An Intercessor for Building the Edifice of Life

Dona Lucilia had an expansive joy in giving. Her delight consisted in seeing the recipient satisfied, even one who had no relationship with her. This distinctive trait caused her to be little understood, but it makes her a very special intercessor in eternity.

There was an aspect of Dona Lucilia’s soul that manifested itself in the following way: Since she had a maternal love that was inclined to embrace an indefinite number of children, if someone came along who was even somewhat good-hearted and of an age to be her child or grandchild, this maternal tendency towards that person would immediately manifest itself.

This aspect, which at different times affected a greater or lesser circles of people, was my mother’s great generosity.

Joy in giving

One has the impression that if she had all the assets of a Rockefeller or a Russian tsar and they let her use them, she would finish with that fortune through her propensity to give, and not just to the needy. Because it was not just a question of finding someone in need and coming to their aid. This, she also did. But it was something different: giving for the joy of seeing someone receive what was appropriate and, beyond this, even what was superfluous, as long as it was not some foolish and senseless exorbitance.

Her delight was to see the recipient’s pleasure and to note how very suitable and fitting the gift was, how well her beneficiary had been taken care of, even if that person had no relationship with her.

If she had the fortune of a Russian tsar, she would soon finish with it through her propensity to give the necessary and even the superfluous

For example, if Dona Lucilia were to find out that there was a rich woman in Greenland who would like very much to show her friends orchids from Brazil, and my mother had the means to send her orchids, without any kind of remuneration – doing business was a possibility that did not even cross her mind – and if this lady were then to write her a letter telling her how pleased she had been, my mother would be overjoyed; she would show the letter to a series of people and comment on it, simply because that woman had been happy with the gift.

Thus, Dona Lucilia was also inclined to give away what was hers, in order to benefit someone who had much more, without thinking: “I will keep this for myself, because she already has enough.” That thought would never cross her mind. Rather, she would think: “It will make her happy; take it.”

It was a tendency of such openness that her kindness shone with a special sort of joy (she was anything but ostentatious) so intense and so luminous that it did me good, – evidently, it would do anyone good to see that kindness – because it gave me a break from what was already plaguing my generation, which is the selfish joy of receiving.

Did she experience joy in receiving? Yes, but much less than the joy of giving. Her joy in receiving was much more for the expression of affection from the giver than for the gift – which is not common today, either. Nowadays, someone who receives something thinks: “You gave this to me, I will hold onto it; now this object is mine.”

She praised her relatives’ children, but never her own

I remember, for example, when I was little – children reflect on things more than they seem to – and she would tell stories to my sister, me and my cousins.

They were retellings of tales by Alexandre Dumas, (with the necessary deletions, naturally), and other things like that. A nephew or niece would ask a question. If, in her eyes, the enquiry revealed a higher degree of intelligence, a more interesting mind-set or, above all, a good soul, her joy was such that you would wonder if it would have been greater if were her own child. She would be so delighted that, after telling the story, she would go into the dining room – in those old houses, they were enormous rooms – and say to everyone:

“Do you want to hear something precious? So-and-so said such-and-such a thing.”

Everyone would laugh. And it was someone else’s daughter…

She would never make this type of calculation: “If this lady praises my children, I will praise her children; if she does not, I will not praise her children.” Because she was virtually incapable of making these petty calculations, she would not have the slightest movement of soul in this direction, just as any good lady (I cannot guarantee anything today, but twenty years ago) would not commit infanticide. It is something that just would not happen.

Thus, I noticed that she was warier of praising her own children than those of others. And she took her delicacy of soul to this point: “If my children have such qualities and I talk about it, others might feel resentful and envious. One day these qualities will emerge; I do not need to speak about them.”

Structure of each biography

How different this was from the ways of the world, even back then! And what exists today is a kind of continuous blasphemy against this state of spirit. For the young people you see on the streets, this does not even come into play. But the time of my youth was perhaps more fiercely selfish.People, then of a much better constitution, not morally but psychologically, suffered less and were much more prey to the illusion that it is possible to build earthly happiness by collecting things around oneself and enjoying them. And the whole lifestyle favoured this.

Within that atmosphere, then, this was Dona Lucilia’s openness soul. If she would have ruined a tsar, imagine her at work before God, if the Creator were not, being infinite, able to withstand the most free-handed court there has ever been, which is the heavenly court, where everyone lives to give and to give to the uttermost!

Dona Lucilia followed people’s lives as if they were stories, with a deep comprehension of the structure of each biography

The act of charity is often thought of like this: someone meets a beggar in the street, gives him some money, the beggar leaves and the act of almsgiving has ceased. Not with her. There was a peculiarity whereby Dona Lucilia followed people’s lives as if they were stories, with the idea of the composition of each individual biography and of a certain meaning that emerged, not just in facts that were particularly significant, because at times they were very trivial facts. That had its own perfume for her.

Dr. Plinio contemplating a picture of Dona Lucilia, in the 1980s

She had a great sense of life. If something was on an upward path, and at a certain point it passed a trial and ascended, she would be very glad to be able to relate this. However, if it fell, she was very keen to draw attention to the reasons for the fall, not just to form people, but contemplatively to see the order of things and how God desired that order.

A faithful wife who suffered great misfortune

Dona Lucilia told the story of a lady from a good and wealthy family whose husband suddenly fell into bad company. He began to spend money uncontrollably; the great fascination of the time was roulette. Furthermore, he fell into adultery. His wife was aware of this and was very upset and angry, but she had no choice but to endure it, with the gentle and sublime passivity of the faithful ladies of that time.

At one point, the man had to sell the house in which they lived to pay off his debts. All he had left was a farm he owned in the countryside. So he went with his wife and children to the countryside to manage the farm and make the most of it in order to pay off his debts.

Life is either a superior dedication, or it is nothing. This was my mother’s distinctive feature, for which she was little understood

After several years, he told his wife:

“We have already saved enough money for me to go to São Paulo to pay off the debts. This raises the prospect that, with more savings, we can buy a house in São Paulo and settle there again.”

She, happy to be able to pay off the debts, went to pack her husband’s suitcase. In the afternoon he left for the city where he was due to take the train to São Paulo the following day.

In the morning, when he was supposed to have taken the train, to her surprise her husband appeared, haggard and dejected. Distressed, she asked:

“Why didn’t you go to São Paulo?”

“Well you see… In the evening they organized a game, and by the morning I had nothing left!”

Next to the house where they were, there was a path amid a grove of trees. She ran off down the path, shouting out loud… She had lost her mind. And it was no wonder!

He took the family to São Paulo, where he got a simple job and “vegetated” with his wife and children. In the meantime, a cancer appeared on his tongue, from which a piece was cut off, but over time the disease attacked his larynx and he eventually died.

This lady remained with her children, but from time to time she had to go to the asylum, where she spent a period of time. Then the doctors would say she was better and tell them to come and get her. She would stay at home for a while and when she felt she was deteriorating, she would let them know:

“Look, I can feel the madness coming back. You had better take me there now before you have to take me by force.”

It was a tragedy.

A suitable intercessor for building the edifice of life

Dona Lucilia would narrate this participating in the drama and seeing the configuration of events, the interplay of life and the action of Providence. She recounted it taking everything that had happened very seriously, emphasizing how badly that man had acted.

I am telling you this to recall how my mother had a sense of the structure of biographies. Now, someone who takes such note of the structure of people’s lives is sensitive to someone who asks her to take care of the structure of their life. It is an in-depth action, aimed at helping the individual to carry the weight of their own construction.

And with the following notion: life is either a superior dedication, or it is nothing. But a dedication to what? That is a question of structure. But life must be a superior dedication. This was Dona Lucilia’s distinguishing feature, and the reason why she was so little understood.

Sometimes people ask me: “What was counter-revolutionary about Dona Lucilia?” First of all, the fact that she was a Catholic, because she was deeply Catholic. But I see more counter-revolution in having a soul like that than in a person with very sound socio-political ideas, but with sink-holes of egoism on which nothing solid can be built. You can see what a suitable intercessor she is for building the edifice of life, because to have formed this is already an edifice.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was certainly the perfect model of this for her. More than the model, He is the source from which flows the ability for people to be this way. Therefore, do you want to be like this? Then contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

However, I repeat, she always felt joy in giving, spontaneously and superabundantly.

A famous doctor touched by Dona Lucilia’s virtue

I will mention another episode, which took place with Dr. August Karl Bier.1 He was an internationally famous doctor and he sent her a photograph of himself in his old age from Germany, after the First World War.

Dr. Bier was very devoted to Dona Lucilia and seemed to have a certain affection for her, even though he was a Protestant. It seems that he was touched by her virtue, as they had a very good relationship.

During the war, relations were cut off between Germany and Brazil, and my mother used to say from time to time:

“And my Dr. Bier! Whatever happened to him?”

As soon as relations could be re-established, she wrote a letter to Dr. Bier, asking how Mrs. Bier and his children were, and if she could help them with anything.

Dr. Bier replied that he was completely deaf because a bomb had exploded near him, rupturing both his eardrums. Despite this limitation, his health was intact. And if she wished to be so kind to him, she could send him a package of coffee, because they did not have any there.

She managed to get a whole sack of coffee – something large and expensive, and difficult to ship – and arranged a way to get it to Dr. Bier, with the kindest possible letter.

So he wrote a letter thanking her, after which the correspondence ended. In fact, after some time she learned that Dr. Bier had died.

A distressed Russian princess asks her advice

Another example: an episode that took place in Paris with a Russian princess, who was staying at the same hotel as us during our trip in 1912.

She was on the same floor as my mother, and they saw each other often, but did not greet one another. At one point, the princess said to my mother, speaking in French:

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was for her the perfect model of this state of spirit, and the source of her capacity to dedicate herself to others

“Madame, please forgive me, but I can see that you are such a good person, so compassionate, that I would like to ask your help.”

But she was crying as she said this. You can immediately imagine my mother’s sympathy, and she asked:

“What is wrong?”

The princess said that a doctor had diagnosed her with cancer and she was desperate. My mother then told her:

“Let us not lose our heads over this. Doctors often make the wrong diagnosis. You should go to this doctor who has an extraordinary reputation for diagnoses. Consult this doctor!”

The princess wept a lot and my mother reassured her, giving her advice and encouraging her to pray. She was very grateful. Shortly afterwards, when it was time for Dona Lucilia to return to Brazil, they both said goodbye, but my mother gave her address to her. After a while, a letter arrived for my mother from the princess, in which the Russian noblewoman said:

“I would like to thank you with all my heart. You cannot imagine what a solution this doctor was for me. He carried out various tests, had X-rays taken and the X-rays completely disproved the Parisian doctor’s diagnosis. I can consider the case resolved thanks to your wonderful intervention…”

Dona Lucilia in Paris, in 1912

Undoubtedly, Dona Lucilia’s communicative kindness had a certain calming effect on her and brought with it a promise of a cure from Providence.

However, this was a case she would not tell anyone about. My mother did not ask me to keep it to myself, but she told me about it at a time when we were talking alone, and she did not have the habit of repeating it. ◊

Taken, with adaptations, from:
Dr. Plinio. São Paulo. Year XXIII.
N.267 (June, 2020); p.6-11



1 The surgeon who operated on Dona Lucilia in 1912, in Germany, to remove her gall bladder, which at the time was a very risky procedure.



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