In Tijuana, Mexico is one of the worst prisons in the world. It’s filled with some of Mexico’s most notorious and violent criminals. These men have murdered, raped and beaten people in their lives, but when Mother Antonio comes around they melt. They are known to reach through the bars shouting for her to please come visit them today. To the guards and warden they are some of them most violent and dangerous men alive, but when Mother Antonio comes around they turn into family.
Mother Antonio wasn’t always a Catholic nun, in another lifetime she was a Beverly Hills Socialite. She had seven children and she had been twice divorced. A John 4 moment if you ever saw one, It wasn’t until her children were grown that she decided that her calling was to go into prison ministry…and that’s exactly what she did. When her last child moved away for school, Mary Clarke changed into the Catholic nun Mother Antonio and moved to Tijuana, and the rest is history.
A few years ago, Mother Antonio was back in California visiting her family, and while she was gone a prison riot broke loose. Some of the inmates killed a couple of guards and took their weapons. It got so bad that the warden had to evacuate the guards and turn off the power to the prison. When Mother Antonio heard she came back immediately and asked to be allowed in the prison to talk to “her boys.” But the warden refused. He told her of the danger of going in there, and how the Mexican federal law had surrounded the whole prison, about to attack.
So, if you are the warden, do you send in the troops, or do you send in the old nun?
But Mother Antonio knew something that the warden didn’t. That love never fails. And eventually she wore the warden down. He let her in the prison.
She walked into a prison that was totally blacked out, and began to plead with the inmates to put down the guns before anyone else got hurt. After a few minutes they came out and one inmate told her, “As soon as we heard your voice we threw our guns out the window, Mother.”
She resolved the situation by placing herself firmly in the middle of the danger.
Is it not what God did? From heaven to earth. Even worse, from heaven to Bethlehem—a town known for taking care of sheep.
The story of God is that He takes a dive into the depths of the world: born in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.
Scripture teaches that God stoops low. Stoop can mean to descend from one’s level of dignity or it can mean to condescend. But it can also mean to bend or to lean over. This is the good news about Jesus. God bends. God stoops. God gets low. Because the movement of God’s deliverance isn’t to reach down and to pull up, but to get down and to push people up.
Remember the story about Mother Antonio and how she was able to resolve the situation by placing herself firmly in the middle of danger.
The real reason that Mother Antonio is so effective, is because every day, after she finishes praying with the inmates and taking their confessions. When she’s done with the counseling and the teaching, she doesn’t go home to her nice comfortable suburban house in Tijuana. Instead, every day Mother Antonio walks down the hallway and lays her head down on the 8×10 cell that she has lived in for 30 years.
That’s why they love her so much. She lives among them.
That’s what it looks like to take the Christmas story seriously. Because love chooses to live among us.
(The Mother Antonio story came from my good friend, Jonathan Storment)
Posted on Sunday, December 18, 2011
by Josh Ross