According to tradition, the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, said to have been painted by Saint Luke, was discovered by Saint Helena in the Holy Land and given to her son, Emperor Constantine. After centuries, the image, also called “the Black Madonna,” was finally enshrined in Poland. The face of Our Lady bears three scars. One was the result of an arrow, dating back to an invasion in the 14th century, while the other two were inflicted by slashes of a sword, intentionally desecrating the icon. When artists attempted to repair and cover over them, they inexplicably reappeared.
Our Lady of Czestochowa has become a patroness for those suffering after abortion. So often in the culture, women are not validated in the sorrow, loss, and pain they carry in the aftermath of this wounding event. Rather, there are endless attempts to “cover over” their experience, as if it never happened. “Let it go, move on, it wasn’t anything, you had to do it.” But the scars remain and surface, crying out for recognition and the tender touch of solidarity and hope.
After two abortions over 30 years ago, Rosemary* decided to attend a Mercy Weekend Retreat at Villa Maria Guadalupe, seeking a spiritual healing. She recounts hearing about Our Lady of Czestochowa for the first time: “I cried and cried. Her wounds kept coming back, just like mine. I’ve always been eternally grateful to Blessed Mother. She knows the loss of a child. She knows the pain in my heart, and the regrets I have experienced from day one.”
Many feel overwhelmed by the gravity of what has been done, and fearful of the judgment of God and others. One of the greatest tools used by the evil one to paralyze and discourage those seeking healing are lies of isolation, “You are alone. You are unlovable. Keep this hidden.”
Rosemary names it, “It was at the point of my abortion that distrust entered my life. I could not trust anyone; I could not trust myself, my boyfriend or my own decisions. My self-esteem was low. I would go into rages. I went through cycles of depression. At the time, my niece said, ‘You lost your spark’. And that’s what abortion does to you.”
Finally, after marital challenges, she found her way back home to the Catholic Church and returned to the Sacraments. Rosemary was given the grace to unite her sufferings to those of Jesus, through the intercession of Our Lady.
“One night, while praying the rosary, I drifted off to sleep. I saw a bloody wound. It was so clear; I was not intimidated, but wanted to study it in detail. I asked the Lord, “What are you showing me? Where is this wound?” I intuitively knew it was the wound in His side. It was still fresh. There was so much love there, and I knew it was Jesus, in all His fullness, expressing His love in the most precious and intimate way. I knew instantly that He felt my pain and He wanted me to experience His infinite mercy. I united all of my wounds to His Wound.”
It is no wonder that Our Lady’s scars refuse to remain hidden. When wounds are brought into the light, the power of darkness is dispelled. We come to see, as if for the first time, our truest and deepest identity. Blessed John Paul II, who entrusted himself and the Church to the maternal protection of Our Lady of Czestochowa, proclaimed, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”
“Although I know I did something really bad, I also know I am forgiven. And I am never alone. I always feel that I am accompanied, and my Beloved walks beside me on one side and Our Lady on the other. I don’t feel the shame. I know that He is totally in love with me, and I didn’t know love before. Only Jesus went to the cross for me. I’ve had these relationships and they all betrayed me. Jesus won’t. It has been a wonderful journey.”
As a social worker, I recognize the Lord is using me in beautiful ways to help other women who are suffering. Whenever they thank me, depending on the situation, I often smile and say something like, “You’re welcome, but I didn’t do this on my own.” I say to myself, “Mary take me by the hand to Jesus.” And it has been a wonderful journey.
*Name changed for anonymity.
Originally printed in our Spring 2013 issue of Imprint.