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Weeping

April 24, 2011

Abby Johnson, from her book, unPlanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader’s eye-opening journey across the life line…

“Oh my word!” I heard a coworker gasp. She was standing by one of the front windows facing the fence.

“What is it?” I asked her.

“A nun. there is s a nun in full habit standing in the driveway.”

I walked over to the window to look, and soon several of us were gawking out the window. The temperature was near 100 degrees that day, yet there in the hot sun was a nun dressed in a heavy, dark brown habit that swept the ground. Her head and hair were completely covered so that only her face showed, a face lifted toward heaven, eyes closed, clearly praying. Believe it or not, I’d never seen a nun in full habit before — at least not in person. I couldn’t help but think of the Reverend Mother in The Sound of Music, though this nun was clearly far younger, probably about forty.

“Her face looks so sweet,” said one of our clinic workers. “But anguished.”

There was an awkward silence. then one of our clients, who had just had an abortion, was escorted out the door and to her car by one of our volunteers. Our eyes were glued to the nun as, her eyes fixed on the client, she moved from the center of the driveway tot the side, making room for the client to pull out of the drive. And then she began to weep. She fell to her knees and wept with such grief, such genuine personal pain, that i couldn’t help but think to myself, She feels something far deeper than i ever will. She is honestly pained. This is real to her – this grief at knowing that client had an abortion. A sense of shame washed over me. I tried to shake it off but couldn’t get past the fact that a nun was grieving over what was happening inside my clinic.

A silence fell over us all for a time. Several of our clinic staff were Catholic, but even those of us who weren’t sensed a shared discomfort, as if we all felt embarrassed or ashamed. We tried to get back to work, but every few minutes someone would look out the window and offer an update on the sister, like, “She’s still weeping,” or, “Look, one of the pro-lifers is consoling her now.” It was agony just knowing she was out there.

Over the next several months, we learned her name was Sister Marie Bernadette. She visited the fence, week after week, on abortion days. One of the clinic staff who often joked that she was a “recovering Catholic” complained one day at lunchtime. She had been planning to go out for lunch that day but said there was no way she was leaving the building because she didn’t want the nun to see her.

The truth was, the sister’s simple, beautiful, prayerful presence bothered most of us, Catholic, ex-Catholic, Protestant, and unchurched alike, as if she somehow represented our consciences. The sister was small, bubbly, and joyful. She had a radiant smile, yet clearly over the months we could continue to see that she was deeply and personally grieved by abortions. How many other people cry outside my workplace because of the work I am doing? I wondered. I didn’t like the question.

Over time we found ways to tease ourselves about the “power” of Sister Marie Bernadette as we came to realize we all avoided going outside when she was present. I found it eerie that her presence seemed to pervade the entire clinic every time she showed up a the fence. Her simple presence always reminded me of confession.

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