Mother Angelica: Silence, Action and Grace
“The richest part of her life, maybe the most important, happened hidden away in silence, in a corner room in Hanceville, Alabama, when she could not feed herself, she could not move on her own, she could not get out of bed. That’s when, I think, she did her greatest work.”
Raymond Arroyo was talking to me about Mother Angelica, his friend, mentor and subject of a series of books about her life and prayer. His most recent is Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence, about her final bed-ridden years.
Mother Angelica was the founder of the global Catholic network EWTN. She spent hours on air, talking, conversing, teaching and listening — including taking questions from the audience and callers in her Birmingham studio. Hers was a defy-the-odds kind of story on many fronts, starting with the tough circumstances of her early life: She grew up with a struggling single mother and faced frequent health problems. But there was healing, grace and gratitude, leading her to take many “risks for God,” as Arroyo puts it.
In his latest book about Mother Angelica, Arroyo writes with the love of a son and the precision of a biographer, assuring that nothing essential gets lost to history. And while his subject had a worldwide influence, in many ways he simply tells the story of the Christian way of life and the difference it can make to individuals and the world.
Have we lost the ability to reflect? To be quiet? To hold back a thought for consideration?
“Mother famously said, ‘Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air and a queasy feeling in the stomach.’ She knew that feeling all too well,” Arroyo says. He tells how she “(deserted) her mother, Mae, to join a Cleveland monastery at the age of 21, (and built) a television network with no funds in the woods of Alabama.” She acted on her faith “in such a way that the fruits of her efforts became manifest to all. Hers was a gutsy faith.” And he writes about her final years, years that were hidden from the world, when she was left largely silent by a stroke. But her faith was nothing less than it ever was, Arroyo testifies.
He quotes from a 2012 World Communications Day message from Pope Benedict XVI:
It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety and suffering can all be communicated in silence — indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression.
It can’t be an accident or coincidence that a women who was so well known as a talker would deliver a final witness about silence.
We have a president-elect who tweets in the middle of the night. That’s a prompt to every one of us who finds ourselves wondering where the last hour went when we were checking Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat or whatever the kids of all ages are using today.
Have we lost the ability to reflect? To be quiet? To hold back a thought for consideration? Can we be alone with ourselves and our God? Can we encounter people again when we are with them, or even go out to visit them? Donald Trump may just make America great again, as he says, in unintentional ways: by prompting us to reflect on how we got to reality TV America and how to back away from it; by inspiring us to visit the poor and needy, no matter how old or irritable or inconvenient. If you see a need that cries out to be filled, go do something about it. Take the first step, Arroyo remembers Mother Angelica frequently saying. Even when you don’t see the next step, even when you don’t see the full plan, you must move if you feel a call.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].
COPYRIGHT 2016 United Feature Syndicate