It may have been the howling wind whistling through the Smart Car.
But it seemed almost as if Old Man Winter was hacking up a wheezy cough of a laugh at my expense. I mean, what type of idiot would do such a thing?
Well, here’s my defense. Ordinarily, it would have been absolutely ridiculous to take such a small vehicle through the most treacherous of driving conditions.
And yet, I managed to steer that puppy like a champion through the first major snowstorm of the year. I handled it as if I had an angel steering the wheel. And why not? I was, after all, on my way to visit a living saint. In jail.
Prison time? Hmph. Small potatoes when stacked up against the numbers that make ones stomach churn -
55 million lost in the United States since Roe v Wade in ’73
Some 2.5 million lost in Canada since R v Morgentaler in ’88
Those numbers should make one’s stomach churn. But the sad, sad fact is that for many, it doesn’t. And how’s this for a gut-check; in a sinister twist, some have even cause for a good ‘ole fashioned belly laugh as the slaughter continues. Not that they’re thinking of the blood and guts of routine baby-killing when chortling at the dapper black guy and his sleezifying “Happy 40th Anniversary, baby”.
But we are a people of hope. Right?
And how could one not be buoyed by the incredible number of pilgrims who descended upon D.C. for the annual March for Life? How powerful that everyone reading this knows of someone who packed up and attended, in the hopes of changing a culture gone horribly wrong. For forty, freakin’ years.
I, myself, was not there. I wish I could have experienced it.
No. Check that. I hope I never, ever have to attend a March for Life.
But from the comfort of my home in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, perched in front of my iMac, I was able to get my fill on the accounts of those participating in a most noble cause.
I also paid some attention to the detractors, for we have to at least try to understand our enemies. And love them, even while we abhor what they stand for.
But I was reminded of what true fear is all about. And it had nothing to do with some diabolical shoot-yourself-in-the-foot, dude-with-Drambuie-straight, pro-”choice” ad. It had nothing to do with a glance at a “this is what happens” late-term abortion poster.
For a fleeting moment in front of my computer, as my eyes scanned that one March for Life picture that’s been making the rounds on social media, I was struck with fear.
True fear. You know. That kind of fear that the world about you is going to change forever… for worse. Or, maybe it was a holy fear. We Catholics are taught that. Or, at least, we used to be taught that. That kind of fear that leaves you momentarily dumb-struck. At an utter loss for words as the mind somersaults on images and possibilities that can only be handled with the grace of God. And I couldn’t quite handle the avalanche.
Amidst the sullen and smiling faces on my computer screen, the various placards and signage showing the gruesome truth of abortion… amidst the champions of the crowd, the sound-clips of promises to never stop marching until the madness stops… amidst all these images, there loomed the one image that struck a deep and abiding fear in my heart.
The image of a woman. A lonely woman in a prison cell who, incidentally, happens to be the most un-lonely person in the world. That much I know. I know that Mary Wagner is being sustained by the Sustainer. Angels and Saints about her. And Our Mother. And that frightened me. It frightened me because I felt connected.
Mary Wagner. Meek, caring, loving, simple Mary.
To me, Mary Wagner is the scariest woman in the world right now. This most wonderful woman, who I’ve met only a handful of times, constantly reminds me to ask myself, “are you doing enough, Damian? How much do you love Him? How much do you really, really love Christ?”
And I’m afraid to answer.
I first met Mary in March 2012, at a dinner honouring the Archbishop of Bombay.
I may have been bestowed the privilege of meeting both Archbishop Gracias and Cardinal Collins, but the highlight of the night came as we were exiting. I laugh, as I recall grabbing my wife Andrea’s hand and motioning to the back of the room like a kid who was moments away from scoring Wayne Gretzky’s autograph. “Drea, there’s Mary Wagner! I’ve got to introduce myself to her. Drea, this woman is a saint-in-the-making!” I may have been whispering, emphatically, as I led my wife by the arm, weaving through the shrinking crowd.
I somewhat nervously introduced myself to Mary, and… well… she had this… “glow”. And a humble smile. As I engaged her, I remember saying to myself “omigosh, she’s got such tiny, frail hands!” How silly. Why would I expect anything more from this giant among men?
Mary and I would exchange email addresses, and a friendship was born. Since then, she has been in and out of prison. And back in. And out. And in, again.
To visit Mary at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, you need to give the prison guards a week’s notice. I had no idea, while making the plans over the phone, that driving at 6:30 pm on Boxing Day in a winter blizzard was going to be as crazy as it was.
But it happened again, that night. As I sat down across from this saintly woman, divided by a smudgy, odorous piece of bullet-proof plexi, I welled up with tears. I did so in September when I visited. And I did again. This time, the day after celebrating the birth of my Lord and Saviour, with one of the best-tasting turkey dinners among fellow Goddards that I’ve had in a very long time.
But that Mary Wagner is so cunning. She’s so very gifted at turning the attention away from her. “So, how is Andrea and the kids?” Well, that got me going on the joys and blessings of my life. And I find myself right in Mary’s wheelhouse. We then talk about the issues confronting each of us. And about the news… the culture… the Saints. And she is so clever, that Mary, lumping me in with her and this whole “soldiers for Christ” thing that she does so well. The fact of the matter is, I honestly don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. But I’m caught in her trap while balancing the telephone receiver between thumb and forefinger, a crack separating contact between plastic and ear.
And in the driving snow, on my way back to a warm home – complete with electric blanket and crash-mat-thick bed duvet – I wept.
And I asked.
Fearfully: “what if Mary is here not to be a saint, as much as to be a standard?”
What if I’m being asked to love Him more? Do I have the courage? Do I dare love Him THAT much?
The wind was howling that night.
It was the wind, right?
Well, this much I know:
Mary Wagner slept in a cold cell that night.
And she wasn’t alone.
And tonight, she misses her family.
This article can be found at Damian’s website.
© Damian Goddard. All Rights Reserved.