By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As a chaplain for Take Courage retreats, Father Corey Close has been able to offer prayer, healing and his listening skills to men and women affected by abortion.
“You’re talking to people who are hurting and maybe feel unlovable,” he said.
Fr. Close, pastor of parishes in Brooklyn and Victor, has helped at three weekend retreats over the past five years in northeast Iowa. Take Courage is a chance to get away from the daily pressures of work and family to focus on a painful time and begin healing. The nondenominational retreats provide an opportunity to release repressed feelings in an emotionally safe environment using Rachel’s Vineyard curriculum.
Volunteers — often people who have been through the program — lead participants through spiritual and psychological exercises intended to help them work through feelings such as grief, anger, abandonment, fear of condemnation and more so that they can achieve a more hopeful state of mind. Fr. Close celebrates Mass, hears confessions and leads a memorial prayer service at the end of the retreat, and listens to anyone who wants to talk.
Fr. Close said most of the people who attend the retreats are women over the age of 50 who had one or two abortions in their teens or twenties. At the time, they tried to put the pain away and forget about it. “It’s a monster they’ve been dealing with their whole life, but just because they put it in the closet doesn’t mean it’s gone.” The pain often hits later in life. When things slow down after children leave home or during retirement there is more time to sit and think. Something like holding a grandchild for the first time can trigger repressed emotions.
Society, friends and counselors often try to downplay the pain of abortion, Fr. Close said. As a result, women and men may feel they do not have permission to grieve, even though they are hurting. “Women don’t want an abortion the way they want ice cream. They want it like an animal caught in a trap wants to bite its leg off. They see it as the only way out.” Feelings of guilt often follow, as do trust issues. Usually when a woman is on her way to a clinic to get an abortion, she is praying that her boyfriend, or whoever is in the car with her, will turn the car around and be a hero and save the day, Fr. Close said. This rarely happens. “Everyone deals differently, but the fact that (abortion) affects them deeply is the same for everyone.”
Catholic men and women who attend the retreats sometimes look at Fr. Close with suspicion initially, wondering if he is there to condemn rather than love them. “They feel rejected by God, as if they are not welcome in the church.” He is able to help retreat participants find healing and reconciliation with the church as a whole. “It’s one of the reasons I love being there.” With permission from Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Fr. Close is able to offer absolution to women who have had abortions and to people who helped facilitate abortions.
Seeing the lightness and joy in retreat participants’ faces at the end of the weekend is a beautiful thing, Fr. Close said. “You see the hope and the new life. Knowing God can work in the midst of brokenness is something that gives me hope in my own life.”