Q. I confessed a grave sin more than 40 years ago and received absolution for it. I have, however, been haunted by this over the years and still feel guilt. My sin was that I had taken my 16-year-old daughter to our family doctor to have an abortion. So I not only committed a serious sin myself but caused her to do the same.
We both confessed these sins to our priest. But now I continue to be plagued by that memory. Am I committing another sin now by not trusting enough in God's mercy? (City of origin withheld)
A. No, you are not committing another sin. On the intellectual level, you acknowledge that God has forgiven you; on the emotional level, you are just having hard time feeling God's mercy. And wrapped up in all of this are the long-term psychological effects of abortion.
Many years ago, a young woman told me: "My roommates in college told me to have an abortion, and I did. But where are they this week, when it would have been my daughter's third birthday -- and I am all by myself to think about what that would have been like?"
But God's forgiveness is wider than we can ever imagine. I am guessing that you and I are contemporaries; and when many Catholics our own age grew up, our primary image of God was of a giant scorekeeper in the sky, keeping track of our misdeeds.
Now, though -- and thankfully -- my image of God is much different: I picture God first of all as the father of the prodigal son -- running down the road to throw his arms around his wayward child who has come back. The boy wants to pour out his story of sorrow, but the father says, "It doesn't matter now. You're home. Let's have a party."
And Jesus told that story to let us know that this is just the way his Father forgives us when we come back to him.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.