Monday, October 17, 2016

First Comes Love .... Not Anymore!

Do kids still sing this "playground song" to embarrass a boy and a girl that give signs of liking each other?
Name and name are sitting in a tree
K - I - S - S - I - N - G
First comes love, then comes marriage.
Then comes baby in a baby carriage.
Whether or not children are still singing about that once commonly expected sequence of attraction between the sexes, hardly anyone  believes that love progresses that way any more.

What would be a modern revision?  The way we live "relationships" now is so complicated that it wouldn't scan as a playground song. To eliminate just some of the myriad possible permutations, my off-the-cuff revision here assumes that the couple who is kissing in the tree consists of a male and a female.

Not Just K-I-S-S-I-N-G but G-O-I-N-G A-L-L T-H-E W-A-Y

Say that Dick and Jane are sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Next, and at a very early age, comes intimacy, usually with contraception, which is often provided by the fond parent or the school. Kids are going to do it anyway, they think, so let's help Dick and Jane have "safe" sex. Although that term strictly means sex without venereal disease, most young people think it means sex without babies.  The safety of the minds, emotions, bodies and souls of the couple is not considered by those doting enablers of extramarital intimacy.

Another thing "everybody knows" is that it would be foolish to not try a potential marriage partner out before marriage, ignoring the fact that studies show that couples who marry without having sex beforehand stay married and enjoy their marital intimacy much more often than those who don't wait. I still remember reading a Playboy magazine survey during the 1970s whose results showed that couples who practiced traditional sexual morality were more satisfied. The editors were shocked.

Love, Only Maybe

Sometimes after a long time, ever so cautiously, Love might be mentioned between the couple, but only if the person who says it first is sure it won't come across as needy and scare the other person away.  Then only if Dick and Jane both agree that the word applies to what they are doing, then Love is allowed to be mentioned.

I always thought this Steven Sondheim song sung by Judy Collins is about what happened when the woman revealed she is in love, then realizes she had miscalculated, and the man doesn't want what she wants.  In circuses, they send in the clowns to distract the audience when there has been a terrible accident. In the story in the song, the woman calls for the clowns to divert attention from her mistake and the resulting shame and dismay.

Isn't it significant that when couples make what used to be called love, they are now seen as merely making "it." 

Marriage, Only Sometimes

For our hypothetical Dick and Jane, marriage is out of the question, because they are too young. But with more-mature couples, more often than not, it's the woman who wants to marry. Men are often quite happy to keep enjoying all the pleasures of modern intimacy and cohabitation without commitment.

One other cultural reference. We don't talk about the cruelty and pain involved when people use each other for sex, but sometimes reality even slips into the movies. In "Jerry Maquire," the athlete character Rod, who Cuba Gooding played, confronted Tom Cruise's character, his sports agent, Jerry, because he was using Dorothy, the Renee Zellwegger character, for sex. And Jerry finally had to admit it and agree it was wrong.
A Real Man Wouldn't Hijack the Pootie

Often the man (and less often the woman) knows that the partner is not someone he or she would ever marry, or simply never wants to be married, but keeps the "relationship" going as long the Marriage ultimatum can be avoided.

Couples who aren't married are often referred to as"significant others." But when the partners do not want to commit to marriage, doesn't that really make them "insignificant others"?

Only if both of them desire marriage, and each of them finally decides that he or she can't reasonably expect to find a more perfect partner, and they both agree that the other person is worthy, a proposal may be made and accepted, and Marriage may occur. But since Marriage is optional, totally up to the whim of the couple, and it costs 10s of thousands of dollars to stage the kind of royal spectacle couples have come to expect, for those and many other reasons, a wedding may never actually take place.

Another result of premarital intimacy is loss of romantic feelings. I remember reading several years back that there was a fad for engaged couples to abstain from intimacy for a time before their wedding day, not from any religious considerations, but just so they could regain lost passion so they could better enjoy their honeymoon. People who work at resorts frequented by honeymooners tell stories of bored couples fighting with each other, since there is nothing new for them to look forward so after the big wedding shebang is over. The honeymoon was over before it began.

One unspoken reality is that "free love"  inhibits joy.  When intimacy is experienced outside of love and marriage, love is not supposed be expressed. When commitment is not there, trust is not possible. All these combined with fear of being found wanting and rejected can inhibit the couple, especially the woman. Women and men are cheated out of the pure, uninhibited joy of being able to give love - without fear - to a partner you know loves you and who has promised to be with you 'til death you do part.

For those who don't believe in the permanence of marriage, there is always the fall back position; if the marriage doesn't "work out," even after the extensive pre-marriage period of trying-the-other-person-out, Dick and Jane can always divorce, as everybody know.

And Pity Poor Baby

Baby might arrive at any stage in today's conditional love sequence: the widespread acceptance of intimacy outside of marriage is based on an assumption that contraception won't fail. This assumption ignores the statistics that show that even when contraception is perfectly practiced, inside or outside of marriage, whether  there is love or no love, babies do result: Planned Parenthood statistics show that up to six out of every hundred women who faithfully take the pill conceive a child, six out of 100, every year.  A baby usually won't be welcomed unless the couple has moved to the Marriage stage. When a woman's motherly heart prompts her to not kill her child, she often finds she has to face losing the father and the wrath of her otherwise tolerant family.

It used to be that the conception of a baby was seen as a blessed event between a married couple, as the fruit of their love. Nowadays, only if the Baby is wanted by both, will it be allowed to live long enough to be wheeled around in a baby carriage. Close to a million abortions are performed every year in the United States alone.

It is too easy to go down to the same Planned Parenthood clinic that dispenses contraception to have an inconvenient baby killed. Their door is always open for Jane if she has the cash.  Planned Parenthood knows the statistics very well, and their business model depends on services that abort the babies who predictably are conceived from failures of the contraceptives they prescribe.

A New X-Rated Playground Song

Dick and Jane Sitting in a Tree
First Comes Sex Ed
Then the Pill
And an Abortion Appointment is Only a Phone Call Away

Love is Conditional
Marriage is Optional
Divorce is Expected
And We've All Lost Far More than We Know

How to Fix It?

The solution is too complex to fully cover here, but we have to start by shouting the truth.  "Sexual freedom" is not freedom and it's not even satisfying. It is not healthy for the bodies,  emotions, and souls of those who practice it. Marriage is not an automatic guarantee of bliss. But a return to traditional Catholic morality would eliminate most if not all of the heartbreak and other evils I've described.

A couple that is chaste before and after marriage, which means to be celibate while single and faithful while married, is going to live a happier and healthier life. One great benefit is that a person who is pure before and during a marriage cannot catch a sexually transmitted disease, except through a freak occurrence such as getting tainted blood transfusion.

When the pill is not used, the woman is spared being poisoned by hormones for years of her life. When female sterilization and male vasectomies are not used, the couple's bodies are not mutilated. When barrier methods are not used, no physical or chemical obstacles are put up between the man and woman in the act of marital intimacy.

Intimacy between a man and woman is far more satisfying when it is experienced within a sacramental marriage.

Of greatest importance is the fact that no child will be unwanted or aborted if men and women come to see again that the creation of new life is a desirable part of marital happiness. Even if an inconvenient and even difficult pregnancy occurs, no thought of abortion can be seriously entertained when the couple realizes that God wills each child into existence.

Throw out the Playboy philosophy and tell the world. Free love is not love and it comes with a great price. Those who are able to see the wisdom of rising above the culture and of living by the rules our loving Father ordained for our happiness find that they gain far more than they could ever imagine.

Do You Ever Wonder Why Prominent Catholics Openly Defy Church Doctrine?

Do you ever wonder why many prominent Catholics, such as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Tim Kaine, claim to be Catholic and still support certain immoral actions that contradict Church doctrine? If you read this column "Moral Theology: Software, Moral Formatting and Living in Sin," which was published in this week's Valley Catholic (from the Diocese of San Jose), it might help you better understand.  The author, Reverend Ron Rolheiser, is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, president of the Oblate School of Theology and a popular writer who has had a column running in the Valley Catholic, and I assume other diocesan papers, for years.[1]

Fr. Ron, or just Ron, as he refers to himself at his website, is one of the open-shirt-collar-wearing-no-clerical-collar-I'm-just-one-of-you-guys moral theologians (Jesuit Fr. James Bretzke[2] is another) who I've run across who seem to me to be expert at making clear doctrinal matters obscure. The writings of theologians like them are so nuanced that they make it seem reasonable for Pelosi/Biden/Kaine-type-Catholics to think they can disagree with traditional Catholic teachings about what is sinful and still remain convinced they are mainstream Catholic believers.
In this column, Fr. Rolheiser used a weak analogy when he compared classical Roman Catholic moral theology to "a highly specialized software ... that was honed, nuanced, and upgraded through centuries."  The analogy is weak because software determines how applications behave.  If Roman Catholic moral theology is software, then shouldn't it program how Catholics behave?

Fr. Rolheiser believes that the classical software has to change. He writes that he believes in the principles of classical moral theology, but we can no longer use its way of naming sin.  Why? Because much of our culture and many of our churches no longer understand that language, and, so, oh my goodness, many "good" people who are living in sin will be offended if we tell them that the way they are living is inherently disordered.

What is a modern "moral" theologian to do?  Teach people so they do understand the language of the Church's moral teachings? Defend Church teachings as inspired by God and existing for our benefit? No! Change Catholic theology! "We need a new software, a new way of morally formatting things."

That strikes me funny. I would like to find out what any of the many programmers I worked with during my career as a technical writer would think of the idea of a software program formatting such a thing  as morality. If you don't reject Fr. Rolheiser's analogy out of hand, his logic falls on its face because redefining a value changes how you treat it. If your moral theology software no longer defines a value as sinful or immoral, the program would no longer logically need to include any routines that would define how to change the no-longer-sinful value. 

Fr. Rolheiser describes a few different individuals (such as a housekeeper has been married many times and, like the woman at the well, living with a man who is not her husband) and a few different types of people who objectively are living in sin in other ways as having "life-giving" relationships, as good people who "bring oxygen into a room." 

So instead of having the kindness to tell sinners that if they die in sin they are in serious danger of being condemned to hell for eternity and if they go to Communion with unconfessed and unrepented mortal sin they are committing sacrilege and, according to St. Paul, are making themselves guilty of the death of Christ[3], he seems to want the Church tell sinners that they are just fine the way they are and not challenge them to change sinful behavior. That way they won't be offended.

I believe that Jesus would tell him there are worse things for a sinner to endure than being offended.

Fr. Rolheiser doesn't seem to consider that a more merciful way would be to not affirm people in their sinful ways, but to tell them the way to heaven, and to lead them to repentance, conversion, penance, and to make amends for their sins. Jesus did not leave the woman at the well satisfied with how life-giving her lifestyle was. 

And that, boys and girls, is one example of why Pelosi/Biden/Kaine-Catholics are confused and are convinced they are justified in contradicting Church teachings, and why they despise those of us who don't agree--because we are backward. They were taught this kind of modern "moral" theology in Catholic schools, in classes led by modern "moral" theologians like Fr. Rolheiser or by teachers who were trained by teachers like him.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.  
Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit: according to the tradition of men according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ.

The following quote from Saint John Paul II's encyclical on moral theology seems to apply to theologians like Fr. Rolheiser.

" Certain currents of modern thought ... exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. . . [T]he traditional doctrine ... is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to `exhort consciences' and to `propose values,' in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices." 

[1] I found out from his Wikipedia page that Fr. Rolheiser has "a regular column in the Catholic Herald which is featured in approximately 60 newspapers in five different countries." Fr. Rolheiser is a mainstream, modern moral theologian, who has a doctorate from the University of Louvain.

[2] James T. Bretzke, S.J., is currently professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.  I met Fr. Bretzke when I was a student of his while he was teaching at the University of San Francisco and moonlighting as an instructor at the San Jose Diocese's Institute for Leadership in Ministry. In his book A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology and in his courses, Fr. Bretzke teaches complex methods for evaluating the morality of actions - while Catholics who follow traditional teachings would call the same actions "sins" without Bretzke's methods. Putting individual conscience above Church teachings identifies Fr. Bretzke with a breed of theologians who believe the Vatican II Council licensed them to redefine what the Church teaches and to claim that traditional Catholic morality is wrong. People who think the way Fr. Bretzke does never bother to explain why they stay in a Church they believe was so misguided for so long, or how they were granted the exalted wisdom that made them able to understand what is moral better  than the great saints that came before them. I've written in several blog posts and elsewhere against Fr. Bretzke's teachings, for example, this article from San Francisco Faith newspaper: No Recipe for Morality Says Bay Area Jesuit.  Fr. Bretzke writes often for America magazine, including this recent article, "In Good Conscience" about Amoris Laetitia.

[3] Corinthians 11:27-32 is left out of the modern lectionary as a "difficult" passage, so Catholics are no longer taught these hard truths, that whoever received the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is "guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. According to St. Paul, many of those who do so sicken and die.

Corinthians 11:
27 Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man prove himself; and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Body of the Lord. 30 Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you: and many sleep. 31 But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Whatever You Legalize You Normalize: Contraception, Abortion, Euthanasia ...

Cosmo Lang, Lord Archbishop of Canterbur
Cosmo Lang, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury

In 1936, Anglican Archbishop Cosmo Lang objected in the British House of Lords to a bill that would legalize the practice of voluntary euthanasia, which he admitted was suicide.
It is one thing to admit exceptions to the principle that a man may not lay down his life, and it is another thing to give public statutory authority to the counter principle and to say that in certain cases a man, in his own interests and for his own sake, may bring his life to an end. Can we dismiss from our minds the possibility that advantage might be taken of any such public recognition of the counter principle in cases, different indeed from those contemplated by this Bill but which would not be regarded as morally different?

I suggest that we cannot dismiss from our minds the possible unforeseen effects upon the public conscience of, for the first time, giving definite legal encouragement to the principle that there are circumstances in which a man for his own sake may bring his life to an end.”
Anglican Archbishop Lang seems to have been a modern-thinking churchman who believed there was an exception to every moral law. He denied there was a religious component to his objection, since bringing the laws of God into the discussion would not be considered a valid argument among the British Lords. I understand Lang as having meant that “we” who have special knowledge about these things do admit exceptions to the prohibition of suicide, but that we should not make suicide legal, because by doing so we would publicly state that people can take their own lives. Period. If we do so, “advantage might be taken.”

Lang was aware of the human tendency to ignore subtleties. If suicide is made legal for hard cases, he was saying, the average person will soon come to believe that suicide is permissible in all cases.

This goes along with one of my personal observations, that whatever you legalize, you normalize. Appeals to make changes  to the laws about morality are always boosted with slogans that call upon our compassion with arguments based on the hard cases, but then once the law changes, the exception becomes the norm.

During my lifetime, cohabitation, contraception, divorce, and abortion were all legalized. Before legalization, the only people who did these acts were those who were willing to be lawbreakers and risk social censure. After legalization, all of these formerly exceptional things became normal, frequent, and almost universally approved for just about any reason. Just for one example, the legalization of abortion has led to the routine murder of around a million babies in their mothers’ wombs in the United States alone every year. And few of those abortions are for “hard cases.”

Back to Archbishop Lang’s speech before the House of Lords. Lang went on to express quite valid specific concerns about the capacity of anyone in pain to make a sound judgment about whether or not to choose euthanasia and about how relatives might put pressure on a weakened person to choose euthanasia for their own nefarious reasons. And he ended with another prophetic phrase, “if the door is once unlocked it will soon be opened wide.” Indeed.

Lang gave his arguments only six years after the 1930 Lambeth conference[1] released a resolution that reversed the Christian teaching of the immorality of birth control.

The 1930 Lambeth resolution essentially read: ‘Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation [by married men and women Ed.] to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method,” and it expressed “strong condemnation of the use of methods of conception-control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.” But it admitted the legitimacy of these methods if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence. “The Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.'”

The appeal for a merciful decision to allow contraception for hard cases opened the door. Of course, the average person did not pay attention to the qualifications, and most people just saw that contraception was now allowed. As Lang himself could have predicted, over the ensuing decades the door swung wide open.

By the end of the 1950s, “contraception was a way of life” for most Anglicans.  And today the “Contraception” page on the Church of England website reads, “Contraception is not regarded as a sin or going against God’s purpose. Anglican thinking changed during the 20th Century from concern about increased use of contraception to official acceptance of it.”
By the time of the 1958 Lambeth Conference, contraception was a way of life among most Anglicans, and a resolution was passed to the effect that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents ‘in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife’.

In 1968, the Lambeth Conference considered the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae and while recording their appreciation of the Pope’s deep concern for the institution of marriage and family life, the Bishops disagreed with his idea that methods of contraception other than abstinence and the rhythm method are contrary to the will of God.”
All the other denominations followed, and only the Catholic Church maintained this consistent Christian teaching that use of artificial methods of limiting births is a grave sin.

And take abortion as another example. It has gotten to the point, forty-three years after abortion was legalized in 1973 for hard and difficult cases, that now abortion is now being thought of no longer as a difficult but necessary choice, but instead it is being celebrated as a positive good. While those who initially campaigned for legalization called for the "right" of a woman to make the "difficult decision" without being accountable to anyone else, now celebrities brag about having had abortions, some women wear tee shirts advertising their abortions, some comediennes, such as Margaret Cho and others, tell stories of their abortions to get laughs as part of their stand-up comedy routines, and a #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag is making its way around Twitter.

1960s and 70s Feminist Spokesperson Gloria Steinem Rocking Her "I Had an Abortion" Tee Shirt
"It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: 'Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' was right.Gloria Steinem
Part of Amy Schumer's routine is a supposedly funny story about how awkward it was for her to go to the birthday party of a friend's little girl, because the girl would not be alive to celebrate any birthday parties if her mother had listened to Schumer's advice to abort the child before she was born.

“There’s nothing more awkward than going to the first birthday party of a little girl when you told her mom to get rid of her—because the kid can tell.”Amy Schumer
I predict that in a similar way, as euthanasia is made legal in more and more places, and when euthanasia comes to be seen as normal in just about everybody's mind, as it then will be, people will put down their sick relatives as easily as they now put down their ailing pets, even though the young hip ones may not go so far as to create a Twitter hashtag #IPutDownMyMom or #IPutDownMyToddler.

This post is an expanded excerpt from The Shifting Debate About Euthanasia and Eugenics: Some Other Words for Murder, which I recently posted at the Dappled Things blog, Deep Down Things. 

[1] The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of Anglican bishops that is held at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace at approximately ten-year intervals

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.)