done this ministry, but had felt a calling to it ever since a priest in my seminary had said what a great experience he had doing it. Further, I have this deep desire to want everyone to know how much Jesus loves them. It distressed me to know how deep the pain of abortion is for those who experience it; oftentimes, they deeply doubt their ability to be forgiven by God and question their own worthiness. After completing my studies in Rome and Washington, D.C., I finally am able to help out with this ministry.
The woman who runs the Iowa branch of the ministry, Kris Gaspari, is an awesome person I had been in contact with for years, but had never had a chance to meet. Back in October, she came to Clinton to provide me with training and preparation for the retreat. We had a good day together and I was as excited to be a part of this great ministry. Finally, in early December, the time for the retreat arrived; I was both motivated and nervous, knowing it would be an intense experience. While I knew the structure of the retreat, I had no idea how I would react. The day before the retreat began, I met with my spiritual director, received confession and went into the retreat with a ready heart.
The retreat is a three-day affair, with retreatants arriving on Friday evening and leaving on Sunday afternoon. In between arrival and departure are many powerful exercises, called “Living Scriptures,” which are essentially adaptations of the Ignatian form of Lectio Divina. In short, this is where a Scripture passage is read, and then another person re-reads the passage, but this time provides many more details, such as the sounds you would have heard, the smells, the sights, the hot breeze on your face, etc., all to put you into the scene. These scenes are reenacted in some way to bring forth their powerful message. This exercise, a tried and true Ignatian model of prayer, has worked for over 400 years. It was certainly a powerful experience here. These Living Scriptures provided the framework for the retreat, concentrating on Christ’s loving, healing and forgiving presence in such beautiful stories as the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, or the raising of Lazarus.
In the middle of the retreat, the retreatants got to tell their stories, which were tremendously powerful. It was a privilege beyond words to hear them. Many times, when tragedies happen in our lives, a simple telling of our story can be one of the most healing moments we can have. This is really where I believe the group bonded. Finally, at the end of the retreat, the retreatants named their children in a beautiful ceremony, and then gave them to God in an act of entrustment, knowing that they are in his hands.
The whole experience was one of the most powerful that I have been a part of as a priest, and I thank God that I was there. It is often said by those in ministry that they receive more than they give. This aphorism definitely applied to me on this retreat. Being with the retreatants and the team that put on the retreat was a powerful, life-changing experience and one of the most affirming moments I have had in my priesthood to date.
I would like to encourage all men and women who may be suffering from the pain of abortion to please look into this retreat. It may be a scary thing; you may feel that you have “dealt” with it, but the healing process never really ends.
I can tell you that the retreat is a safe place with strict confidentiality and a beautiful place of healing, hope and redemption. Please contact our local director for more information: Kristine M. Gaspari, 913 SE Peterson Drive, Ankeny, Iowa 50021; cell: (515) 306-7838; email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to rachelsvineyard.org. Thank you and God bless!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)