Thursday, January 26, 2017


Out with friends at lunch the other day, the conversation turned, as it inevitably seems to these days, to politics.

There was lots of ranting, lots of cursing, lots of "Can you believe?" and "Monster!"and "Well, he'd better be ready for a fight."

No question the behavior in question is appalling. No question the character in question is reprehensible. No question that people of good will the whole world are, rightfully, deeply indignant, disturbed, and frightened.

Still,  over our heirloom black rice, gluten-free tortillas, and green chai tea, I ended up being disturbed as well by the conversation. There was no space in it for the kind of heart-to-heart exchange that, to my mind, is the bread of life: that nourishes, strengthens, and sends us forth to fight the right battles and on the right fronts.

On my way to Trader Joe's afterwards (I was out of Italian roast and arugula), I sat musing at a stop light. Suddenly I noticed a homeless guy sitting by the side of the road, around my age, with a crudely-lettered Vietnam Vet cardboard sign. I rolled down the window and gave him four bucks. (Lunch had been $13.58). "God bless you," he said gratefully, humbly.

I was reminded of a recent NYT op-ed piece called "Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever." The author observed, "On a recent trip to Madagascar to report on climate change, I was struck that several mothers I interviewed had never heard of Trump, or of Barack Obama, or even of the United States. Their obsession was more desperate: keeping their children alive."

This morning I watched a video by the late Mother Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills socialite  and mother of eight who after her second divorce, gave away all her belongings, moved to Tijuana, and installed herself in La Mesa, a notoriously violent maximum-security prison.

She said, "When I went into prison for the very first time, I went into the infirmary and it was a cell block. The cots were there and the men looked at me coming in and they stood up because they saw a woman and a priest. So they stood up even though they were trembling sick and very weak. There were about six bunks and they all stood up to see us. I was very touched at how they received us and I saw a need for medicine and other things."

Mother Antonia lived at La Mesa for over 32 years, in a 10 by 10-foot cell, ministering to the inmates, raising bail money, performing the works of mercy for hardened criminals. One of her spiritual mentors was St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who offered himself up in place of a husband and father of six to die in a starvation bunker at Auschwitz.

"I had a deep love for those saints who had been in prison--Paul, the prisoner. Paul in chains, Peter in chains, and on to Auschwitz, where we had St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was a great example for me. He stood up for mercy and justice, the two things Jesus called upon us to do for one another. That was his criticism of the Pharisees. They followed the rules; that was fine. But they didn't go beyond the rules to the two most important things--justice and mercy. St. Maximilian Kolbe did go beyond. He died for it."

"And he never complained."



  1. Thank you for your insight. I'm in the process of change. Learning what it means to be a Catholic... I need to find a catholic spiritual guide like others might need AA. Female 55 yrs old!! It's never too late for any of us to change. I'm on a path now. But pray for me that I find a spiritual guide and Catholic friends to support me on this journey. I have absolutely no catholic friends none! In fact I'd say I have one true friend in my life but even that has become in question after I started towards Catholicism...

    1. i had no Catholic friend when I came into the Church either...Sermon on the Mount is the Gospel today. Jesus is Our St. Therese of Lisieux sai, possibly our ONLY you're not alone, no matter how alone you may feel. The Gospel and the Sacraments will light the way...

  2. Heather, Amazing column, you put our angst into perspective. Thank you.
    Anonymous, Prayers for you are you transform your life on earth with an eye toward heaven. J

  3. Thanks for the reminder, Heather. The important things (and people) are right in front of us, to see Jesus in the faces of other people.

  4. For more info on Mother Antonia read "The Prison Angel" by Mary Jordan. Thanks Heather. Pray for us Father Kolbe.

  5. I like the title of this a lot. The story of Mother Brennan is amazing, I never knew about her- thank you for sharing!
    Building bridges seems to be what we need to do more than ever. Lately I feel a great need to rid the splinter in my own eye before I set about even trying to change the world!
    That thought came to me after many prayers in adoration and tears being shed for all of the suffering and discord in our world. Just wanted to share that because it gave me a lot of peace knowing that God expects us to simply to what is before us and He is in control. I can often despair when things are hard but God loves us and we ought to trust in that- atleast I am wanting to!

  6. Yes to everyone! Thank you. Yes, the bridge between one human being and another human being is forever the way to go. That doesn't make headlines--we like numbers and crowds, not the messy, seemingly ineffectual, non-remarkable human encounter. But Christ didn't heal crowds--he healed individuals who had run out of ideas for healing themselves. May I remain one of them!

  7. Good points! I was just talking to my daughter, who works for the government, about how rare it is to have actual discussion of issues. She feels that people are, on Facebook or even in real time encounters, just announcing their opinions. If we could take the time to listen, have an interchange of ideas, and conclude with some encouragement to action that proceeds from at least a little bit of light from God, it would be so different! Thank you for your own encouraging word.

  8. A comment of the glorious Mother Antonia as she smiled and waved at the crowds before a talk, "You can take the girl out of Beverley Hills but you can't take Beverley Hills of the girl."

    What I find most distressing these days is 'moral preening.' Makes real conversation and empathy impossible and there's always a flavor of "I thank you...that I am not like rest...". I really don't like it in myself!

    1. Thank you GretchenJoanna and exactly, Fr. P, that's just what bothered me--about myself!--at that lunch.

      I also want to emphasize, because this is the type of important thing that takes up space in my head, that though some of my FRIENDS were eating gluten-free tacos, I myself am a giant promoter and consumer of all things gluten, including bread, crackers, pasta and basically any starchy carbohydrate I can get my hands on.

      Also, I personally wouldn't be drinking green chai tea--if I were drinking anything at all at a restaurant (that I was paying for), it would be a diet Coke or a large cup of the most concentrated possible caffeinenated coffee.

      Just wanted to clarify!

      Also I have heard from a wonderful reader from the old country who has offered to make me Queen of Ireland.

      Love to all-


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