PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS and THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS

I’m not a Catholic, but I admire the new Pope and the missions and ministries of many Catholics the world round. I am a practicing Episcopalian (as I like to tell people, I’m not that serious, I’m just practicing). But I am serious about my commitment to issues of social justice and my activism is informed by my desire to follow in Christ’s footsteps, My fight (and I am a fighter)  is always strengthened by my faith. I’m not a literalist and I don’t lose myself in ideology or dogma. I’m more interested in the mystery than I am in search of certainty. I believe you have a right to a God of your own understanding.  And I’m not alone.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the progressive wing of the Christian faith, the ways in which abolition and civil rights and gay rights and women’s rights have been fought for and won by those acting on Christian conscience. And those are the headline grabbers. But each and every day in a much quieter way random acts of kindness, love, caring, and compassion are put forth into the world by people acting out their faith.

For every Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian who runs with the Tea Party crowd, there are progressive Christians who are feeding the hungry and clothing the needy and even fighting for the hungry and needy to earn living wages that restore their dignity and allow them to be self-supporting. For every Al Qaeda suicide bomber, there are Muslims practicing their faith in ways that further justice and peace. For every Conservative Jew who thinks Palestinians should be taken out back and shot, there are enlightened Jews who recognize the humanity of everyone and the insanity of an apartheid-like state in Israel.  For every Buddhist burning down the houses of non-Buddhists in Myanmar, there are those seeking mindfulness and serenity and pursuing non-violence.

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Because my cultural and family tradition is the practice of the Christian faith,  I pay especially close attention when someone like the new Pope makes a provocative a statement like the one he recently did about ideology and ideologues:

“…when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Way to go, Pope Francis. You’re fast becoming one of my heroes. 

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THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

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While the Pope is in Rome, some heroes are much closer to home. Just south of the San Diego border lived another unsung “Mother Theresa,” Sister Antonia Brenner who died recently at age 86. She was particularly extraordinary because in the middle of her life she decided to give herself a second chance and turned everything she knew upside down. I imagine many thought she had lost her mind, but she knew better. And so she changed her life and in turn changed the lives of so many others.

Sister Antonia Brenner began life as Mary Clarke in Beverly Hills where the success of her Irish immigrant father’s office supply business afforded her family the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Growing up, Cary Grant was just one of her well known neighbors. She was destined to become a “Real” housewife of Beverly Hills.

 And so she did. She married and raised seven children, four daughters and three sons. But not everything worked out as planned. Sadly, her first marriage ended in divorce, as did a second. At mid-life, her children now grown and searching for something more, she was moved to make a change.

 In 1977 her choice was clear. She gave away all her expensive belongings, took holy vows and moved to Tijuana, Mexico to take up residence inside a penitentiary that she knew of previously through outreach and volunteer work. As Sister Antonia Brenner she lived just as the inmates in the penitentiary did, in a 10 by 10 foot cell. She lived and worked freely among the inmates who looked upon her as an angel in the flesh and referred to her affectionately as “Mama”. She was deeply respected and loved both inside and outside the prison walls.

She would tell new inmates “Don’t be afraid. Christ was a prisoner just like you. He knows what it’s like to be arrested and interrogated and sent away. He knows what it’s like to be hated and mocked and humiliated. He hasn’t abandoned you. In all of the Scripture, he doesn’t speak a word against you,” (quote from http://www.thecatholiccatalogue.com)

In the 1990’s she founded her own religious order to continue and expand her work, the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. http://www.eudistservants.org

 She often returned to Southern California to raise money for her work and to visit her family which had grown to include more than 45 grand and great-grandchildren. But she always returned to the prison where she lived and ministered for 30 years.

 Speaking of Sister Brenner, Father Joe Carroll, who once ran the St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego and knew her well, said:

 “Rhyme, reason – you can’t rationalize why she did it. She [had] that one-on-one relationship with God.”

Sister Antonia Brenner 1926 – 2013.

 May she rest in peace.

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To read the Los Angeles Times Obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner, click here http://www.latimes.com/search/dispatcher.front?Query=Sister+Antonia+Brenner&target=adv_all

To read the New York Times obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner click here http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/us/antonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html?rct=j&q=sister%20antonia%20brenner&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CFYQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2013%2F10%2F21%2Fus%2Fantonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html&ei=62FlUpN7s-XIAYaSgPgB&usg=AFQjCNFNDnqaFl_VV5kCFB4-1kFhi9tsBA&sig2=KTwSZwPnc0SNyt5Fiw-z9A&bvm=bv.54934254,d.aWc&=

To learn more about the Eudist Saints of the Eleventh Hour, or to make a donation click here http://www.eudistservants.org

 

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