The Relevant Mother Angelica

Interview With EWTN's Raymond Arroyo

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Mother Angelica remains relevant to people because they can't turn away from her directness, her passion and her lovable humor, says friend and biographer Raymond Arroyo.



Arroyo, director of EWTNews and host of "The World Over," is the author and editor of two books on the woman religious. "Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles" was a New York Times best-seller and has recently been translated into Spanish.

He is also the editor of the recently released "Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality." It is a collection of the nun's unpublished private lessons and prayers.

In this interview with ZENIT, Arroyo discusses the life of the cloistered nun, and what lead to her success in the global world of television and radio.

Q: Has the popularity of your books on Mother Angelica surprised you?

Arroyo: No, I can't say that it has. Mother is one of those beloved figures in the Church who resonates with people around the world.

Much like Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa, Mother Angelica has touched people by her witness. But unlike those iconic figures, Mother comes into people's homes each day.

For decades she has brought them hope in those moments of despair or confusion -- and that leaves an incredible impact. She is truly a spiritual mother to millions.

I think that the biography of Mother Angelica helped the public see the personal side of this woman of faith -- and to appreciate her great sacrifices and daring. It's also a heck of a story.

The recent collection of her unpublished teachings and advice, "Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality," has given people an opportunity to profit from Mother's personal philosophy and practical spirituality. The mail I've received from readers is truly remarkable.

Q: Mother Angelica is not a stereotypical nun and your biography makes this clear. In what ways do you think her particular feminine genius can inspire others?

Arroyo: Mother is definitely not a stereotypical nun. She appears stereotypical, but beneath the habit is this gutsy, determined woman who wields an incredible faith.

Her feminine genius resides just there I think: in her radical faith, in her abandonment to God's will in the present moment. Additionally, she had an intuition that allowed her to see events as they were and to follow her heart and God, always.

We need that feminine aspect in the Church today. Mother used to say that the faith had become too "heady," too theoretical. And I think she is right.

In the new book she says, "Most people today are seeking master's degrees, then they forget the Master." She never forgot her Master.

Isn't it curious that some of the same people who were the most outspoken advocates of "women's power" in the Church, were the first ones trying to shove Mother Angelica back into the cloister once she appeared on the scene?

The idea of an orthodox, faithful woman leading people to Christ was a threat somehow. It shouldn't have been. Time has shown that it was actually a blessing.

Q: How would you describe Mother Angelica's spirituality?

Arroyo: Mother described her approach as "nitty-gritty," "sock-it-to-'em" spirituality.

Her style was always very practical, and easily applicable to the lives of her listeners. She grew up on the streets of Canton, Ohio, among poor, working class immigrants.

Those are the people she attempted to reach, whether in person or on television. But buried in her funny, earthy approach was always the profound wisdom of the Church.

She used to say, "If you have two legs and you're breathing --you're called to holiness, sweetheart." And people believed her. She didn't teach theology, she taught people to be more like her Spouse.

She held that living example of Jesus up for the world to see and dared all comers to try to match it. The reason she remains relevant is that people can't turn away from her directness, her passion and her lovable humor.

I mean, how many nuns do people know who describe the eternal judgment to intimates this way: "Everyone drags his own carcass to market, so be careful."

Q: What do you think was Mother Angelica's most significant contribution to Catholic television and to Catholic media, in general?

Arroyo: Global Catholic media is Mother's great contribution to the Church. Before her there was no readily available Catholic network in the United States or anywhere else -- and after her there is much talk and a lot of public relations, but nothing with the reach of her enterprise.

Mother Angelica is the first woman, never mind nun, in the history of broadcasting to found a nonprofit cable network, and the only religious to ever do so.

The Eternal Word Television Network is now seen in more than 140 million households around the world, heard on over 100 AM/FM stations in the United States, on its own shortwave radio network, and on a stand-alone Sirius channel.

Pretty good work for a crippled, cloistered nun with only a high school degree and innumerable physical ailments. Her whole life is a witness to the power of faith and to what she tagged the "theology of risk."

Q: What has been the most profound lesson you've learned from Mother Angelica?

Arroyo: For years, Mother had been urging me, and her legions of viewers, to live in the "present moment."

The week before the biography was published in 2005, Hurricane Katrina took our home and evicted my family and me from New Orleans.

We didn't know where we were going to live, where we were going to send the kids to school, where our friends were. And yet there was this sense that this was part of God's plan for us.

Mother often says that "most people live in the past or in the future." We fret about the things we can't control or stew over things long gone. In doing so we are not at "home in the present moment."

I once asked Mother to describe the present moment for me, and she said: "We have to ask God, 'What are you calling me to do, right now in this present moment?' Not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now. God's will is manifested to us in the duties and the experiences of the present moment. We have only to accept them and try to be like Jesus in them."

This living in the present moment kept Mother attuned to the desires of God throughout the day and attentive to what he expected of her moment by moment.

The teaching became a great consolation to my family and myself after Katrina, and I continue to practice it even now. Three weeks after we lost the house, I became the only homeless author on the New York Times best-seller list.

The present moment is funny that way.

Q: What do you anticipate happening in the future of Catholic media? Will it continue to grow as it has under Mother's watch?

Arroyo: All of Mother's efforts were rooted in her prayer life. She didn't play a nun on television; she was a nun.

If Catholic media efforts are to thrive in the future, they must find their sustenance in prayer. They must also be attentive to the needs of their audience in this "present moment."

Mother reached people where they were and translated the timeless teachings of the Church into an idiom and a format that could reach a contemporary audience. If others can follow her example, they will flourish.

There is whole chapter on "Embracing Inspiration and Risk" in the new book. In it Mother says: "Never put a lid on God. … Your plans, your projects, your dreams always have to be bigger than you are so God has room to operate. Nothing is too much for the Lord to do -- accent on the 'the Lord!'"

Given the culture we find ourselves in today, and the anemic Catholic efforts out there, there is little time to waste. Mother would say: "Get cracking."