What Our Lady of Guadalupe Means to a Former Abortionist
The story of Guadalupe is an icon for our moment when mainstream women’s health care proclaims — with callousness and absurdity — that elective abortion is essential health care.
The famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a powerful cultural icon associated with motherhood, feminism, social justice, dignity and hope.
For me, she represents something more personal. It was through her intercession during my medical training that the Lord called me to turn away from performing elective abortions and to practice life-affirming medicine.
But I ignored the divine voice — at first.
I was raised in a faithful Catholic home with Polish parents. They trusted the Catholic educational system to teach me the faith, but the confusion and the dissent of situational ethics and proportionalism were the foundations of my undergraduate study at a Jesuit university. The relativistic assumption was that no moral norms bind absolutely. My upbringing taught me that one must weigh all the good and evil that could result from different actions and choose the action that brings about the greater good.
I took those ideas with me to medical school and applied them to what I was learning about women’s reproductive health. I believed that abortion was ugly, but in some cases, it might be necessary. Who was I, the physician, to decide? The patient had autonomy. Eventually, I was seduced by the new opium of the liberated: elective abortion on demand because the mom asked for it after we, the medical staff, encouraged it.
Just before beginning my medical residency, I stood in a cathedral just outside of Mexico City at the foot of Tepeyac Hill. I gazed up at the famous Catholic relic that my parents had told me about when I was a boy. The vivid image on a centuries-old cloak is well-known: Mary is shown standing humbly, her hands in prayer, eyes downcast. Rays of light burst all around her, and she stands on a crescent moon held up by a cherub. She is so clearly the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet (Revelation 12:1). I marveled at the radiant woman adorned with Aztec symbolism who, at the same time, communicated the truth of the one true God.
I knew that the owner of the more-than-450-year-old tilma, Juan Diego, had likely witnessed human sacrifices under Aztec rule — many of them children — before the Spanish Conquistadors introduced Catholicism in the early 1520s. And here was Our Lady of Guadalupe, with a sash around her waist, indicating in Aztec tradition that she was with child, carrying the Christmas promise of the Christ Child in her womb. And there I was, the “child sacrificer,” before her. I sat in silence, staring at the woman I had known about my whole life but still couldn’t understand.
Then something happened that I can hardly explain. Inwardly, I heard a voice, clear and strong: “Why are you hurting me?”
I nervously scanned the faces in the pews around me, searching for the owner of the voice or any indication that someone else had heard the booming question as well. Nothing. It must have been the heat, or the cerveza I’d had at lunch. “I couldn’t possibly have heard a voice from Christ or his Mother,” I thought. So I brushed it off and dismissed whatever voice I thought I’d heard that day at the foot of Tepeyac Hill.
I went on to my medical residency, performing elective and medical abortions because I thought it was good medicine. I maimed women and murdered their unborn children. I was hurting Christ, his mother and his Church.
Two years later, the Mother brought her Son to me and made her message miraculously clear while I was praying on a hilltop in Yugoslavia. She appeared to me and told me to be the best doctor I could be, to see the poor and to see them daily, and to follow the teachings of her Son’s Church. She led me to her Son. And I, feeling like a leper, reached out and touched Christ’s heart of mercy. The scales fell from my eyes, and the weight of my sin melted away.
I realized that the voice I had heard two years earlier in Mexico was a missed opportunity. I had ignored it then, but now I had a second chance to respond. I returned to the Catholic faith and left elective abortions behind to practice life-affirming medicine.
If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Heart
Just as Our Lady of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego to build a shrine in her honor — to point to her Son — on Tepeyac Hill, she also gave me a mission. So I started a life-affirming medical practice in her honor in Fairfax, Virginia, nearly three decades ago and named it Tepeyac OB/GYN.
My desire for Tepeyac OB/GYN was to combine the best of modern medicine with the healing presence of Jesus Christ; to treat all patients as individuals wholly in body, soul and spirit; to cooperate with a woman’s fertility because it is a natural, healthy function and not a disease to be repressed; and to affirm children in their dignity. Children are gifts and, therefore, joys.
Our Lady also asked me to see the poor and see them daily, so I was determined to welcome all patients into our office, including the physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially underserved. But this did not come easily. More than one-third of our patients are women in need. In order to bridge the gap and keep an open door to all patients regardless of their ability to pay, we started a fundraising organization called Divine Mercy Care that covers medical costs and other patient needs — from hospital delivery fees for a once abortion-minded mother to providing an Uber ride for a patient without transportation, or a hotel room for a patient who needs a safe place to stay.
The story of Guadalupe is an icon for our moment when mainstream women’s health care proclaims — with callousness and absurdity — that elective abortion is essential health care. Our Lady of Guadalupe said to Juan Diego: “Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here, who am your Mother?” To me, her words are completely interconnected with women’s health and the Church.
Health-care providers need to be reminded to “do no harm” and see our patients “wholistically,” body and soul. Our job is to lend an attentive ear to our patients and treat illnesses, vexations, anxieties and pains whenever possible. We have provider autonomy to give preventive care that goes to the root of medical problems and not seek Band-Aid solutions that have shown over the last 60 years to make matters worse. Women deserve medicine that does not poison their bodies with Class 1 carcinogens; that does not recommend killing their unborn child; and that does not treat their fertility as problematic or their unborn child as a sexually transmitted disease.
And to the churches, we must remember that she is our Mother. We must recapture the New Testament truth of the Virgin Mother of Nazareth and Old Testament truth that the Mother of the King is called the “Queen” this Advent season.
A framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs in the chapel in Tepeyac’s office. She is a mother to all mothers who walk through our doors. She is a woman of humble and courageous faith who taught me to praise the sovereign grace of God, cry out against injustice, and receive our personal ministry from Christ at the foot of the cross. She taught me to hope and pray for the coming of his Word and Spirit that will renew both women’s health care and the Church — and to empower the Church for service. She showed me the way to true health care, and it’s found in the healing presence of her Son, Jesus Christ.
If I had a second chance to respond to the Lord calling me out of elective abortion, then all medical professionals have an opportunity for a “redo.” We can make a difference and save more siblings in our human family by accepting his mercy and being an instrument of his power and his grace.
Once you’re converted, you want to share Jesus! So if today, on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, you hear his voice — or his Mother’s voice — please, do not ignore it. Let’s receive the Lord with tender, open hearts and have the courage to respond to his call with bold action.
John Bruchalski, M.D., is the founder and president of Divine Mercy Care and the founder of Tepeyac OB/GYN in Fairfax, Virginia. He is the author of Two Patients: My Conversion From Abortion to Life-Affirming Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnBruchalski.