Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo (Review)


Mother Angelica - EWTN

Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo

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.

Mother Angelica - EWTN

Mother Angelica of EWTN

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.

If you would like to buy this book from Amazon US, or Amazon UK click on the relevant link below:-


From Amazon USA:

These titles can also be found in our Amazon UK Store here. Each title is reviewed at these links: (Windswept House) (The New Faithful) (The Ratzinger Report ) (The Rise of Pope Benedict XVI) (The Splendor of Faith) (Salt of the Earth) (All the Pope’s Men) (Mother Angelica) (Ugly as Sin)

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One Comment

  1. roger
    Posted 27 May 2009 at 13:55 | Permalink

    Afterword 2009: I have not had a copy of this book to look at for years. And as of this writing, I still have never managed to see more than five minutes maximum of EWTN.

    Still I believe in what I wrote in the final line above – that the remarkable story here deserves careful attention.

    How much more true that seems to me, years later! Years later, it is only all the more evident that we are all the poorer for the loss of Catholic Tradition! We are all the poorer for the travesty that the Mass has become in so many, many places. Yes, years of witnessing the modern Mass in numerous countries, Ireland, Spain, France to name a few, has convinced me of this.

    If Mother Angelica’s channel has worked to save the liturgy, for that alone, she deserves profound credit and gratitude.

    To say nothing of the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, et al!

    At the same time, I regret that it is my painful duty, I feel, to remark on something here. Years ago I also published this review at a weblog, where I received a comment from a woman I cannot now trace. She used the nom de plume Mama Pelican. I hope that she will not mind my reproducing some of her comments here:

    “We do not have TV reception at our house but while over my mother’s house I thought I’d check out EWTN while I was watering her plants. The channel in general reminded me of afternoon talk shows with a catholic twist. Little depth, lots of glitz, surface enthusiasm etc..

    As someone who generally expects swill from TV; that is not the avenue that brought me back to the traditions of the church but rather, some beautiful books from the pre-Vatican II era. I enjoy these books, because not only have they brought me to some of the older traditions of church but they are generally free from the political overtones that come with the “conservative” Catholic press.

    … I’ll skip EWTN, Mother Angelica, and Arroyo’s book.

    BTW – the day I did happen to catch EWTN, Arroyo was giving a talk and in it he tried to use Christ’s words “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe, to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” as a justification for the death penalty. Sheesh!”

    May I say here that “Sheesh” is certainly entirely inadequate here! What we have here, if reported accurately, is tragic. If reported accurately, the author of the book above is using the means of a mighty Catholic television network to justify and promote the tragedy of capital punishment – which tragedy is clearly contrary to the doctrine of the Church. If this is indeed true, I believe our Holy Father would be in horror.

    Now Mama Pelican is American I suspect, remarking on American media. And when she speaks of the political overtones that come with “conservative” Catholic media, I cannot help but imagine a certain American – not Catholic – conservatism is being implicated here.

    Yes Mother Angelica, Raymond Arroyo, and EWTN may be products of a kind of American conservatism that promotes the death penalty.

    Regrettable as that is, it needs to be remembered, I believe, that there are other and far more noble forms of conservatism. The conservatism of the Holy Father as he seeks to conserve the Catholic Mystery amidst all that would destroy it …

    Regrettable as other less noble forms of conservatism may be, few of us are saints. I did not write my review claiming that either Mother Angelica or Raymond Arroyo are saints. And in any event – the saints are fallen too. Again, the Church points to only two who are free from sin.

    Thus as Catholics we can weep for EWTN promoting the death penalty – if true – the same way we can weep for secular media promoting abortion.

    Mama Pelican may thus want to “skip EWTN, Mother Angelica, and Arroyo’s book” – but as for myself, I think there is too much of importance here to skip. Importance for World Civilisation, in fact.

14 Trackbacks

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