While preparing to attend Vespers at Lourdes on December 10, I read the brief blurb explaining what our speaker, Victoria Johnson, would be addressing. It read, “Yesterday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and a Jubilee Year of Mercy began. Victoria Johnson will offer a reflection on mercy that you won’t want to miss.”
Great, I thought, this sounds intriguing! Maybe she’ll speak about an address that Pope Francis gave. Perhaps she’ll offer us greater insight into what mercy means on an intellectual or theological level. Either way, hopefully I can come to understand how to better live out this year of mercy.
As she began speaking and sharing her story, I found myself captivated and yet also a bit confused. This is not what I had expected at all, I thought. She began by sharing a very personal account of her life. In doing so, her courage was unyielding and her audience enraptured by her faith.
Victoria is originally from St. Paul, where she came from a very dysfunctional family, and she became pregnant and had an abortion at the age of 16. For many years, she had prefered not to think about it. Yet through immense suffering, she eventually came face to face with the “boogeyman” she had long been avoiding. Remarkably, she learned that while serious sin wounds very deeply, God’s mercy heals all the more.
Slowly but surely the Lord worked in her heart to help her heal from the greatest trauma she experienced. When her mother was near death, she asked Victoria: “Have you dealt with it?” And although she and her her mom had never discussed it before, Victoria knew exactly what she was talking about.
That conversation led Victoria to seek healing on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. There she learned a great divine paradox: When you heal, it hurts; yet when you’re hurting, it’s very often healing. While on retreat Victoria named her unborn child Mercy, and, remarkably, it was through Mercy the child that Victoria more fully received God’s mercy. This encounter with God’s mercy allowed Victoria to not only receive healing herself, but to be able to offer mercy and healing to the father of her child whom she encountered some time after the retreat.
She ended her story with a most beautiful thought as she said, “I knew I needed to get out of the way and tell my story–His story–of hope for even the biggest sinner.” As we embark upon this year of mercy, we pray that God may use our experiences, our very lives, to not just help us understand mercy, but to profoundly encounter it. It was a gift to hear Victoria’s personal reflection, and we were all very inspired and moved by her testimony.