St. Paul, Minn., Feb 10, 2013 (CNA) - The year was 1969, three years before abortion became legal in America.
A 20-year-old from rural Iowa fled her rocky upbringing, looking for a fresh start in a big city.
She landed in New York. A great job and a sprawling metropolis bursting with culture invigorated her.
Looking for a carefree life to erase the troubles and scars of her childhood, she immersed herself in the arts and entertainment of the city that never sleeps.
And, not long into her new adventure, she found love. Defying her Catholic formation, she moved in with her new boyfriend. Very soon, his controlling behavior made the apartment feel more like a prison.
Then, she became pregnant. Her boyfriend’s simple directive to “get rid of it” brought them both to a local abortion clinic. Though still illegal, it was not hard to find a place to terminate her pregnancy.
She cried during the procedure, which took place in January 1972. She went home, stuffed her emotions, and lived under the harsh rule of her boyfriend, who refused to let her talk about it.
Just nine months later, she got pregnant again. So, she made a second trip to the clinic, thus having two abortions before the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade in January 1973.
She tried to forget about the pain, the trauma. Nothing worked — not the alcohol, not her many travels, not her boyfriend’s command of silence on the issue.
Eventually, the anguish drove her to walk out of a bar, cross a parking lot and step to the edge of a nearby freeway, which she intended to dart into and end her life. The boyfriend, chasing her out of the bar, grabbed her and pulled her back just in time.
Today, her two aborted children have names — Daniel Anthony and Esther Maurine. And, the woman, Jeanette Meyer, 63, now works to help other women facing unplanned pregnancies avoid the mistakes that she made.
Or, if they made that mistake, she tries to help them find healing.
Like she did.
That came in 2005, when a friend urged her to go to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. More than three decades of regret and agony roared to the surface of her soul like the snowstorm that raged outside the building at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota where 20 post-abortive women stayed for the January retreat.
“We had a memorial service for our babies,” said Meyer, a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville. “You sign a certificate of life. They also give you little dolls about six or eight inches long — no faces, but they’re wrapped in a blanket and they’re very soft. I took them and I slept with them that night. It was like I was acknowledging that they were my children, Esther and Daniel, and I could hold them.
“There was a blizzard outside. Everyone talked about the windows shaking in the storm. I heard nothing. It was the best night’s sleep I’d had, I’m sure, in over 30 years.”
The tears of healing shed that weekend return when Meyer tells her story, which she eagerly does to any young, scared pregnant woman who asks. She never forces it on anyone, but weaves it into the loving conversations she has with women she sees at Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley, Minn. where she has served as executive director since 2010.
It’s all part of her mission to be what she calls a “person of mercy.”
“When I come to work here and I know someone who has aborted (a child) . . . I feel pain and regret,” she said. “And, it’s not regret like shame. . . . It’s deeper and it takes me closer to the cross. And, that’s what I’ve come to see. I never knew that I’d be working in this abortion realm, trying to save the lives of the mothers as well as the babies. Coming in touch with the pain takes me closer to Him. It’s only in that wound that I really know who he is.
“He gives me incredible graces. Sometimes, when I’m working in the kitchen, I hear him — in that inaudible voice — say, ‘I love you. You’re mine.’ So, I’m OK now being with the pain. I tried to run from it most of my life, but now I’m OK being with it because if I just allow it, it deepens my relationship with the Lord.”
Offering a listening ear
Yet, as much as the Holy Spirit compels her to work in this intense ministry where the success stories are often never known, she has to, at all times, restrain her desire to pull women away from the deeply hurtful choice of abortion. She knows the pain it can cause, but must never, ever give even the slightest hint of trying to control the pregnant woman’s behavior — like her boyfriend in 1972 tried to control hers.
“When people come in here, I’d like to just give them a hug and say, ‘Honey, don’t do that (have an abortion). But, I can’t,” she said. “The most important gift God gave us is free will. And, if you don’t honor that, if you don’t talk about it, then somebody with a bigger voice over here is going to say, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to do this.’ I want them to have a voice. I want them to know about options.”
As riveting as her story is, perhaps the most important thing she does is listen. The message she wants to send to the women is that they are not alone, and she and the staff at her clinic believe the best way to do that is with their ears and not their tongues.
Another effective tool is simply time. Though staffers and volunteers can have as few as five minutes with a pregnant woman, their goal is to slow down her thought and decision-making process. They want her to take the time to think through her decision and her options.
In other words, they want her to have a real choice, something Meyer never had in 1972.
Fortunately, she did have enough of a conscience left after the two abortions to consult a priest she had met while living in Nebraska, Father Thomas Halley. She went to him for confession within a year, and that began a chain of events that brought her back to Iowa in 1974 and her mother, Maurine Pickerill, now 84.
It was a bittersweet reunion. On the one hand, her mother welcomed her and took her back under her roof. On the other hand, it rekindled the emptiness of being abandoned by her father when she was five.
The poor way he treated his wife and four children (Jeanette was the oldest) was bad, but the emptiness of his abandoning them may have been worse. Added to that was the instability, with the family moving nine times during Jeanette’s childhood.
But, Jeanette’s sadness upon arriving back home was short-lived. After going to a charismatic prayer meeting in Omaha during her visit with Father Halley, she started going to meetings in Iowa and ended up back together with her high school sweetheart, Tim Meyer.
They dated for a while, then Tim broke it off. In the meantime, she got to know his younger brother Marty. They shared a love for music and playing the guitar, which they did at many a prayer meeting.
The friendship turned to love, and they married in 1975. Within a few years, they moved to the Twin Cities to join a charismatic community, and Jeanette ended up bearing five children, who range in age from 23 to 35. One of them, David, lived for just one day outside the womb.
In fact, he was instrumental in his mother’s move to Pregnancy Choices. It was during a visit to his gravesite in 2010 that she saw something that triggered a desire to help other women.
Embarking on a ministry
She was at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota in the area reserved for deceased children. Looking away from his grave for a moment, a plaque nearby caught her attention. She had seen it before, but this time the words on it sank in.
“Just about 12 feet away was a plaque where someone gathered 13 unborn babies that were aborted at the Highland Planned Parenthood,” she said. “And, they made a grave for them there. And, it says on the plaque, ‘13 unborn babies. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ . . . I started crying . . . and I looked up and it just overwhelmed me.”
After hiring a Catholic life coach to help her sort out her career and vocation options, she felt like God wanted her to do ministry with abortion-vulnerable and post-abortive women.
At the same time that discernment process was happening, the executive director of Pregnancy Choices at that time, Jeri Bartek, was experiencing health issues that led her to a decision to step down from her full-time work at the center. The search for her replacement began, and Meyer became one of the three finalists.
“I asked not to be part of the interviewing process, but when I saw that she was in the pool, I started praying that she’d get the job,” said Bartek, who has known Meyer since 1978. “She just has a gentle presence here. She has a bigger vision than I did. She wants to coach clients’ lives beyond pregnancy. And, I think that’s kind of cool. We have to be for the good of these women who are under-equipped.
“I think Jeanette would say we try to leave God’s fingerprint on each of our clients. It’s not our job to evangelize them, but it is our job to love them with truth and gentle presence. They often will say, ‘I just feel good after I’ve been here.’”
Need for love
No doubt, Meyer feels just as good about spending time with these women — women who remind her of the story of the woman caught in adultery from the Gospel (John 8:2-11).
This is a Scripture story that helped her understand how God feels about women who make big mistakes, and who simply seek mercy and compassion from the One who now holds their babies in his arms.
“The first thing they need is love,” Meyer said. “By loving and accepting them, we enter the wounds of Christ, as holy mothers, to greet the potential in each person, mother and child. For many (of the clients), it is an awakening to view their past lives and abortions with hope rather than despair.”
To make sure she stays true to her mission, Meyer has posted a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa on the wall above her desk. It is a simple reminder of what really matters in all Gospel-related endeavors:
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Posted with permission from The Catholic Spirit, official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Denver, Colo., Feb 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Feb. 11, the Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, recalling a series of 18 appearances that the Blessed Virgin Mary made to a 14-year-old French peasant girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
The Marian apparitions began Feb. 11, 1858, ended July 16 that year and received the local bishop's approval after a four-year inquiry.
Coming soon after the 1854 dogmatic definition of her Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mary's appearances at Lourdes turned the town into a popular travel destination. Thousands of people say their medical conditions have been cured through pilgrimage, prayer and the water flowing from a spring to which Bernadette was directed by the Blessed Virgin. Experts have verified 67 cases of miraculous healing at Lourdes since 1862.
St. Bernadette also has her own liturgical memorial, which occurs Feb. 18 in France and Canada and April 16 elsewhere. Born in January 1844, the future visionary was the first child of her parents Francois and Louise, who both worked in a mill run by Francois. Their family life was loving but difficult. Many of Bernadette's siblings died in childhood, and she developed asthma. Economic hardship and an injury suffered by her father cost them the mill in 1854.
Years of poverty followed, during which Bernadette often had to live apart from her parents and work rather than attending school. In January 1858 she returned to her family, whose members were living in a cramped single room. Strongly committed to her faith, Bernadette made an effort to learn the Church's teachings despite her lack of formal education.
On Feb. 11, 1858, Bernadette went to gather firewood with her sister and a friend. As she approached a grotto near a river, she saw a light coming from a spot near a rosebush. The light surrounded a woman who wore a white dress and held a rosary. Seeing the lady in white make the sign of the Cross, Bernadette knelt, took out her own rosary, and began to pray. When she finished praying, the woman motioned for her to approach. But she remained still, and the vision disappeared.
Her companions had seen nothing. Bernadette described the lady in white to them, demanding they tell no one. But the secret came out later that day. The next Sunday, Bernadette returned to the grotto, where she saw the woman again. The identity of the apparition, however, would remain unknown for several weeks.
Some adults accompanied Bernadette on her third trip, on Feb. 18, though they did not see the vision she received. The woman in white asked the girl to return for two weeks. “She told me also,” Bernadette later wrote, “that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.” A group of family members and others went with her to the cave the next day, but only the young peasant girl saw the woman and heard her words.
Over the next few days, the number of people in attendance at the cave swelled to more than 100. A parish priest, Father Peyramale, became concerned – as did the police. On Feb. 24, 250 people saw Bernadette break into tears, but only she heard the woman’s message: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Go, kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners.”
A larger crowd was there on Feb. 25 – but they were shocked to see Bernadette drinking from a muddy stream and eating weeds. The apparition had told her to drink the water, and the weed-eating was a penitential act. Onlookers, meanwhile, saw only the girl’s unusual behavior, and popular fascination turned to ridicule and suspicion.
On Feb. 27, Bernadette made a joyful discovery: the spring from which she drank was not muddy now, but clear. As the crowds continued to gather, this change was noticed, and a woman with a paralyzed arm came to the water hoping to be healed. Four years later, her case would be recognized as the first miraculous healing at Lourdes. Public interest continued, and Bernadette heard a recurring message from the vision: “Go, tell the priests to bring people here in procession and have a chapel built here.”
While others were quick to conclude that Bernadette was seeing the Virgin Mary, the visionary herself did not claim to know the woman’s identity. As she conveyed the repeated message to Fr. Peyramale, the priest grew frustrated and told Bernadette to ask the woman her name. But when she did so, the woman smiled and remained silent. Her identity remained a mystery after the initial two-week period.
Three weeks later, on the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette visited the cave again. When she saw the lady, she kept asking to know her identity. Finally, the woman folded her hands, looked up and said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The seer, devout but uneducated, did not know what these words meant. She related them to Fr. Peyramale, who was stunned and informed his bishop.
Bernadette saw the Blessed Virgin Mary two more times in 1858: on the Wednesday after Easter, and on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In 1862, the local bishop declared the apparitions worthy of belief.
St. Bernadette left Lourdes in 1866 to join a religious order in central France, where she died after several years of illness in 1879. By the time of her death, a basilica had been built and consecrated at the apparition site, under the leadership of Fr. Peyramale.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Plans for a national March for Marriage in downtown Washington, D.C., are generating excitement and enthusiastic support, according to organizers of the event.
The upcoming March for Marriage “is an opportunity to witness to the culture about our pro-marriage beliefs,” said Thomas Peters, cultural director for the National Organization for Marriage.
Peters told CNA that coming together visibly to support the institution of marriage is critically important.
The National Organization for Marriage announced in late January that it would be hosting a March for Marriage in the nation’s capital on March 26.
The date coincides with the first day of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry. The lawsuit challenges California’s Proposition 8, a state measure recognizing marriage existing solely between a man and a woman.
Hollingsworth v. Perry is one of two cases on same-sex “marriage” that the nation’s high court will consider this year. The other challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for all federal purposes.
The two cases are both expected to yield landmark decisions that will set the tone for the definition of marriage throughout the nation. Decisions in both cases are expected in late June.
Neither the schedule nor the official route of the upcoming March for Marriage has been made public, but information will be added to the march website, marriagemarch.org, as it becomes available.
Despite the limited amount of information released thus far, Peters said that reactions have “been very positive” and enthusiastic.
“We actually just have a lot of people calling the office saying, ‘What can I do to help?’” he explained.
Peters added that the march will aim to create a “very broad, diverse coalition” in defense of marriage.
So far, the event is receiving strong support from CatholicVote.org, a non-profit group that works to educate and mobilize the faithful in adherence with Church teaching, as well as signatories of the Manhattan Declaration, a statement by Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians pledging support for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.”
Each of the two groups has more than half a million supporters.
Additionally, organizers are working with leaders of the African American community, representatives on Capitol Hill and other pro-marriage organizations to gain additional support.
Peters said that individuals and groups “from all over the country” have been pledging their support and attendance as well.
“It’s really exciting to see that much interest before we’ve given people a plan to work with,” he said.
Peters hopes that the march will help people stand up for the nature and meaning of marriage in the face of adversity.
“I think there’s been a lot of effort in trying to silence people of faith from sharing their view on marriage, and that’s a very disturbing trend,” he explained. “I think that simply showing up and doing something in person really does help break that barrier for people.”
While taking a stance for marriage may draw criticism, he acknowledged, such opposition “comes with the territory,” and solidarity with other supporters can make it easier to publically defend one’s beliefs.
Although the march is taking place on a serious day for those advocating for marriage in court, Peters said that the event is “going to be a joyful occasion.”
He described the upcoming March for Marriage as a “celebration of the gift of marriage,” focusing on the “celebration of life and of the next generation” found within the institution.
Vatican City, Feb 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how Jesus calls his followers to believe in his power to overcome their sins so that they do not stand in the way of answering his call.
“The experience of Peter, certainly unique, is also representative of the call of every apostle of the Gospel, who must never be discouraged in proclaiming Christ to all men, to the ends of the world,” Pope Benedict said Feb. 10, before reciting the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.
His reflections focused on today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, which recounts Jesus calling St. Peter to follow him.
“The call is in fact preceded by the teaching of Jesus to the crowd and a miraculous catch of fish, carried out by the will of the Lord. In fact, while the crowd rushes on the shore of Lake Gennesaret to hear Jesus, he sees Simon discouraged for having caught nothing all night,” the Pope recalled.
“First he asks him to get into his boat to preach to the people standing a short distance from the shore, and then, after preaching, he commands him to go off with his friends and cast their nets. Simon obeys, and they catch an incredible amount of fish.”
“In this way,” he noted, “the evangelist shows how the first disciples followed Jesus trusting him, relying on his word, and accompanied by miraculous signs.
“We note that, prior to this sign, Simon turns to Jesus as ‘Master,’ and afterwards calls him ‘Lord.’
Pope Benedict stressed that when God calls people, he “does not look so much to the quality of those chosen, but to their faith, like that of Simon, who says: ‘At your word I will let down the nets.’”
The image of the fishing, he explained, refers to the Church's mission.
“The experience of Peter, certainly unique, is also representative of the call of every apostle of the Gospel, who must never be discouraged in proclaiming Christ to all men, to the ends of the world,” the Pope said.
The Holy Father also pointed out that the Gospel reading reflects on vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
Man “is not the author of his own vocation, but the proposal is a response to the divine,” he noted, adding that people should not be afraid of their weaknesses if God is calling.
“We have to have confidence in his power acting in our own poverty, we must rely more and more in the power of his mercy, which transforms and renews,” he underscored.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope said as he finished his remarks before the Angelus, “may the Word of God revive in us and in our Christian communities courage, confidence and enthusiasm in proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel.
“Failures and difficulties do not lead to discouragement: it is our task to cast the nets in faith, the Lord will do the rest. Also trust in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles.”
After reciting the Angelus, the Pope recalled that those who live in the Far East are celebrating the Lunar New Year. He wished them “peace, harmony and gratitude to Heaven” and sent a greeting to all Catholics in the region.
Finally, the Holy Father noted that the Church will celebrate the World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This year the solemn ceremony will take place at the Marian Shrine of Altötting in Bavaria, Germany.
He offered his prayer and affection for all those who are sick.