Note: This is another old review I wrote for Amazon, when I had never seen EWTN at all. I was impressed even though I still had a somewhat liberal Catholic persuasion back then. I have edited it a little and will add an afterword of sorts – in the comments section.
At the end of this remarkably interesting book, Raymond Arroyo offers two testimonies to the work of Mother Angelica – the founder of EWTN – the Eternal World Television Network, or the “world’s largest religious media empire” as the book’s dustjacket describes it.
The first testimony comes from Father Richard John Neuhaus who has said “The greatest thing John Paul II did was constructing and putting in place the authoritative interpretation of Vatican II. And though we are still in a state of confusion and enormous damage, I think one can say the tide has turned, and Mother Angelica played a significant part in that.”
The second is from Arroyo’s own pen, “More than preaching at them, Mother gave her flock things to do. She used television to teach and popularize pious devotions thought lost to modernity.
It can be safely said that no one in America, and perhaps in the world did more than Mother Angelica to perpetuate and stoke interest in the Rosary, Eucharistic adoration, Latin in the liturgy, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, litanies and traditional prayers.”
Thus, what is apparently bound up with Mother Angelica’s life mission is a remarkable worldwide ‘turning of the tide’, whereby much of the post-Vatican II spirit that threatened to wash away so very, very much of the Catholic Tradition has been perhaps decisively checked.
Mother Angelica’s life mission … this fascinating account, details her remarkable life, from her miserable childhood in an Ohio slum, to the miraculous encounter with a stigmatic, which inexplicably healed her from a severe medical condition and led to her vocation … and onwards through an intensely dedicated religious life, lived out amidst an ongoing series of seeming miracles – all of which eventually led to founding the ‘world’s largest religious media empire’.
With nothing to her name, but two hundred dollars and faith in God.
Arroyo is a good storyteller, telling a truly riveting story. This is thus a fascinating book that appeals on many levels simultaneously.
But for me, the most important level of all – was the way in which the book testifies to what Neuhaus calls a ‘turning of the tide’, whereby a post-Vatican II trajectory that seemed headed towards a very largely Protestantised, even secularised Roman Church was halted.
The Grassroots Return to Catholic Tradition
Halted, not so much from so called “heavy-handed Vatican authoritarianism” as many of a liberal persuasion claim, but from the grassroots, grassroots which testify to the fact that Catholics the world over love and revere the practice and tradition of the Catholic Mystery.
I came to this book, never having seen Mother Angelica or EWTN at all – being a traditional Catholic, but also without being plugged into television for many years.
I also came with a certain caution about fundamentalism. Although I consider myself traditional, I make a profound distinction – too often lost, alas! – between traditionalism and fundamentalism.
There is not scope here to adequately deal with this distinction. But fundamentalism might be said to involve an inflexible insistence on literalism. Also, in this context, reflection on the words of John Paul may be suggestive of much. “Fidelity to roots” John Paul said, is not “a mechanical copying of the past. Fidelity to roots is always creative.” Thus, John Paul stood for fidelity to the Church’s tradition. But he was neither a literalist, nor of a static persuasion.
A true tradition then, is not dead and without development, but living and evolving …
I am a traditional Catholic therefore, who is concerned about the ways in which fundamentalism can sometimes manifest – for example, a lamentable capacity for invective and polemic (which, I hasten to add, seems every bit as tragically evident in the Church’s liberal wing).
Having completed Arroyo’s remarkable tale, I cannot say I am an uncritical admirer of every aspect to Mother Angelica’s ministry.
But then, each of us is profoundly fallen, filled with shadow. And attributing a pure, unfallen quality to any human being – save our Lord and our Lady – is hardly Catholic.
As with even the best of us, all-too-human motives sometimes are no doubt at work with Mother Angelica – along with it seems clear, genuine inspiration and even divine intervention.
In the mixture of shadows and light in Mother’s ministry, I found myself with profound questions, concerning the working of Grace and Providence, through limited human beings and even through sometimes narrow human agendas.
Yet whatever human failings may inevitably be at work in the story of EWTN, I find it hard not to conclude that the Angels profoundly recognised Mother Angelica’s tenacity, sincerity and total commitment to her sense of God’s calling.
And also hard not to feel that the spiritual world met her dedication, with a parallel response.
And the result of this lifelong story of faith, total commitment, apparent miracles and providence?
The result certainly appears to be exactly what Father Neuhaus has intimated, a PROFOUND CONTRIBUTION to Bl. John Paul II’s campaign to save the Church from the worst, most reductionist excesses of Vatican II.
This book I suspect will mainly be read by the legions of Mother Angelica’s adoring fans.
But I wish I could convince some of my more liberally minded friends to honestly confront Mother’s story and honestly ask themselves: What is GOING ON behind the appearance of continuous, sustained providence and continuous miracles, that are clearly in evidence here, leading to such dramatic and improbable, yes, completely improbable success?
Whatever fallen human agendas may be inevitably present here, this book is also a testament to Mystery and Miracles, and to a woman very evidently filled with faith, courage, sincerity and tenacity.
For that, and many other reasons besides, it both deserves and rewards careful attention.
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