Archive for the ‘15th Sunday’ Category

The Prison Angel 7-16-2017

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

She rises each day at 5 A.M. in her tiny prison cell. She spends the first hour in quiet prayer; then, fueled by countless cups of coffee, she begins her rounds of the cell blocks, distributing clothing, blankets and soap to prisoners. She visits the prison hospital, counsels new inmates, and meets with families. She has diffused tensions between desperate inmates and nervous guards; she has made the most hardened con accept responsibility for his crimes and seek forgiveness from his victims.
She is not the warden. She is not a guard. She is a 78-year-old nun known as Mother Antonia. Her “home” is Tijuana’s La Mesa prison, just across the border from San Diego. For 28 years, she has lived among the 6,000 inmates of what was once one of Mexico’s most dangerous prisons.
The only member of her order allowed to live inside the prison, Mother Antonia spends ten hours a day among the prisoners. Sisters in her community work in Tijuana’s neighborhoods providing support for families of both inmates and guards, counseling mothers separated from children, even helping arrange funerals for those who die in prison.
Mother Antonia’s own life and upbringing could not have been more different. Born Mary Clarke, she was the daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman. A striking beauty, Mary grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion with Hollywood stars Dinah Shore and Cary Grant for neighbors. Twice married, she raised seven children who adore her. Mary’s many hours of charity work became a source of tension in her second marriage and eventually led to divorce. In 1977, with her marriage over and her children all grown, Mary felt a powerful pull to do more.
With the support of her children, she sold her belongings and drove to Tijuana, where she had been making church-sponsored relief visits, and began religious life. She convinced the warden to let her stay and began the dangerous task of winning inmates over with small acts of kindness.
(Her journey from Beverly Hills to the barrios of Tijuana is chronicled in the book The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.)
“I wanted to dedicate my life to the poor,” she says. “I didn’t want to just pity them. I wanted to become a significant part of their lives…I guess you might say I’m in love with these people who the rest of the world finds unlovable.”
The warden believes that Mother Antonia is the most important person at La Mesa. “Mother Antonia brings hope to men and women here. And they find hope in themselves. She spreads the love of God.” Beloved by the guards, her presence has made their jobs safer and more humane.
What drives her, she says, is her faith. “[My faith] is what makes my heart beat. That’s who I am.” Of her work among the prisoners of La Mesa, she says: “Like a mother, I always search for the best in my children.”
Mother Antonia models the sower of today’s Gospel, who sows seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and who is willing to do the hard work necessary to realize the harvest that Christ has promised.
I close: The reign of God is like a seed. That seed is the kindness we do, the worship we share in, the conversation around the dinner table, the soup to the sick neighbor, the decisions to put the family first. The seed is being sensitive to minorities. The seed is making your children bring back the little things they’ve stolen, and apologize. The seed is having them catch you at prayer. The seed is your being here.
I like the seed symbol, mostly, I guess, because it fits me. I can handle a seed. We seldom have the opportunity, or even the courage, to do the big things, the really big, heroic things. But everyday, like Mother Antonia, we all have the opportunity to do the small ones that display our values and the values of Jesus; values, perhaps, small as a seed, but seeds that will bear fruit thirty, forty, fifty years from now.
Remember this: do the little things well and let God do the rest.