Michael Gaynor
September 22, 2005
A book for our times: Mother Angelica
By Michael Gaynor

MOTHER ANGELICA: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, released on September 6, 2005, is the definitive biography of the remarkable nun who founded EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the world's largest religious media conglomerate, now in its twenty-fifth year.

The author is Raymond Arroyo, EWTN's News Director, lead anchor and host of "The World Over," EWTN's weekly one-hour news and interview program.

Mr. Arroyo's first book, it is an unauthorized biography with which Mother Angelica fully cooperated. Mr. Arroyo worked on it over five years and completed his interviews with Mother Angelica shortly before the stroke that incapacitated her and "sealed her memory," as Mr. Arroyo put it.

The book is very easy to read and well worth reading. It captivates a reader, much like Mother Angelica captivated Mr. Arroyo himself when he went to interview her for a magazine article he had been assigned to write and she decided to recruit him. It not only offers hope, which is especially needed now, but explains what can be accomplished by a woman without money or a plan who chooses to devote her life to God after being born in a slum to a father who did not want and abandoned her and an unstable and needy mother who effectively made Mother Angelica her own mother before Mother Angelica reached her teens. Mother Angelica's many fans will delight in the details of how Mother Angelica overcame formidable obstacles, especially during the nearly quarter of a century since her prior biography was published. People unfamiliar with Mother Angelica will discover that her story deserves to be told. And Mother Angelica's enemies will regret that Mother Angelica will continue to be a formidable force for good forever, thanks in part to the book, if not their sins.

For a native of New Orleans who escaped with his family before their home drowned during Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Arroyo surely knows that bad things happen to good people and the Lord works in mysterious ways. Those are lessons that Mr. Arroyo teaches in what the late Pope John Paul the Great's brilliant biographer, George Weigel, called "[a] rattling good story of fear, faith, courage, and bulldog tenacity, beautifully told." For the incredibly inspiring story of Mother Angelica is compelling evidence of those truths.

In addition to relating Mother Angelica's troubled childhood and how and why she built a church "in the South" and founded the world's largest religious television empire, Mr. Arroyo presents the essence of Mother Angelica, a heard-headed, but soft-hearted woman who could not be dissuaded from doing what she thought God wanted her to do, no matter how impossible it seemed or how politically incorrect it was.

In Chapter 16, titled "Hammer of the Heretics" (a reference to Mother Angelica), Mr, Arroyo related that "[d]uring a live show in January 1995, Mother Angelica attributed all her accomplishments to the 'foundation of pain' God had laid in her life 'because that's how God works.'" As Mother Angelica simply put it: "See, it sometimes takes more than prayer...It takes great suffering."

A reader will find hope, comfort and wisdom while reading this unique biography, which is 366 pages, including footnotes, but not counting the contents page, the introduction, the acknowledgements or the index. Or this opening quotation from 1 Corinthians 1:27: "But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong."

Mr. Arroyo delights in reporting the epic battle between the feisty, physically handicapped little nun, a bride of Christ who would not tolerate any disrespect of her Spouse, real or imagined, and the powerful Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a prince of the Church who discovered that Mother Angelica would prostrate herself before God, but not bow to him.

The bookmark that came with the book included this Mother Angelica quote: "Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous." It was fascinating to read how Mother Angelica did "the riduclous" resist a wrathful Cardinal and God apparently confirmed the rightness of her implacable resolve by doing the miraculous. On November 12, 1997, on her live show on EWTN, Mother Angelica, believing after browsing one of hsis pastoral letters that Cardinal Mahoney did not fully embrace the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that consecration literally transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ), commented: "In fact the cardinal of California is teaching that's its bread and wine before the Eucharist and after the Eucharist. I'm afraid my obedience in that diocese would be absolutely zero. And I hope everybody else's in that diocese is zero."

The same Cardinal Mahony who was refusing to enforce Canon 915, which prohibits the distribution of Communion to "[t]hose... who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" and who would invite Senator John Kerry, the presidential candidate of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, to receive Communion in 2004, was not only demanding an apology, but familiar with Canon 1373 (which forbids individuals from inciting disobedience against the Pope or bishops), and eventually determined to figuratively bludgeon Mother Angelica into reciting a formal apology four times (as though she was reciting the "Hail Mary" as penance) and utterly frustrated by his failure to do so.

Mother Angelica had read a long pastoral letter by Cardinal Mahony that she evidently found confused, in part because she was not a footnote reader and mostly because it was poorly written. She seemed to anger the Cardinal in a way that tens of millions of abortions had not, by deeming him unworthy of obedience. And he immediately demanded a formal retraction.

Mr. Arroyo opined that Mother Angelica believed that she "had to step up and defend the teaching of the Church" and personally attested that she said at the time: "I have to say what I believe, and I can't back down. What's the worst they can do to me, send me back to my monastery?"

On November 18, 1997, Mother Angelica returned to the air to provide what she considered an appropriate apology and clarification. She read excerpts from his complaint to her and responded: "So, I do want to apologize to the cardinal for my remark, which I'm sure seemed excessive. But he's asked me for a clarification. And this is what I would like to do this evening. This is my opinion and this is how I saw it when I read it."

Mother Angelica's opinion: "It is very confusing to people when leaders seem to ignore the real problems in the Church that need to be addressed, seem to tolerate and encourage liturgical fuzziness and practices that don't, to me, show or manifest the holiness of the Sacrifice of the Mass."

Mother Angelica's conclusion: "His Eminence asked for a public clarification. And I want to say to him I don't mean to cause you any problem. I don't mean to deny the Church or cause anything. I'm just confused, because I don't understand. I'm not here to correct anybody.... I'm not here to teach in place of anybody either. I know my place and I try to keep it. But it is my duty, because the Lord has asked me to enlighten the people, not to give them my ideas and theories but just to say, Here, this is what the Church teaches....I hope I satisfied the cardinal's request. I will pray for him, and I hope he will pray for me. So Your Eminence, if I have mistaken your letter I'm very sorry, but I still find it confusing...."

After Mother Angelica finished her show, which was mostly a devastating point-by-point critique of that pastoral letter, "the Cardinal from California" probably wished he had not written it and had ignored her. But he was angry and insisting on another apology and hoping to silence her, if he could not cow her.

Mother Angelica was uncowable. She refused to surrender her principles. Her attitude: "I couldn't walk into that chapel and face the Lord if I gave in just because he's a cardinal. I can't."

Her bishop would not order her to do so, much to Cardinal Mahony's consternation. New York's Cardinal O'Connor told her in person that she "must" placate Cardinal Mahoney, "beating a tabletop" for emphasis. But Mother Angelica's loyalty to a Higher Authority was steadfast. And the Vatican, where the late Pope John Paul the Great and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict XVI resided, declined to silence Mother Angelica. Because, in the words of an elderly curial cardinal quoted by Mr. Arroyo, "Mother Angelica has the guts to tell him [Cardinal Mahoney] what we do not."

God must have been pleased with Mother Angelica's adamant refusal to swallow and regurgitate Cardinal Mahony's baloney, for Mother Angelica received a healing while Cardinal Mahony was still squealing. See pages 270-74.

In short, as Mr. Arroyo put it, "the legs she had not commanded for forty-two years...walked the length of the studio." And, as Mr. Arroyo explains in detail, "[t]hree physicians who independently examined Mother Angelica...insist that the healing of her legs was anything but fake."

Read and decide for yourself. The list price is US $23.95, but the book is available for less at Amazon.com.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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