Mother Angelica at 86 and Memories of A Friend Lost
April 20, 2009 Personally, this is a reflective day mingled with joy and sadness. It was exactly a year ago today when Pope Benedict concluded his triumphant Papal visit to America. But a year later it isn’t what the Pope said or did that remains in my memory, so much as the man who sat next to me during our coverage of that visit.
I remember telling my friend and co-host, Father Richard John Neuhaus, who gamely contributed commentary (when we weren’t doing our Abbott and Costello act), that though this papal visit was history we would certainly revive our long running partnership for the next “big event.” Little did either of us realize that this was to be the last “big event” we would share.
Father Neuhaus succumbed to cancer on January 8th of this year. As I read his last book, “American Babylon” he is ever present in my thoughts and prayers. There is however at least one reason I jubilate this day. It is Mother Angelica’s 86th Birthday. Who would have imagined at the end of 2001, after suffering a massive stroke which required emergency brain surgery, that Mother Angelica would still be with us? And yet, eight years later she continues her mission today just as she started it: in contemplative silence and in communion with her Spouse.
Mother’s speech is greatly diminished these days. She no longer tells those hilarious stories or shares her practical teachings, but she is engaged in the lives of her sisters, reacting with those expressive eyes to each bit of shared news and to each funny story related. I spoke with Mother the other day and can attest that her laugh is hearty as ever. And no one saying “I love you” can bring tears to my eyes quicker. It is a relief to know that despite her infirmities, Mother is still with us.
What distinguishes Mother Angelica from just about any other Church leader is her humble origins. She is truly of the people; the product of a working class, dysfunctional immigrant family. That tortured biography would make her more sensitive to the struggles of the common man and allow her to give voice to their greatest hopes. Hers is a story of faith’s power to transform and redeem, not only one life, but millions of lives. Mother Angelica loved Christ enough to offer Him everything, even her voice and her independence.
Today she is continuing to present this final oblation. My great grandmother used to say: compliments and thanks are only worthwhile when you’re living. There is so much I would have liked to have said to Father Neuhaus and to other friends who have departed in recent days. So, following my great grandmother’s advice, on this great day of celebration, I want to offer my love and thanks to Mother Angelica. She has inspired so much of my work and has altered countless lives. But for her, this blog, the entire broadcast apparatus that is EWTN would not exist and you and I might never have met in this way.
On a personal level she has taught me how to communicate in ways I never expected--how to simply let go and reveal the personality that was given me. She has been a true Mother to me, and I know I am not alone in this. Next time that you happen across something moving or insightful, inspirational or challenging on EWTN’s television or radio feed, do me a favor. Stop for a moment and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the brave and battle scarred woman who gave so much for that message-- the cloistered nun who built a media empire on faith. Her love is still reaching millions around the world; quietly, gently, powerfully. What a gift she is to us on her 86th birthday. Here is wishing you many, many more birthdays Reverend Mother.