Remembering Mother Angelica

I had the honor and the pleasure of editing the first “major” book by Mother Angelica (written with Christine Allison), called Mother Angelica’s Answers Not Promises (1987). I was an editor at Harper & Row Publishers (now HarperCollins) at the time. It was the only Catholic book I did while at the company, because another division, Harper San Francisco, was supposed to handle such books. In this case, however, the agent thought the “liberationist” orientation out on the Left Coast was wrong for Mother, whereas I – one of the few conservative Catholics in New York publishing – was the right man for the job.

I spent a few happy days with Mother in Irondale, Alabama, and later we had some lovely, early morning phone conversations together: she at her monastery and I in my New York office. Those talks were supposed to be about the book, but they were mostly about my life in Christ.

In those days I was an early riser and would get into the office in Midtown Manhattan ahead of everybody else – I’m talking before 7AM – and Mother Angelica knew this and would call to chat.

“Tell me what you’re doing now, Brad.”

“Having my fourth cup of coffee.”

She’d ask about my wife (pregnant for the first time), she wanted to know what other book projects I was working on, and she was fascinated by the range of subjects we covered: from biography to sailing to politics, and whatever else we thought we could sell. But she was also concerned about the troubles I was having convincing my colleagues that political discourse should also include conservatism.

I told her that every conservative book I proposed got the same response: “We want to do conservative books, Brad, but not this one. . .”

Rita Antoinette Rizzo was a tough-minded, saintly woman. We hit it off from the start, in part because we were both Buckeyes by birth. The best Midwesterners are straightforward folks who know how to work hard, and she certainly learned that lesson early on.

“Be persistent,” she advised.

She sure was, although it was never, ever apparent to me exactly how this little woman managed to build the world’s largest Catholic television network. Hard work and persistence were certainly part of it, but the globe – which the Eternal Word Television Network now covers – is fairly littered with the “remains” of people and enterprises that tried their best and worked their hardest.

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So I was (and remain) convinced that angels guided this woman. She had the same conviction, which is why she named her monastery Our Lady of the Angels. How else could she go from day to day, month to month, year after year, and decade after decade never knowing if her apostolate would survive let alone thrive?

But what I remember most was a conversation I had with her at the monastery – the last face-to-face meeting we had. It was just Mother and me. She held my hand, and for the umpteenth time, it seemed, she wanted to know how I was doing. Now I don’t suppose she thought of me all that often, but she was the sort of person (and I think this is a characteristic of saintly people) who was completely focused on you when you were in her thoughts or sitting next to her on a sofa, as I was at that moment.

“What troubles you out there?” she asked, meaning the world out there.

I shrugged.

“Sex,” I admitted.

She nodded. Adultery wasn’t my problem, she understood, just the pervasiveness of sexual imagery in American life: the constant barrage of various media proclaiming vice as virtue.

“It’s not easy being a man, is it?”

I allowed as how I had no basis for comparison, but also that I didn’t think it was so hard being a man that a fellow couldn’t do it right if he prayed hard.

“You should write a book about that,” she said, and a dozen years later I did.

One of the sisters entered the room we were in to say that the taxi had arrived to take me to the airport, and I should get a move on, because my plane was leaving in less than an hour.

But Mother said: “Wait a little while yet.”

I’m not going to quote her exactly, because what then passed between us was just between us, but she told me that nothing would ever be more important to my salvation than the sanctity of my marriage. Her experience as a child of divorce gave her special sensitivity and insight into the beauty of lifelong marriage and its ineffable benefits for husband, wife, and children.

And I got to the airport late, although the plane was delayed, and this was in the days when (and in a place where) they had no problem opening the cabin door to let a late arriver board.

The gate agent said: “Rough day?”

“No,” I said, “it’s been a great day – that’s why I’m late. I am stressed though, because I was sure I’d missed the flight.”

“I know just the thing for that,” she said, and bumped me up to first class.

And on the very relaxing fight to LaGuardia I thought about what Mother Angelica had told me. I had been utterly serious three years earlier in vowing fidelity to my bride, but now I felt a deepening conviction: not just till death, but that death is preferable to divorce.

For that and much more, Mother, I thank you.

 

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Note: Mother Angelica’s Answers Not Promises will be reissued in a new edition by EWTN in June.

Brad Miner

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. The Compleat Gentleman, is available on audio.

  • Michael Dowd

    Brad, good to hear you got and lived Mother’s message. Unfortunate for her and for us she was shut down by some Bishops in the 1990’s for speaking the truth concerning the many failures in the Church following Vatican II including naming names. Now, in heaven, she will have much greater power. So let ask her to help us bring the Catholic Church back from the grip of Protestantism in which it now finds itself.

    • kathleen

      Mother Angelica shut down in the 1990’s??? Mother Angelica continued to speak the Truth, and speak out against error being spread about in the Church until her stroke on Christmas Eve in 2000. That’s my understanding. Let us pray that EWTN continues her mission just as she would have it. Mother Angelica pray for us and pray for the Church.

      • Guest

        Yes, we need to pray for EWTN because there are people right now who do not agree with its mission and who will apply for jobs there in order to change it from within.

        We’ve seen this play run over and over by infiltrators who have no rules for combat.

        • Sheila

          Let us not forget that Mother will be interceding for EWTN alongside Christ now. We must trust and remember even though we cannot see the true battle.

          • Guest

            You are right, Sheila. But I think she grew up with enough Italian Catholic boys like me who will fight for our faith and our country. God bless you for your faith.

    • Sheila

      Yes right now in time for the elections. We can ask her intercessions.

  • Manfred

    This essay should have been titled “Me and Mother”. Mother Angelica was a solid, sounfd Catholic who rose to prominence due to the factt of God’s support for her mission. The American bishops had attempted a television network, but it failed. No viewers.
    In the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross was celebrated with human figures. A woman was chosen to play Christ. Mother went viral and publicly rebuked the bishops for allowing this blasphemy. “Would you ever allow a play with a woman playing Lincoln” was among her softer comments. Abp. Rembert Weakland, who was later discovered to have embezzled $450,000 of Archdiocesan funds to bribe a homosexual lover, was among her strongest critics. She will be sorely missed.
    Thankfully, a lay group at another website (not EWTN) has taken her place, broadcasting orthodoxy to Catholics who are starving for it.

  • Beth

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I will remember it as if she said it to me.

  • Michael DeLorme

    Am in absolute agreement with the insights on sex, marriage and fidelity. Thank God for Mother Angelica; thank you for the story.

    “Where purity is concerned—non datur parvitas materiae—there is no matter that is not considered to be grave.” -St. John Bosco

  • michael ortiz

    Excellent! Deep Catholicity here! Thank you!

  • Charles Adams

    I call Mother Angelica The Rugged Angel she new what the average person was. What I saw from people that new her as plane spoken.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    What impressed me about her was in listening to her speak of her life, early trials was not simply her faith and trust in God’s providence. She had an intimacy in her relationship with God expressed with words to the effect, “Now that I’m here what will you do to help me?” “Well here I am, now what?” “Lord you put me in this spot, can’t you see I need your help!”. That constant exchange evidenced her deep spirituality and love of her Spouse.

    • Sheila

      I am reminded Jesus is my spouse. I needed to hear that today. Thank you Father.

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    A beautiful essay. Thank you for this lovely tribute to a great lady of great faith. And, for your excellent words on marriage and fidelity. You know, I’m certain that those same angels helping Mother Angelica also “held” that plane up for you that day. Smiles.

  • Harry

    If we are willing to do the ridiculous, God will do the miraculous.
    — Mother Angelica

    It was ridiculous in more ways than one can list in a short post for Mother Angelica to think she could launch a Catholic television network without any experience in technology or the funds to do so. But she was in God’s will so the project went forth with God’s power. There is a lesson for us in that: What is in reality merely our own plans go forth with our own power, no matter how well-intentioned our plans may be. God’s plans proceed with His power. Although His plans often require us to do the ridiculous in the eyes of the world, they produce divine results instead of merely human results.

    When we humble ourselves in doing what is absurd according to the world — if that is what God’s plan requires — it becomes evident that it was God Who was behind it all. It has been that way from the beginning of Christianity:

    … it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    — 1 Cor 1 21-25

  • Sheila

    Thank you Mr Miner for your remarkable rememberance of Mother. How blessed you were and still are to have known this saintly and persistently hard-working and suffering woman. I know you will continue to talk to her and thank her personally in your prayers.
    I am reminded of the first time I saw Mother on TV. I was sitting alone in my daughters’s home over 20 years ago and turned on the TV to find this catholic station. There she was… Mother Angelica. I was won over immediately. My story and friendship with Mother stem mainly from the fruit of her hands – EWTN. I knew this broadcast came from God right away and I invited EWTN into my home. I moved a few times and EWTN always had to be on my cable or I would not purchase the packet. I had to have it. How many countless times I’d turn on EWTN and hear God speaking to me, no matter the hour. Or if I was sick and couldn’t go to Mass. As for the news, I am a newshound, but I can only trust EWTN’s news. When I could not sleep I’d get up and go straight for the TV and turn on….. EWTN. It triggered deep prayer, weeping and repentence. My deepest prayers are for families, esp. for the children who get so terribly hurt. The innocents. I know Christ loves them so and wants us to reach out for Him. My love for the Pro Life movement was birthed thru EWTN. The selfish sins I struggle to lay down…well you know, Mother and EWTN. Looking to Christ’s and Mother’s sufferings, I am learning to accept my own sufferings and offer them back to God thru our crucified Christ. It is amazing how this works. The pain becomes a joy at times. At other times it is a tough go. But I am learning to embrace it. Mother knew this only too well. I am never disappointed as I listen to what God needs me to hear from the “miracle” network. Mother allowed God (through all her sufferings) to work thru her and bring so many together thru EWTN to help and talk to all of us. Mother said “Yes” to her sufferings to God on behalf of so many.
    Thank you dear Mother Angelica. Thank you all at EWTN. Thank you Mr Miner for sharing your own journey with Mother (as sensitive as it was) and EWTN with us. It will surely minister to God’s intended ones. And for your love and respect for Mother.

  • ThirstforTruth

    One of the best testimonies I have ever read concerning God’s Providence through His angels and saints….and certainly, Mother Angelica, was/is one of them. God rest her soul…and allow
    her to continue to spread His grace from Heaven.

  • Dave

    What impressed me most about Mother was her willingness to stand up for the Truth and not to be bullied by the bishops who wouldn’t.

  • Because I know what kind of trolls this topic will bring:
    There is nothing wrong with any marriage that divorce cannot make worse. It does not matter what abuse you think you are going through now- it does not even matter if your spouse has gone insane with adultery, spouse beating, or child beating. Your ability to make the situation better *depends* upon staying married, even if you are separated for a time. If you stay married, you have the option as next of kin of getting the other person the help they need to be better. If you divorce, that’s all out the window, and now your family will have to maintain two households.

  • DianeVa

    Thank you for this beautiful testimony showing the power of encounter which we applaud in Pope Francis and yet was present in Mother Angelica years before we knew Francis; both of which of course flows from the fountain of Christ’s Mercy. I am always amazed to watch how God works in and through each of us if we give Him permission.

    • JaneSeymour

      I think you are wrong to suppose that Mother Angelica expressed mercy when she encountered sin as Francis does. I heard her many times to say that love requires to confront sinners so they may repent and be saved. She always condemned false compassion.

      • GaryLockhart

        Mother heeded the words of Christ, unlike the current Pontiff who apparently has skipped quite a bit of Scripture. Mother Angelica was more of a theologian than Pope Francis could ever hope to be.

        “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Luke 12:57

  • John Hinshaw

    Yes and thank you, Mr. Miner for saying what I discovered several years into my marriage of 29 years ago – by all means, death before divorce.

  • Alicia

    The reason for EWTN’s worldwide success ( without commercials, advertising – just donations ) is that people all over are hungry for straight forward honesty. She was authentic, real, never putting on an act or trying to impress people. You could tell she was the real thing.
    She was a wonderful Catholic nun who loved and defended her church and its doctrine without worrying about PC, and was passionately in love with God, Jesus, and Our Blessed Mother , and no apologies about it.
    She talked to them, and about them like no one does and made everyone want to find that same relationship with them.
    I loved how she used to say that it wasn’t easy, and God knew, so we, at least, had to make sure we made it to that amazing, wonderful place called Purgatory, because if you got there, you were on your way to heaven.
    It always impressed me to see her overflowing with the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity and why I pray for these virtues every day.
    She finally met the loves of her life, God, Jesus, and Our Lady in person: face to face. We should be very happy for her.
    Thank you, Mother Angelica, and thank you Mr. Miner for sharing your story.

    • kathleen

      Yes, Mother Angelica was the “real deal”. When I came back to the Church in the 1980’s after being away for too long Mother Angelica and her network, EWTN, helped me on my journey home. At that time God put some very devout Protestants in my path who loved Jesus and His Word, the Bible. We did Bible Study together and I found out when we had sharing time that they loved to watch Mother Angelica on EWTN! Much more so than the parishioners at my local Catholic church. You see, my Protestant brothers and sisters knew that Mother Angelica loved Jesus, that she was real, and that was enough for them. Mother Angelica was a great evangelist. And she will continue to do great things from Heaven – even greater than she did here on earth. Pray for Mother Angelica’s intercession. I have a feeling it is more powerful now than ever.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    As a priest of many years my commitment to Our Lord, a spiritual marriage, is like your marriage under constant assault in the media, the internet, fashions, provocative, licentious behavior that men have never before experienced. Today that conscious daily adherence to vows, while I believe more difficult than ever provides the opportunity for even greater sanctity, and heroic witness to the meaning of love, to Christ. With so many marriage breakups, and clergy laxity in fidelity to their vows this witness to Christ is the most vital in maintaining the Christian family community manifest as the Body of Christ.

    • Dave Fladlien

      For the most part, I’m going to agree with what you say, but first, “…behavior that men have never before experienced.” I don’t mean to single you out, Father, but I hear this a lot, and yet I think if you look back through the press and literature of previous generations, even back into the 19th century, you’ll find that every generation feels this way.

      I think every generation tries to get away with whatever they can. To me what is different in this age isn’t the evils, it is the publicly proclaimed and accepted attitude that those evils are just fine, are normal, are “natural” etc. It used to be that if you lived a licentious life, you had to lie and say you didn’t if you wanted to be accepted in society. Today, if you live a decent and proper life, you have to lie and claim that you don’t if you want social acceptance in a lot of places.

      To me it’s the attitudes, not the behaviors, which have changed. People used to acknowledge what was right and wrong; now they pretend the opposite.

      The clergy and particularly hierarchy lack responsibility, I couldn’t agree with you more; those are a disgrace, but I think it should be noted that they get plenty of help from a “liberal” laity who cheer them on.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Just to burst your bubble Dave, which though as a friend I am wont to do on occasion, never in Christian history have we been impacted with so much direct in your face visuals, suggestive commercials, outright promotion of every form of deviate behavior through multi media, and never in the history of Christianity has there been such widespread abandonment of Christian mores, and emphasis on sensual pleasure as today. I’m not speaking of the Fall of the Roman Empire Dave. I’m referring to what is clearly perceived as the Fall of Christianity. The statistics on marriage breakups, abortions, promiscuous behavior, drug use is insurmountable. Maybe your CA enclave is different, special, immune to reality as it exists everywhere else. Personally I doubt it. It is not how people felt aeons ago. I do agree with your assessment in your last paragraph. The first two are fanciful dreaming out of touch with reality. Forgive me if I’m too harsh here but you need to read this.

        • Lilyw

          I’m a divorced Catholic, and how deeply I regret it. The world you describe so accurately, Father, encouraged my divorce, and I succumbed–in spite of the faith I professed to belong to! When I read that death is preferable to divorce, I agree, and that is a truly frightening truth to accept. But I remain hopeful in Christ. I have been graced with forgiveness and know His love.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            You will be in my prayers during my Masses Lily. In the end love conquer all.

          • Lilyw

            Thank you so much, Father! Such a wonderful gift. I will pray for you, too.

        • Dave Fladlien

          Well, I’ve been trying for a while now to respond to this, and I guess I have to admit that I can’t respond and keep my answer suitable to a Christian publication, so I won’t press the limits by spelling out examples.

          Suffice it to say that I saw most of what is around today, and in some cases worse, in the 60s, even the 50s in some respects (even though I was very young then), than there is today. Yes, some things are more rampant now, but that’s because they are more openly “acceptable” to society now. But it was all there then, evidently you just didn’t see it. I did.

          All that has really changed is that it used to be condemned; now it is approved by society and ignored by the church. Those are the things that are inherently different today; all the rest is just how much of it there is, not whether it is.

          What will change it is some big global event, maybe a massive conversion of hearts, but more likely some crisis or calamity. That will reset everything; then it will start downhill again. That’s history.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            Dave your error is fundamental. You deny that evil can proliferate. You are saying something absurd, which is evil intent, behavior was always there going way back when. We simply “did not see it.” You believe you have the perspicacity to have noticed what others were blind to. Nonsense. That denies the work of grace among God’s people, that goodness the work of grace can prevail, and that persons can indeed in time turn away from God and toward evil. I absolutely dismiss your argument as determinism. That persons were either always evil or always good without possibility of change in either direction. That is precisely what Martin Luther taught.

          • Dave Fladlien

            Father, I don’t know what Martin Luther taught, and frankly I don’t care. I’m not a Lutheran and I’m not considering becoming one. That is totally irrelevant. But since I’m apparently not making my point, I’ll risk being more specific —

            I do know that when I was a little kid I couldn’t go in some professional workshops because there were so many “girlie” pictures on the walls. I was too young to even have that much of a sexual reaction but I knew it was evil. But society didn’t consider it evil, society just considered it “low class”. That was in the late 50s. I do know that in early 1960s “men’s magazines” were becoming so popular that the late great golfer (and Catholic) Tony Lema shocked everyone with a scathing condemnation of those magazines in his book about life on the golf tour. His comments created a bit of an uproar. I do remember clearly older guys talking about casual sex, even wanting this little kid to hear them. And I do remember the really lewd bars and clubs which aren’t even there anymore. And I am not talking about North Beach. It was everywhere. And yes, apparently you didn’t see it. Those are facts, whether you want to recognize it or not.

            A lot of this was long before Roe v. Wade, and before the so-called “sexual revolution”. I know it was all there, I know this is true, I saw it myself.

            And it is also true that in some ways it’s even gotten better now. Thanks to the women’s movement, it is no longer socially acceptable to have naked girls pictures all over the walls at work. People are finally accepting that those are degrading to women. I remember when they didn’t recognize that. And my older friends have told me what they encountered before I was even born. The evil was there then too.

            I don’t know why you are trying to deny reality, but I do know what reality was in the “good old days”. It was the same as it is now, except that it is in the open now, it is socially somewhat “acceptable” now. THAT social acceptance is what has changed, not human behavior. Since most people are ruled by societal norms, not properly-formed conscience, the evil does proliferate. But this is not something new or different that began 50 years ago when the “wonderful” times ended and the “terrible” times began. There were no “wonderful” times.

            What’s new is not there is now lots of evil in the world; there always has been. What is new is that we’ve given up the IDEAL of a virtuous world. We no longer even try for one. That’s the real (and most evil) change.

    • rick

      Adult children add a whole other dimension to what you say, Father. Having friends and neighbors and co-workers, or even siblings and parents, think you’re crazy for what you believe is one thing. Seeing your children having to chose between belief and society’s heterodoxy, including heterodoxy from some quarters of the Church itself, and knowing they stand to suffer for belief far more than we did, ups the stakes dramatically. I’m sure your parishoners are like children to you, and that you know what I mean.

    • Mike Feehan

      Can anyone explain why folks pray the Rosary?? I thought that the Bible said that there was ONE MEDIATOR between God and man, JESUS…So, again, why do you folks pray to Mary?

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Mike Saints are our friends. In this life we need all the real friends we can get, and the Saints are true friends who desire our salvation. They pray and intercede for us as friends would do. Our Lord’s Mother is loved by Him above all others. If she requests a favor from Him on our behalf He will grant it. Remember in the Credo we believe in the Communion of Saints. It is a true family bonded in God’s love. Christ is the One Mediator. The love of God is so great He allows for each of us to participate with Him in the salvation of others. That’s precisely what Moses did in the OT and what priests do today. All the faithful in baptism share in the common priesthood of the faithful and are called to participate with Christ to pray, sacrifice, and suffer for the salvation of others. Pray to Mary and ask that she intercede with her Son for you. You say “you folks” Mike. That says you don’t identify with us. Come back to practice of the True Faith.

      • Anzlyne

        We like to think about His Life, and we think about it with His mother who loves us and loves Him.

      • GaryLockhart

        You can begin by learning what the difference is between a mediator and an intercessor. Until that occurs I’ll intercede on your behalf, as I’m certain many others here will, and pray that the scales fall from your eyes. Let me know when you’re ready for further discussion.

  • Mother Angelica was a very special person. I hope the road for her is sainthood. As far as I can tell she more than deserves it.

  • James Stagg

    Beautiful remembrance, Mr. Miner. Thank you!

  • Robert A Rowland

    A great inspiration for those with chronic suffering.

  • accelerator

    GREAT! So much so I may have to order your book despite the cover! LOL.

  • sanfordandsons

    You are very fortunate to have been the recipient of the wisdom of Mother.

  • JaneSeymour

    I loved many things about Mother Angelica and one of them was the fact that she despised feminism. One of the evils in Western societies is feminism. It is the main reason for divorce, abortion and the high rate of children born to single women. When women put themselves above God and think they own their bodies and should live as they please, then the Devil has won.