Thursday, September 01, 2016

Teaching Silently, Reaching the World Through a Hidden Life of Suffering: An Interview with Raymond Arroyo on Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence

A shorter version of this article was published August 31 at Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Even if you don’t watch Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), you have quite probably heard about Mother Angela, the feisty Italian-American cloistered nun from Canton, Ohio, who in 1981at the age of 58launched what quite improbably turned out to be a world-wide TV, radio, and print media network from a monastery in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama.

Mother Angelica died on Easter on March 27 of this year at the age of 92, and her death occasioned an outpouring of remembrances about her life, both from those who knew her personally and from many of the millions who encountered her through the network she founded. This unusual woman was hated by many because she represented what they believed to be an outmoded type of Catholicism and was loved by many others who came to think of her as a saint.
Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict both praised her. Even Pope Francis knows about her. When Pope Francis was flying to Cuba on February 12 of this year, he offered prayers for Mother Angelica, and he asked for her prayers in return. Then at a general audience on March 30, a few days after she died, when the pope was asked by ETWN Rome bureau staffers to say a prayer for her soul, he pointed to the sky and said, She’s in heaven.” 

"She's in Heaven!"
 The widespread attention to Mother Angelica’s death is notable in part because she has been out of the public eye for almost fifteen years. The only way most people have been able to see or hear her has been on re-runs on EWTN TV and radio. She resigned from running the network in 2000. After her resignation, she continued to appear on her show, "Mother Angelica Live," for a while, even after a stroke in September 2001 paralyzed one side of her face.

After the stroke in September 2001, Mother said, “I’ve never had in all my life such an awareness that God was choosing me to help people. This is to bring people to a new reality that suffering is brought by God to make us holy.”

The Pirate Nun Transforms the Heart of a Sinner, With God’s Love

One particularly striking story of how—even when she looked ridiculous in some people’s eyes—Mother Angelica’s words were still capable of capturing people’s hearts came from a man named Paul, who told the following story in a video titled, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills," which I came across after Mother Angelica died. 

Paul had been an international model, had a lot of money, and, deplorably, thousands of lovers. He had moved from New York to a home in California with a boyfriend named Jeff, while remaining promiscuous. One afternoon he was watching TV “after a hard night running around at the bars, and I came across this image, ... this nun with a patch over her eye and distorted face, and a complete old fashioned habit.” He called out, “Jeff, Jeff, you’ve got to come and look. It’s a pirate nun!”

“We both mocked her and laughed at her. But,” Paul continued, “as he left the room and I was about to change the channel, she said something so intelligent, real and honest; it really struck me, ‘God created you and I [sic] to be happy in this life and the next. He cares for you. He watches your every move. There is no one that loves you can do that.’”

Paul started watching her show regularly, hiding it from his boyfriend like a dirty secret. Eventually he returned to the sacraments and embraced a chaste life. He concluded his story by saying, “Some of my most euphoric moments was when I was with beautiful and famous people in penthouses overlooking the spectacular skyline of New York City and I have got to tell you, that happiness, that euphoria that would have lasted me a lifetime pales next to when I am taking the body and blood of our Lord in Church at Mass.” 
Mother Angelica had a second stroke on Christmas Eve of 2001 that almost killed her and pretty much put an end to her on-air appearances. She lost most of her ability to communicate, and she spent most of the ensuing years in her cloister. 

Raymond Arroyo, who is the EWTN news director and anchor of the weekly show “World Over Live,” has done a lot to keep her image in front of the public during the last fifteen years by his books and talks. As Mother Angelica’s biographer and friend, Arroyo is one of the people who knew her best. Between 2005 and 2010, he published a series of New York Times best-selling books on Mother Angelica.

First he published her authorized biography Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles in 2005. That first biography was based on a long series of deeply personal interviews Arroyo had with Mother at her monastery between 1999 and 2001, which ended just before the Christmas Eve stroke that took her out of the public eye.

In 2007, Arroyo published a second book, Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. A third book, Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures, which was derived from a series of audio tapes from a Bible study series Mother gave, followed in 2008. Then in 2010, in his introduction to The Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica, he wrote that the fourth book completed the cycle of Mother Angelica works.

Arroyo recently released a final book about her legacy. We talked about the book in a phone interview, which is the subject of this article.

Raymond Arroyo Interview

RTSullivan: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. I know this is a busy time for you. You are doing promotions for two books, not only for Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence but also for a young people’s adventure story you wrote called Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls. Thank you for squeezing this in.

By the way, how are these books being received?

They’ve been so warmly received. I have to tell you I am overwhelmed by the letters and the emails, the people who’ve come up at book signings−their reactions to the two books have just been incredible. Obviously the reactions are different. But they are both being read by adults as well as young people−which is humbling and wonderful.

I didn’t anticipate these two books being in the marketplace at the same time. But Mother and God orchestrated it that way, so I kind of had to go with it.

In many ways telling Mother Angelica’s story, the first biography and, of course, this final episode and chapter of her biography, gave me the confidence to tell big stories, to realize I had the capability of telling a sweeping saga. That’s really what the Wilder series is. It’s fiction, but it’s about a family with a special boy who has his own gifts. It’s an adventure series, but there is a lot of reality and truth in those pages as well.

So Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls is the first in a series?

It is the first in a series. [The second book, Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders, is being released March 7, 2017.-Ed] It’s a middle grade adventure series and also a family saga. We’re unlocking the secrets of this Wilder family as we go on.

Genesis of This Latest Mother Angelica Book

RTSullivan: Let’s come back to this latest book in your Mother Angelica series. In 2010, in your introduction to The Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica, you wrote that the fourth book completed the cycle of Mother Angelica works.

What made you decide to extend the cycle and write Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy?

I never intended to do another Mother Angelica book. I saw the Prayers and Personal Devotions as a capstone of the series. However, I had promised Mother and I promised my publisher that I would tell the full story of her life. So it was always envisioned that I would update the biography.

I anticipated like so many, even those nearest Mother, that it was going to be a matter of a year, or two, or three years, given the stroke, given her health, we just didn’t know how long she would survive. But as God would have it, and her great tenacity, and the care of the sisters, all conspired to keep her with us for many many years beyond the stroke, a good fifteen years.

The rich story that presented itself−that I knew I had to tellthere was no way it would fit as an addenda. My publisher said there’s too much information. You’re going to have to release this as a separate book. That’s how the sequel was born.

It’s fitting that it be the conclusion of her biography. It’s also a tribute to her. It’s my farewell to herand I think a meditation, curiously, on the power of the end of a life and the power of suffering and pain, which is what Mother’s whole life testifies to, I think.

Living in the Present Moment

RTSullivan: She seemed to know a lot more about the value of suffering than a lot of people ever hear about. I want to ask you some more questions about that later.

You might remember I interviewed you after the first biography came out, and that you spoke about how much Mother Angelica taught you about the need to live in the present moment after you lost your New Orleans’ home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and after your publicity tour for the first biography seemed to be irretrievably derailed because of breaking news.

Where do you think Mother Angelica got that idea about living in the present moment? Do you still find it relevant today?

Oh, very much so. In fact, in this new book, Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence, I went to great pains to write a chapter about our relationship. And I say pains because it did not come easily, it was something I resisted at first. In it, I captured just that idea that one of the great lessons she gave me was how to live in the present moment.

Mother had a life that was so riddled with pains and unexpected suffering that she had to learn to quickly adapt to those challenges and to embrace them as God would have her embrace them. On the far side of those she found such consolation, she found power, she found Jesus.

Watching her traverse tragedy and things none of us would wish upon ourselves or those we love, watching the way she handled them and embraced both the good times and the bad was such a lesson for me.

Absolutely, it’s relevant every moment of my life.

If it wasn’t for Mother, I don’t know how we would have survived not only Katrina, but my wife was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. That was traumatic. There are awful things that just come into our livesamid the many blessings and wonderful things. You have to embrace both of them and live in them fully.

That’s what I think she was trying to impart. You can’t fantasize about the future, and you can’t anguish and relive the past. Guess what? We all get kicked around. There are horrible people in the world. You have to kind of move past them and move onto the next thing that God wants you to do.

People always ask me, “How can you go from covering live events, to working on a musical project, to writing a children’s book, to being a father . . .?” Well, that’s all living in the present moment. These inspirations come to me in the present moment, and I embrace and run after them in the present moment.

The way she explained it to me was, it doesn’t mean we can’t make plans, it doesn’t mean that we sort of run like a leaf blown in the wind. No. No. No. You have to make plans, you have to keep a schedule.

But, when things come at you, whether it’s an inspiration, it’s something wonderful, or it’s a tragedy, something you didn’t expect, a betrayal from a person you didn’t expect to turn on you, you embrace those moments as they happen, and, as she said, you try to be like Jesus in them. You fulfill the duties and responsibilities of that present moment. It keeps you rooted in the now so you’re fully present here.

You are not stuck in the past. Your mind isn’t worried and fretting and crying about the future. We have to stay here. This is the moment we are given. There are great lessons and gifts if you are willing and ready to embrace them. That’s what she was saying.

The Saving Value of Suffering

RTSullivan: I think that a lot of Catholics are not aware of a significant verse in Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which the Church interprets to mean that all of our sufferings can have immense value if we offer them up in union with Christ’s sufferings, for the salvation of the world.

“[I, Paul,] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church.”−Colossians 1:24

I have never heard a sermon on the saving power of suffering. I think, in a sense, Mother Angelica’s life could be viewed as a kind of sermon on the topic.

Do you agree? If so, what message about the salvific power of suffering do you think might belong in a sermon based on her life?

I couldn’t agree with you more. Mother was an apostle of Divine Providence, and she was an apostle of Redemptive Suffering. Those are her two great gifts, I think, to the Church and to the world. She taught about these two important issues throughout her entire life from when she was a young sister to when she could no longer speak.

What you get to see in this last book (and you get a front row seat on it I hope), is Mother Angelica’s full embrace in the present moment of God’s Providence. It was filled with pain and suffering, but she finds and brings much good out of it, because she is united with God. She is offering it up to Him.

That’s the lesson for us. This is a journey all of us will go on. We are not all going to build networks. We are not all going to see visions. But all of us in some way are going to have pain and suffering in our life. We are all going to face the final journey in this existence, and hopefully prepare ourselves for the next.

That’s what is at the heart of this book.

At a time when people wish to shove the frail elderly aside, to create laws that make it easier for us to send them to the next part of their journey before this one is completed, Mother Angelica stands as a counter-cultural witness and says, “No.” There is great value in this end of life. In fact, it may be the most richest and most important part of our life. No one should deprive that of another.

Where Did She Learn the Value of Suffering?

RTSullivan: Where do you think she learned this? Mother Angelica’s insights about suffering seem to parallel Pope Saint John Paul II’s teachings on the subject. I read her ideas clearly stated in one of her many little devotional books, “Healing Power of Suffering,” which you have also quoted. In 1984, Pope John Paul II published Salvici Doloris, which can be literally translated as “on saving suffering.”

Do you think Mother Angelica read Salvici Doloris?

Yes. Without a doubt, I’m sure she did. But you know that minibook you referenced was written in the seventies, so that was before John Paul came along.

Their lives were in parallel in many ways, you know. It was in October of 1978 when she was first was inspired to build the television network, and, of course, that was when he was elected Pope. And they both were these charismatic and amazing evangelists in our time.

They both in their later years faced great infirmity and lost the ability to speak that so characterized them. They both learned to teach in silence in some ways. I do see a parallel track for these two saintly figures. 

Mother Angelica After the Stoke That Silenced Hefr

Mother Angelica’s Sufferings and EWTN’s Success

RTSullivan: In your first biography, you gave many examples of how Mother Angelica understood the great value of suffering in the development of the network. You mentioned that when she was rendered almost speechless after the Christmas Eve stroke of 2001, that she told you that she knew it was for her purification. You wrote in her biography that she read St. John of the Cross.

Do you know if she knew of other great saints who taught about this topic? I wonder if she read about this doctrine in the writings of other saints.

She did, as a young nun. She read a lot of the lives of the saints, because she was so sickly for much of her early vocation. She was often in bed, or she couldn’t get up, with the back surgery and all. And at that time, I think she probably exhausted the monastery library of all the lives of the saints. She knew things about saints that I’d never heard. Not only did she understand, I think on an intuitive level, their thought, but she knew the personal side. This one was grumpy, that one was fat, this one was cross, this one had hangnails. She knew every little detail about them. She humanized them. And that was a great lesson to me when I wrote the first biography and when I wrote this sequel.

She threatened me with forty years in purgatory if I sugar-coated her life. The reason she did that is that she wanted people to identify with her failings and with her humanity. And so, I felt an obligation to just tell the story as it existed.

When I wrote her life story, as Mother would say, I wanted it to be nitty gritty. I wanted it to have the blood and guts in the story. These are not always happy tales. Every part of the journey is not marked by sweetness and light. But that was Mother’s story; that’s all of our stories, I think.

The Skirmishes of Mother Angelica

RTSullivan: I’d like to know your thoughts about Mother Angelica’s skirmishes with the liberalizing tendency in the Church in the 1980s and 1990s and whether those kinds of conflicts lessened in the 2000s and 2010s.

You wrote in the first biography about run-ins that she had with some American bishops, who were trying to launch a Catholic network of their own. Many of them expressed their distaste for what one priest called “her kind of theology.” It seems now that she won over the opposition, and that “her kind of theology” is now accepted.

In an amazing sequel, Pope Francis even asked for her prayers, and he even informally canonized her!

Did you add any more details about those kinds of battles she went through and their outcomes after the initial biography?

The [first] biography is pretty conclusive in those battles. She really did win all of them in my mind. The things she fought for, the rosary, Eucharistic adoration, the sacrality of the Mass, Latin in the Mass, what is now called the Extraordinary Form, those things were considered relics of another age, never to be seen again. Mother Angelica not only kept them alive, she popularized them. She put all those devotions in front of the eyes of the masses so they could see what they had been missing.

Remember that she had a titantic battle with her local bishop, Bishop David Foley, near the end of her active life. He didn’t want the Mass televised ad orientem, facing away from the people. The whole Bishops Conference basically said it’s up to him.

Well, I had to chuckle a little at her funeral because I saw Bishop Foley there on the altar. And I thought to myself, only Mother Angelica could pull this off. Not only did she get a Mass celebrated ad orientem, but it was broadcast on television, and an archbishop was celebrating it. Only Mother could have pulled that off. 
Tweet I sent of Mother Angelica's Ad Orientem Funeral Mass
What Did the Battles Cost Her?

RTSullivan: I’d like to find out more about the personal cost of Mother’s battles to defend the truth as she understood it. Mother was intransigent in her dealings with those who wanted to silence her or to change traditional Catholic doctrine. But at least one of your stories hints that at some level she must have found the conflict terrifying. You wrote about what is commonly called a “near-death experience” in 2001 in which Mother said she left her body three times and that when she came back she said she wasn’t afraid of death any more. I think it’s significant that she also mentioned she was no longer afraid of the bishops either! Psychologically she probably paid a big price.

Do you have any more new insights about her battle with some members of the Church hierarchy that you included in your new book? And about how those battles affected her?

Psychologically and physically, it was a great trial. It’s one thing when people from outside the Church come after somebody, but Mother was really fighting a two-pronged war, because she was fighting those outside the Church, and then she was fighting those inside the Church.

The stroke probably would not have happened if she hadn’t been under such stress and duress.

She was carrying a heavy load. She wasn’t a well woman. She wasn’t a physically vibrant woman. She had lot of health problems, bloated heart, crushing asthma. She had diabetes. She was crippled. There were a lot of things Mother suffered from that people just don’t realize when they saw the happy, smiling, funny nun on TV.

All of those battles I do think took a toll on her, without a doubt.

Mother Angelica’s Example of Female Empowerment

RTSullivan: Let’s talk about the role of women in the Church as exemplified by Mother Angelica’s life. I’d like to know your thoughts about this excerpt from an article at that was written by John L. Allen after Mother Angelica’s death: “Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica.”

What do you think of that?

He’s right. That’s a fair assessment. Both Mother Angelica and Mother Teresa were two of the most powerful people in the Catholic Church; they both happened to be women, and neither of them was ordained. 

Look, Mother had no use for political empowerment. She was not interested.
She was all about following God’s will. And for her, God’s will took her down this path. I think she became a great exemplar of faithfully living out God’s will. It wasn’t about power. It was about doing what you were called to do.

She had a great line she used to say, “People spend all their time trying to figure out what they are going to do for the world. The real question is, ‘What is God going to do−through you−for the world?’”

This was how she saw her role, what she was doing. It wasn’t about her. That is not only about female empowerment, it is about human empowerment. 

What Do People Need to Know About Mother’s Last Years?

What details that you may not have already mentioned about Mother Angelica’s contribution to the world and about her last years in silence do you think would be most relevant for readers to know?

I come across so many priests so many nuns who say they owe their vocation to Mother Angelica. She was a powerful witness. Many who have read this book said, “It has so enriched my work.”

This book teaches you how, even in distress and in the dark moments, God is still with you, and that you have to continue that zealous embrace of His will to the very end. That is part of ministry.

I think there are so many gifts in this last part of her story for people. The letters I’ve gotten have attested to the ways it has touched so many lives. I love that I was able to share not only how she touched lives all over the world (you read the first hand accounts of that in the book) but also about how she touched my life, how she changed my life.

You can see her transforming the lives of her nuns, millions of people around the world, as well as those of us who were closest to her. That’s the story of every religious, that’s the story of every priest, or it should be.

Mother Angelica got a twenty-year hall pass where she could make contact with the public at large, because God had this great mission for her. But in the last fifteen years, she became fully what she vowed to be at the first, which was cloistered nun. With silent prayer, hidden away and yet powerful, powerful results occur. That’s all due to that prayer and suffering.

That’s what this last story is about, the mystery of contemplative prayer, and the mystery of redemptive suffering. And how it all plays out through the story of this amazing, very humble, simple woman, who just followed where God led her.

What an honor to be able to tell that story.

Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy. Raymond Arroyo. (New York: Image, 2016.)


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Jesus Turns the Tables on the Legalist Lawyer: When the Bad Guy Samaritan Loved a Jew

The Good Samaritan, William Hogarth
(from the original in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Wellcome Images.)
Today's Gospel from the traditional lectionary is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story to answer a question from a lawyer who was an expert on the requirements of the Mosaic law. He was sort of like a Canon lawyer of his day. The lawyer was trying to test Jesus by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" when Jesus oh so subtly turned the orientation of the question around.

Some background you may already know : The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies with a long history of estrangement, ever since the Kingdom of Israel was split in two after Solomon's death. The Samaritans worshiped God in the "wrong way," on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria instead of in Jerusalem. In the context of the Scriptural account, the full question the lawyer was asking Jesus was, "Who is my neighbor who the law says I should love as myself?" And instead of simply replying, "you should love everyone--including the Samaritans--as your neighbors," Jesus told this story in which a Samaritan loved a Jew!

After the presumably Jewish man in the story was robbed, two of his fellow countrymen and co-religionists passed him by. To touch the man, who might be dying, would have made them ceremonially unclean. The fact that one of the despised Samaritans went way out of his way and spent a lot of time and money to help an injured Jew is highly significant. Because they were enemies, anyone of that era would think that Jews and Samaritans owed nothing to each other. The Samaritan ignored the prejudices of his compatriots and helped the Jew.

So way it turned out, that the Samaritan was the good one while the two Jews who passed by were not, must have struck the Jews who were listening, and it would have been an inspiration for those followers of Jesus who might have been self-righteous about their status as the chosen people. Jesus was telling them that one of the despised Samaritans was the only one who did God's will, and it might have made them ashamed and gave them the resolution to be good themselves, like the Samaritan.

It should be an inspiration for us.

And here's another thought, there are several significant mentions in the Gospels of how Jesus seemed to go out of His way over and over during His short time of public ministry to put in a good word on behalf of those who are mistaken in how they worship God but who are pleasing to God anyway. When Jesus healed the twelve lepers, only one, the Samaritan, came back to thank Him. And Jesus shocked his disciples when they found him conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well, but through her He reached the people in her town when they saw how talking with Him had transformed her.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When a Royal Physician Killed a King to Get His Death into the Morning News--Euthanasia Story #1

Almost thirty years ago, news broke on November 27, 1986 that Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather had been involuntarily euthanized fifty years earlier, on January 20, 1936, when she was nine years old and he was seventy. The deed had been done by the Lord Dawson of Penn, the king's physician.

King George V had called her Lilibet. She had called him Grandpa England. The king had been so fond of his oldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, that the Bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, was astonished one day when he arrived for an audience to find the king crawling about with the little princess on all fours.
“P'incess is three,” a Time magazine article on April 1929 about "Princess Lilybet"  reported, “No one else except the Queen rides out so often with the King ....”
May 16, 1935: nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth waved from the Buckingham Palace balcony during her Grandpa England’s Silver Jubilee celebration, eight months before his death
In 1986 when the truth came out about the circumstances leading to the death of her grandfather King George VI, reporters were not able to reach the Queen to find out her reaction. A Buckingham Palace spokesman replied to those who called, “It happened a long time ago, and all those concerned are now dead."

A Murder of Convenience

Most of the world only came to know about the involuntary euthanasia of the King of England in 1936 because the notes of Lord Dawson, the royal physician who killed the king, were finally revealed by his biographer in 1986. His biographer had discovered those notes when he was writing his life of Lord Dawson in 1950, but he and Lord Dawson’s widow decided not to include the king’s euthanasia in the biography.

King George V’s final words had been publicized as, "How is the Empire?” and his reported words were often repeated with reverence and sorrow for how touching it was that the king was concerned for the health of the realm as he lay dying. But, according to Lord Dawson’s notes, the king’s final words actually had been, "G-d damn you!" and they were addressed to his nurse, while she was injecting him under the supervision of Lord Dawson with a non-fatal dose of morphine to put him to sleep. 

I wonder, did he curse at his nurse because he suspected what they were going to do? After that first shot of morphine that evening, he never regained consciousness again.

The "mercy" killing took place later that evening. At 9:30, Lord Dawson wrote a medical bulletin that declared, ''The King's life is moving peacefully toward its close.”

After the king was unconscious, Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, came and prayed by the king's bedside. After the Archbishop left, Lord Dawson prepared two fatal injections. The king’s nurse refused to cooperate, so Dawson administered the injections, the first containing three-quarters of a gram of morphine and the second containing one gram of cocaine.

According to his notes, Dawson coolly arranged the king’s death to occur before midnight, in order for the announcement to appear first in the morning edition of The Times and not in some lesser publication later in the day. To make doubly sure the story got into the Times morning edition the next day, Dawson phoned his wife in London during the evening to tell her to alert the Times to hold the press.
"At about 11 o'clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers and keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr. 3/4 and shortly afterwards cocaine gr. 1 into the distended jugular vein [...]"—Lord Dawson’s physician’s notes
Lord Dawson's notes also stated that he had been told by Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales, who was to become Edward VIII, that they did not want the King's life needlessly prolonged if his illness was clearly fatal. 

If I could have been there, I would have pointed out to Lord Dawson that it hardly needs saying that there is a vast moral divide between "needlessly" prolonging a life and matter-of-factly ending a life on time to get the death notice placed in the morning edition of the times. 

The Times headline the next morning read “A Peaceful Ending at Midnight.”

The story “Death of the King” in the middle-brow Daily Express provided lots of details, some of which may have been fanciful. The story reported that the queen and the prince were at the king's bedside when he died. “Three doctors and three nurses, at his bedside almost constantly since the illness began, did all that they could do. [Sic] In vain. The King became unconscious; passed from unconsciousness to death.”

The Year of Three Kings

The Daily Express on the day after King George V’s death also noted that Princess Elizabeth was now second in line for the throne, after her father Albert, the Duke of York, but that if her uncle Edward, the new King Edward VIII, married and had children those children would take precedence. As it turned out, there were no worries needed in that department.

It’s a bit eerie how in 1935, King George VI had accurately predicted the fall of his son Edward: "After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months.” And he said this about his second son Albert and his beloved granddaughter Elizabeth: "I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."

King Edward VIII threw over his throne to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson before the end of 1936. They never had children, but any children would not have been in line for the throne after his abdication. When Edward VIII abdicated before the end of 1936, Princess Elizabeth’s father, Albert (Bertie), became King George VI.

And that's how 1936 came to be referred to as The Year of Three Kings.

After Princess Elizabeth’s father King George VI, died in 1953, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.

During this year of Our Lord, 2016, which is the same year that marked the 80th anniversary of King George V's death on January 20, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 90th birthday on April 21 to great fanfare. In December of 2007, she had passed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-lived British monarch, and she became the longest-reigning British monarch in September of 2015. She is the longest-reigning queen regnant in the world, and the world's oldest reigning monarch. Not just for her endurance, but also for her decorous personal life and her high standards of service, her Grandpa England would have been quite pleased.

The Catholic Response

Some observers characterize the ongoing campaign for euthanasia as a laudable part of the attempt to free our society of all Christian moral principles and to replace what they say are irrational Christian principles with strict adherence to modern day rational opinions of what things are right and wrong. 

In contrast, the Catholic Church continues to point to what the Ten Commandments say, "Thou shalt not kill," repeats that our lives and deaths are in the hands of God, and teaches the unpopular and difficult truth that our sufferings can be joined with the sufferings of Christ to help redeem the world. 

To the modern ear it sounds like lunacy when we hear how many saints have told us that if we knew how good sufferings are for us spiritually and how much good that our suffering can do for the salvation of others, we would willingly seek them out.  

Following for example, is a long quote about the last days of Mother Mary Angelica, founder of EWTN, who was almost unique in our times in her teaching about the value of suffering that is united with the sufferings of Jesus.

.... Mother Angelica gave instructions to her caregivers to administer no pain relievers or drugs — despite her increasing suffering — that might unintentionally shorten her life because, as he said, she wanted to consciously suffer and offer her suffering to God.

“Most of us would not think that way. We would think, 'Get me out of here...' What's taken out of that picture is the love of God,” said [Father Joseph Mary] Wolfe as reported by

"Catholics believe that every human life, young or old, healthy or sickly, carefree or suffering, has intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose in the eyes of God. Following St. Paul, who powerfully teaches that Christians actually partner with Christ in his redemptive action by offering their sufferings to God, Catholics see suffering not only as something to be patiently endured, but something that, when lovingly united to Christ, helps to redeem the world. 

"It was on Good Friday…Mother began to cry out early in the morning from the pain that she was having. She had a fracture in her bones because of the length of time she had been bedridden. They said you could hear it down the hallways, that she was crying out on Good Friday from what she was going through.

"These two people said to me she has excruciating pain. Well, do you know where that word excruciating comes from? Ex, from, cruce, from the cross. Excruciating pain,” he said.

Fr. Wolfe said that Mother Angelica saw suffering as an opportunity to make an act of love to God. 'She saw something that most of us don't see ... that she could say, you don't know the value of one new offering, one new act of love of God, one suffering that is united to Christ and offered to him. You don't know the value of that,' he said."--"Mother Angelica’s passion: How the EWTN foundress embraced suffering in her final days as a gift to God"

Outrage in 1986 and Beyond

Euthanasia may seem like a recently trending topic. However, as the killing of the king in 1936  proves, support for euthanasia in one form or another had currency at least among the English upper classes for a lot longer than we might realize. Support for euthanasia ebbs and flows.

By recording what he had done in his notes, Lord Dawson seems to have assumed that history would praise him as having been far-sighted in what he must have thought was his superior wisdom in ending the life of the King for the convenience of everyone around. But in 1986, the public reaction against Dawson’s murder of the King in the name of mercy killing was outrage. 

What had changed? At the end of the 1930s and the start of the 1940s dawned, many in the United Kingdom and the United States thought that euthanasia would become the norm. But when news of Nazi atrocities against mental patients, handicapped children, and many others who the Nazis thought of as undesirable, including, priests, Poles, and Jews, came out in the late 1940s, the euthanasia movement fell out of favor. Euthanasia proponents found it difficult for some decades afterwards to convince people that the form of euthanasia they supported was not the same as Nazi murder of the unfit, the inconvenient, and the undesired. The topic went underground pretty much for decades.

The kind of euthanasia Dawson practiced and advocated when he spoke against a bill legalizing euthanasia in the House of Lords (as will be described in more detail in my next post on this topic) was involuntary euthanasia, which was the putting to death of a patient by his doctor without the patient's knowledge and consent. In the late 20th and the start of the 21st century, public support has grown for another form of euthanasia, in which a doctor provides the means for the patient to end his or her own life, which is more correctly called assisted suicide. 

Public opinion also gradually became more accepting of allowing the doctor to take a patient's life, upon the request of the patient, which is voluntary euthanasia

Today most people are still opposed to the idea of involuntary euthanasia, as Lord Dawson practiced it, in principle, but first-person stories I've heard and experienced about how some hospices and hospitals routinely misuse morphine to induce death seem to indicate that involuntary euthanasia in the name of pain management is quite common and routinely accepted, without being talked about much.

The Truth Was Known, At Least By Some

Bizarrely enough, it came out that while Dawson was still alive, there had already been some scuttlebutt about the actual truth behind the so-called peaceful and presumably natural death of the King. In 1986, when the news came out in The Daily Telegraph of what the long-dead physician's notes revealed, a reader wrote in recalling a doggerel verse that had been in circulation during Dawson's life:
“Lord Dawson of Penn
Killed many men.
That's why we sing
'God Save the King.'”

Time Magazine’s cover story of Lord Dawson six years before King George V’s death, on Monday, Sept. 01, 1930, praised his services as the royal physician
Time Magazine’s cover story of Lord Dawson that appeared six years before King George V’s death, on
Monday, Sept. 01, 1930, and praised his services as the royal physician.

Stay tuned for more about Lord Dawson and the acceptance of euthanasia among the British upper classes in Euthanasia Story #2, coming soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dante, Rod Dreher, and Medusa

Medusa by Bernini (1630s or 1640s), Capitoline Museums, Rome
Homiletic and Pastoral Review published a shorter version of this article on May 14, 2016, under the title "Sometimes It’s Best to Cover Your Eyes."

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life Changing Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Poem, by Rod Dreher. Simon and Schuster. April 14, 2015.

Rod Dreher is a best-selling author and blogger at The American Conservative and a well-known convert to Catholicism. After Dreher converted again from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, he published many articles in both Catholic and secular publications about why he was leaving the Catholic Church. In his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, Dreher repeated essentially the same reasons for leaving the Catholic Church that he has written about extensively elsewhere.

Some pertinent thoughts that Father Richard John Neuhaus, First Things founder, wrote about Dreher’s conversion to Orthodoxy just before Father Neuhaus died, combined with Dreher’s own insights in How Dante Can Save Your Life, highlight some obvious contradictions and weaknesses in Dreher’s stated reasons for leaving the Catholic Church that are well worth examining.

Anyone who thinks of leaving the Catholic Church, perhaps for similar reasons to the ones that drove Rod Dreher away, should give this essay a read to the end, because, as the example of many great saints has shown us, there is another, better way to respond to evils in the Church than jumping ship from the barque of Peter.

Because Rod Dreher has been so public about his reasons for rejecting the Catholic Church, I don’t believe it is out of line for me to critique what he has publicly written in this public forum, not by trying to analyze him from afar, but by quoting from what he himself has written.

Among Dreher’s reasons for dismay about his experiences in the Catholic Church are what he and many others see as the lack of reverence in many liturgies, the uglification (my word, not his) of many churches, the destruction of sacred art, the watering down of doctrine, and the paucity of moral guidance, at least on the parish level. But Dreher was especially horrified by the truly appalling facts he unearthed as a journalist delving into the scandal of sex abuse by some Catholic clergy and the subsequent cover-ups by some members of the Church hierarchy.

After Dreher found a traditional Latin Mass parish where Catholicism was practiced in a more-reverent way than what he’d found at other parishes, he was shocked again when a charming priest in that parish turned out to be a con man. The priest had told everyone that he had been excluded from ministry in another diocese because he was too traditional. Then it came out that the priest had actually been removed from parish work because he was accused of being yet another abuser. The pastor had decided on his own that the claims against the priest were false, and had let the accused priest participate freely in the work of that parish.

Dreher has written that his family then began to attend liturgies at a little Orthodox mission because they felt they had no place else to go, not because they were convinced by the intellectual claims of Orthodoxy. They stayed because the community and its good priest gave them the spiritual goods he felt that he and his family needed, and they converted because it was the only way they could receive Communion there. Dreher donated a lot of the income from his New York Times best-selling book about his sister’s death called The Little Way of Ruthie Leming to build up the Orthodox mission where he and his family now worship.

In a blog post in which Dreher first announced his conversion to Orthodoxy, he frankly admitted that much his loss of faith was due to his inability to control his rage.

“I have talked about how the Church itself failed me in all this. Let me confess how I failed myself.” He continued, “The pursuit of justice is a wonderful and necessary thing, even a holy act. But I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. I didn't know I was doing this at the time. I came to believe that if I didn't stop, or if I let up, that I would in some sense be failing the victims, that I would be helping the perpetrators get away with it. Again and again, I kept thinking What if this had happened to our family? And over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism.”

Notice the “What if” in the next to the last sentence above. I know from my own experience that the devil loves to lead us into sin by dangling “What ifs?” in front of us. For one example, I once got just as scared and upset when my four-year-old daughter impulsively dashed off the curb into an empty street as if there really had been a car coming, and she had been hurt. “What if a car had been coming?” “What if she had been hurt?” The “What ifs” that flooded my mind during that and many other incidens led me first to fear, and then to anger. So I think I recognize how Dreher fed his own corrosive anger with the “what ifs” that haunted him.

A Self-Help Book with Dante as a Guide

How Dante Can Save Your Life is, quirkily enough, a self-help book in which Dreher writes about how he used Dante’s Commedia, with its wholeheartedly Catholic world view, as a guide to healing and peace. I have been dipping into the Commedia off and on ever since my freshman Humanities class at Brandeis University, and I currently have three translations on my bookshelf. So I enjoyed having Dreher to read along with this time through, even though I disagree with many of Dreher’s conclusions.

One odd point I noted is that while Dreher followed Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, he had to do some doctrinal calisthenics to adapt some of the Catholic teachings in the Commedia with his now-Orthodox set of beliefs.

For one example, the doctrine of Purgatory is not held by Orthodoxy, so when Dreher writes about the many things he learned from reading Dante’s Purgatorio, he doesn’t give a satisfying answer to the question of how the imperfections that remain with a person at the time of death can be purged, since he no longer believes in a place of purgation after death.

While Dante had Virgil and then Beatrice as his guides, Dreher also had a Baptist minister-cum-psychologist in blue jeans and his bearded Orthodox priest as his guides. Dreher’s journey out of his own dark wood started because he was sick from Epstein Barr virus and sleeping all day most days. A doctor told him to get counseling, or he would likely die.

** Spoiler alert **: By the time he finished reading and writing about the Commedia and sharing his insights with his psychologist and his priest, Dreher’s health was remarkably improved; he was no longer sleeping most of his days away, and his life was no longer in danger from the poisonous brew of rage, disappointment, and resentment that had sickened him.

As he tells the story in the book, Dreher got relief from his symptoms because he learned that his resentment was sinful, and that he needed to forgive his father (more about this fraught relationship later). Unfortunately, it seems that Dreher has not yet learned to forgive the evildoers in the Catholic Church.

It’s striking to me that halfway through his book Dreher writes admiringly about how Dante dealt with his own outrage against clerical abuses of his day in a chapter titled “The Sins of the Fathers.” Dreher notes that in many places in Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, Dante lashed out against the corruption of popes and bishops. Abashedly and with admiration, Dreher ruefully admits that Dante didn’t let the dismaying evils he saw in the Church of his own day destroy his faith.

Reading Dante showed him that “it was possible to be clear-eyed and outspoken about the wickedness of the men who run the Church, yet iron-willed in one’s commitment to the God within the Church.” And Dante, Dreher said, is his hero because Dante stared down the evil and still affirmed the Church. Dreher admits, “I had failed at this.”

Perceptive Thoughts from Father Neuhaus

I believe it is more correct to say that Dante didn’t stare down the evil so much as recognize it, and deplore it, and then raise his sights up to higher things. As Richard John Neuhaus noted in a “While We’re At It” piece at First Things published in January 2009, the month of his death—it would have been better for Dreher to have looked away instead of going away.

Father Neuhaus agreed that Dreher was rightly sickened by the scandals, but that “many Catholics feel the same way and, for sound reasons, believe Orthodoxy is not a place to go.” At the time Father Neuhaus was writing that, Dreher had recently admitted that there is also corruption within Orthodoxy, but that he didn’t want to know about it. Neuhaus’s comment was, “As with Dreher and Orthodoxy, there are things these Catholics really don’t want to know about their Church.”

Neuhaus supposed that Dreher might still be Catholic if he hadn’t tried to win journalistic kudos for delving into the terrible things that were done by some Catholic churchmen. Indeed, it does seem likely that Dreher might still be a practicing Catholic if he had heeded a priest who warned him at the start of his investigations that he was going “to find places darker than I realized existed,” and if he had resolved to turn away his gaze.

Medusa Warning: The Better Part of Valor

The hardening of Dreher’s heart against Catholicism is reminiscent of what happened to people in the Greek myth when they looked at the head of Medusa. Medusa was the Gorgon who had snakes for hair; men were turned to stone just by looking at her. Petra, the Latin word for stone, is the origin of the English word petrified, which can mean being turned into stone in either a literal or metaphorical sense.

In Canto IX of the Inferno, Virgil saved Dante from being literally petrified when the Medusa came towards him.

“’Turn your back.’ said the Master, and he himself turned me round. ‘Keep your eyes closed, since there will be no return upwards, if she were to show herself, and you were to see her.’ Not leaving it to me, he covered them, also, with his own hands.”

Meaning of Medusa

“O you, who have clear minds, take note of the meaning that conceals itself under the veil of clouded verse!”

Several commentaries on this passage of the Inferno say that the petrifying effect of looking at Medusa symbolizes the formation of a heart of stone that prevents sinners from humbling themselves to ask for grace. In a word, Medusa stands for the sin of obduracy. One commentator writes, “The veiled meaning of the clouded verse is simply that obduracy hardens the heart against God, and stifles the conscience, delaying repentance. It is a facet of spiritual anger and pride. ”

Still another commentator calls obduracy the sin of despair, which prevents us from confessing our own sins. Medusa can therefore be understood as a symbol of what happens when we persist in brooding over the outrageous sins of others, turn our gaze away from God, and find ourselves using our anger and pride to justify not repenting from our own sins.

Things could have turned out very differently if Dreher had a Virgil at his side to turn him around, and cover his eyes with with his hands.

Honor Your Father

Dreher wrote many pages in How Dante Can Save Your Life, and extensively elsewhere, about his life-long hurt about his father. He was disappointed with his strong, but tender and loving, Southern father, because his father was not able to accept him as he was—a bookish, sensitive sort of boy and man. Then part of Dreher’s extreme reaction against the Catholic Church came from disappointment because many of the men he had once idolized as replacement spiritual fathers did many objectively evil things.

The Fourth Commandment doesn’t say, “Honor your father and your mother if they haven’t disappointed or hurt you.” St. Paul reminded the Church at Ephesus of the fourth commandment in these words, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just. Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with a promise: That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest be long lived upon earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3, Douay Rheims Bible.

Dreher was deeply hurt at the betrayal of Church leaders and priests, and angry at seeing his idols toppled. His pride was also hurt for his not having been right when he thought he had, by his intelligence, found the perfect spiritual home he craved.

Metaphorically speaking, it seems that by looking deeply into the face of the sex abuse scandal, and by brooding over his own disappointment with his father, Dreher may have unwittingly allowed his own heart to be turned to stone. According to his own words, Dreher’s resentment and anger in violation against the fourth commandment was probably what was killing him. He finally confessed his sin and asked his father for forgiveness, but he has not reconciled, yet, with the Catholic Church.

Note that he inappropriately turned his rage against the Church as a whole. Here is one example of how he writes as if every Church leader is wicked, from a passage I quoted earlier, “It was possible to be clear-eyed and outspoken about the wickedness of the men who run the Church, yet iron-willed in one’s commitment to the God within the Church.” Note that he writes “the wickedness of the men,” with no qualifications. Not the wickedness of some of the men …

Like any other Catholic with a conscience, I too have been horrified about some of the things I’ve seen and learned about. I am not proposing an ostrich approach of sticking one’s head in the sand. Part of how I have been able to keep my faith in spite of great disappointments and scandals is to accept that evil permeates everything and everyone in this world, including some people in the Church.

I was helped a lot in accepting this reality when I came across a homily titled, "Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness," which Catholicity called “Perhaps the single best commentary on the matter.” The homily was given by Father Roger J. Landry on 2/12/2002, when he was pastor at a church in Fall River, MA. Father Landry is a Harvard graduate, a Rome-trained priest who now works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. Father Landry gave the homily on the Sunday after news had broken that perhaps seventy priests from the Boston Archdiocese had “abused young people whom they were consecrated to serve.”

One of the important things Father Landry pointed out is that, even out of the twelve apostles handpicked by Christ, one, Judas, was so evil that he sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. That’s one out of twelve.

In light of this homily and Dante’s own response to clerical corruption, it is easy to see there are other, better ways Dreher could have chosen to think about the scandal. One thing would be to realize that not every priest is evil just because some are.

"You don't judge something by those who don't live it, but by those who do." —Rev. Roger Landry

Father Landry said, “We can focus on those who betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they were called to serve, or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. “

Don’t Commit Spiritual Suicide 

Father Landry pointed out that St. Francis de Sales warned his listeners this way, "While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal, who allow scandals to destroy their faith are guilty of spiritual suicide.”

Father Landry also spoke about St. Francis of Assisi's example. During his time, when abuses were rampant in the Church and some bishops lived like secular princes, St. Francis of Assisi lived his life simply, according to the teachings and example of Christ.

This holy St. Francis did not condemn, or point fingers, or try to bring down the current Church hierarchy, or leave brokenhearted to seek out another religion or to start a new religion himself. He set himself to love God with his whole heart. He also set himself to humbly live the authentic teachings of the Church, which he knew is Christ’s Body on earth. As a result, his example inspired millions to holiness.

Towards the end of his homily, Father Landry said this, “This scandal can be something that can lead you down to the path of spiritual suicide, or it can be something that can inspire you to say, finally, ‘I want to become a saint, so that I and the Church can give your name the glory it deserves, so that others might find in you the love and the salvation that I have found.’”

Far Better To Think on These Things

When Virgil protected Dante by covering Dante’s eyes and turning him around, Virgil was essentially teaching Dante the virtue of custody of the eyes. Everyone must be purified from the sinful vices of pride, anger, self-aggrandizement, lust, and covetousness, and to do so, we all must practice acts of self-denial, which include being very careful what we look at, and what we harbor in our thoughts.

St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians what we Christians should look at and ponder:

“For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline: think on these things.” [Phillippians 4:8].

Not incidentally, in Philippians 13, in his famous passage on love, St. Paul included the admonition that “Love does not brood over injury.”

Holiness is the Real Face of the Church

When priests are immoral or false to their calling in any way, it is a great evil and a great shame. Christ is grieved and angered that little ones have been molested or misled by priests who are supposed to be acting in His name. There is something much worse than a millstone around the neck waiting for priests like that, unless they repent and make amends by living humble penitential lives.

In the face of grievous evils, we have the obligation to continue to work faithfully on our own personal holiness, so that others will be able to see in us the love and glorious grace of God. We should not dwell on the evil things that have occurred, or brood over injuries to ourselves or others. Instead we should think of the things of God.

“The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the only fully Catholic response to this scandal as St. Francis of Assisi recognized in the 1200s, as St. Francis de Sales recognized in the 1600s, and as countless other saints have recognized in every century is HOLINESS! Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of the Church.” —Rev. Roger Landry