My oldest daughter was mugged last Saturday night. She was talking with two friends in the parking lot of a restaurant in Los Angeles before saying goodbye for the evening. Two young men approached her and asked her for a light, and as she offered her lighter, there was suddenly a gun at her head. Then they fled with her purse and one of her friends’ purses. She said it was as quick as that: the hit-and-run death of her innocence. My first thought, when she called in a shaky voice to tell us what had happened to her, was of gratitude to God that she had not been hurt or killed. My second thought was of vengeance. My third thought was of shame at my second thought, even though my second thought was sticking around. My fourth thought was of confusion. My fifth was a conscious decision to go back to the first thought and stay there for a while.
My husband and I have been spending time with criminals just like the two men who made our daughter a victim. We have been involved in detention ministry for about two years. We assist in Communion services one Saturday a month, and have been surprised and humbled by the spirituality among the incarcerated. But I worry that when we volunteer at the state prison next time, I may look at each inmate differently. So far I have been able to separate the men from their past. When it comes to how they got to prison, we have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. So far it has worked. Now I am afraid I will look at each man and wonder, Did you hold a gun to someone’s daughter’s head? Did you threaten to kill her? Did you steal not just her wallet, but her faith in the goodness of humanity?
And: am I coddling my daughter’s enemy and therefore being disloyal to her?
I know that someday, should these two young men continue on the path of thievery, I could very well, within the confines of the state prison, be giving Communion to my daughter’s attackers. Which gives me pause. Which haunts my thoughts. Which complicates my relationships—with the inmates and with my daughter and with God.
An honest cyclist returned my daughter’s purse the next morning. It was flung by the side of the road, with car keys, checkbook and empty wallet—without cellphone, driver’s license and her small amount of cash. My daughter seems to be holding up remarkably well, a real trouper. Yet the first thing she wants to do is buy a new wallet. The recovered one is tainted with the memory of powerlessness. She has other purses she can use, but only one wallet. Even touching it, she says, is “creepy.” That makes me realize her healing is still a way off.
As is mine. The crime, of course, is hers to forgive, not mine, but I am wondering if I should stop going to the prison. At Mass during the week, I pray for clear and simple answers. The Gospel is from Luke: “If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Luke 12:39-40). Great, I think, a crime metaphor. The thief in the night has taken from my daughter what is not his, has made her feel vulnerable, has made her wary of being kind. And I get to give him Communion next Saturday.
I think about how we have been busy all week replacing what she lost, arranging for a new cellphone, a new license, a new health insurance card, all of which robs us of more money and time. She has gone through books of mug shots at the police station, certain that she recognized one guy, only to find that her friend had identified a completely different face. The thieves, at least for the time being, remain at large in the shadows of the night, free to prey on others. I wonder whether justice will ever be done.
My answer comes at the end of the Gospel, and I almost miss it as I remain wrapped in angry thoughts: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).
Once again, the wisdom of Christ blindsides me.
So much has been given to me: life, love, children, health, wealth, freedom, privilege. I return so few of my gifts to God; in fact, I hoard them. My involvement in prison ministry requires an embarrassingly small amount of time and effort and presence. Any good I may do is equally small. I believe that we have been called to visit the imprisoned; I believe I hear that call clearly. And it is not complicated, unless I make it that way. Jesus did not say, “When I was in prison, you made excuses for me, you condoned my crimes, you sprang me by smuggling in a fake ID.” What he said was, “I was in prison, and you visited me” (Matt 25:37).
To visit: that’s all he is asking. But by treating inmates like fellow human beings, by focusing on rehabilitation and amends, by bringing Christ to the hearts and lips of those who are so often unloved and unreachable, who lack the freedom and privilege I take for granted, perhaps future crimes will be averted and future victims spared. Perhaps minds and behaviors can be changed. Perhaps someone else’s daughter will go home unaccosted, and in that way I can continue to visit the imprisoned, and still look my own daughter in the eye.
We will never know the impact of our visits. I do know that much has been entrusted to me, and so even more will be demanded. It seems I have an awful lot of work to do before I will ever be ready for that unexpected hour.