If we listen to American pop culture, we’d think that women over 40 should never leave the house unless they’re going for Botox injections. Over 50, and they’d better just stay inside and play pinochle. And by retirement age, women are only good for baking cookies and fixing grandchildren’s boo-boos.
And, if they’re not good-looking and fashionably turned out, they’re hardly worth noticing at all.
But EWTN foundress Mother Angelica didn’t even start broadcasting from a converted garage in Birmingham, Alabama, until 1981, when she was 58 years old. Over the next 20 years, this unheralded female media pioneer created a worldwide satellite, cable-TV, radio and Internet network, and may have become the greatest American evangelist since Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
After a stroke in 2001, she spent the next 15 years living in the cloistered Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, until her death on March 27, Easter Sunday, 2016, a little less than a month short of her 93rd birthday.
On May 17, “Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence” was published, written by EWTN news director Raymond Arroyo, chronicling her final years, when illness robbed her of her ability to walk and even to talk. But, he argues, it may have been the most consequential time of her life.
“At the core,” he said in a telephone interview, “I’ll tell you why this book is important. It’s hope to people at the end of their journey, and hope to people who are contending with the end of life. It often doesn’t make sense to them.. They see their loved ones suffering. In Mother’s case, you get to see in real time people who were touched by her suffering and oblation and prayer in those last 15 years, because I received hundreds of letters from these people, from all over the world, who were just discovering her in 2004 and 2016, when she dies. They didn’t know her before then.
“What you realize is — and it’s the economy of God — she reached more people in the last 15 years of her life, when she was off the air, confined to a corner room, unable to walk on her own, than at any point during her 20-year broadcasting career.
“Because of the growth of her network — which grew by leaps and bounds — and the ubiquity of the biography and all the books I edited for the monastery, her thoughts and words reached people far beyond anything that happened during her public career.
“That is extraordinary, and only God could engineer something like that.”
One reason that Mother Angelica had the impact that she did, was that she seemed to have an utter fearlessness when dealing with the Church hierarchy and the outside world. She was a loyal daughter of the Church, but also fiercely loyal to her spiritual spouse, Christ, and to the Church’s orthodox teachings. Mother Angelica was never afraid to call out those who professed the Faith but acted otherwise. But, no one would have listened to her had she exhibited the same hypocrisy.
At the same time, she gave personal witness to the sacrificial aspect of suffering.
“Mother Angelica was the whole package,” said Arroyo. “She lived the Faith that she proclaimed; she didn’t just proclaim it. I loved that about her. Right up until the end, Mother’s whole life, her whole public career, she taught people the value of pain and suffering.
“The woman had a spinal problem. She had a lame leg; she had asthma; she had a bloated heart; she had diabetes. The woman had every problem known to man throughout her life, and she constantly talked about the value of pain and suffering. If it’s offered up to God, can bring incredible good and do incredible good and benefit others you’ve never known — if you’re willing to offer it up, and you do it intentionally.
“Here you have her at the end of her years, the last 15 years of her life, she fully embraces that idea. She shows you what it looks like. It’s ‘Her Grand Silence.’ It could have been called ‘Her Last Pronouncement,’ because, in many ways, her life boldly proclaims that notion that you can offer up your own suffering for others, and that it does incredible good.
“Not only does it save your own soul, but it saves countless others around you. There’s meaning in all that suffering. There’s meaning in all of that pain. Ultimately, that’s consoling to people going through similar situations.”
Of course, not everyone is going to live out their destiny in the public eye, or have books written about them after they die. But, perhaps some people do so that we all can learn that we are not alone in our experiences.
Said Arroyo, “Mother took me into her confidence. I love the first biography, because it gives you an amazing fly-over of this woman, abandoned by her father, barely making it out of high school, rejected by so many people in her life. This disabled nun — yet, this is the instrument that God uses to build the largest religious cable network on the planet. It defies description.
“That journey is an important one, but this journey [in the new book] is the one that everybody can relate to. We’re not all going to see angels. We’re not all going build cable networks. We will all get sick; and we will all die. This story bespeaks the hope on the far side of that suffering as only Mother could present it and teach it.”
Image: Courtesy Image Catholic Books