Sunday, December 04, 2005

"Sometimes we must do the ridiculous so that God can do the miraculous."

Anyone who still believes that the Catholic Church holds women down and doesn't allow them to reach their full potential needs to read this book.

Most Catholics have at least heard of Mother Angelica, the feisty cloistered nun who founded EWTN, the global Catholic television network. What most people don't know is the incredible litany of trials, difficulties, near financial ruin, and near-death experiences she overcame, through the grace of God, in order to do what most considered impossible. In her own words, "Sometimes we must do the ridiculous so that God can do the miraculous."

And indeed, what Mother has accomplished in her lifetime would be, according to convention wisdom, ridiculous. The child of a broken home, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Canton, OH, Mother Angelica heard the call of Almighty God after receiving a miraculous cure of a chronic stomach ailment through the prayers of a mystic named Rhoda Wise. From such humble beginnings, Mother joined the Poor Clares of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative order, and by a combination of inspiration, pluck, and tenacity, became the foundress of a new monastery in Birmingham, AL. While building her monastery, Mother became aware of the awesome power of television to bring the word of Christ to large numbers of people. When shown a television studio in Chicago in the late 1970s, Mother reportedly said, "I've got to have one of these." Twenty years later, she was running a Catholic cable network that reached millions upon millions of households across the globe-as well as a short-wave radio network. At the same time, Mother was also the hostess of one of the most popular programs on her TV network.

Though she started out as a thoroughly "progressive" nun, fully engaged in the deep changes brought about by Vatican II, Mother soon became disillusioned with the "Spirit of Vatican II" which went far beyond the original intent of the Council. What seemed to finally drive her over the edge was the faddish mania for "gender inclusive" translation in prayers, liturgy, and even sacred scripture. When, as part of the Pope's visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, EWTN was duped into airing a Way of the Cross procession-done in mime with a woman playing the part of Jesus-Mother had finally had enough. On her live program the next night, she issued a passionate denunciation of the event, saying, "I'm so tired of you, liberal church in America....You don't have vocations and you don't even care-your whole purpose is to destroy."

This event was not Mother Angelica's first tussle with Catholic hierarchy in America, but it made her a marked woman. From that point on, Mother was in the sights of certain American bishops who were keen to either drive her off the air, or take over the network she had built outright. However, she had powerful allies on her side, both in Rome, and in America. Her salvoes against the liberal dominated National Council of Catholic Bishops made her an instant heroine to the most devout Catholic laity. Meanwhile, she received encouragement from none other than Pope John Paul II himself.

The truth of the matter, as is plain to see, is that EWTN has survived and thrived despite the actions of some of the most liberal American bishops. Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles comes out looking particularly petty and vindictive in this book during his incessant attempts to extract an on-air apology from Mother for basically calling one of his teaching documents heretical and encouraging her viewers not to listen to him. While Mother's offense may have stepped over the line in terms of the obedience Catholics owe to their bishops, many felt that her criticism was valid and a long-time coming.

Written by Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN's news magazine program, The World Over, Live, "Mother Angelica" pulls few punches and is an inspiring and loving examination of the life, warts and all, of one of the truly great women in Catholic history. It is highly recommended to anyone who truly believes that through faith in God, men and women can move mountains.

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