Today, Mother Angelica founder of the multimillion-dollar Eternal Word Television Network turns 90 years old.
Seen by millions each day on the television network she founded, Mother Angelica is one of the most trusted and beloved religious figures of our time. Her life story is one of faith, perseverance and overcoming obstacles.
In the following interview, Raymond Arroyo, news director and lead anchor at EWTNews, reflects on his long friendship with Mother Angelica.
Q. How is Mother Angelica doing? Can you start by giving us an update on her health?
Mother’s health is as it was. She is radiant and very serene–looks 10 years younger. I should look so good! Mother sleeps a lot these days, receives the Eucharist daily, prays with her sisters… But her days are very quiet. Due to her age and mobility, she can’t leave her room. But she is cared for beautifully and a sister is always with her. In some ways she is living out the vow she made in 1947 to be a contemplative with God alone. She has lots of time for him these days.
Q. She turns 90 on April 20th. Do the sisters have anything special planned for her birthday? Is EWTN planning anything?
I spoke with Mother Angelica and a few of the nuns earlier today. They tell me they have a slew of practical presents for her, there will be a special Mass at the monastery on the 20th, and they are planning to give Mother some of her favorite foods on her birthday (including angel hair pasta and meatballs as well as vanilla ice cream and fruit–which she adores). EWTN is airing 90 hours of Mother Angelica’s shows. My show, The World Over, will feature interviews with two of Mother’s nuns who live with her and have cared for her for years. I’ll also share my own remembrances of Mother on the April 18th show (8PM Live). EWTN Live will also feature a round table celebration before the big day.
Q. Mother Angelica once said, “You must laugh yourself to heaven because tears won’t get you there.” Having spent a good bit of time with her over the years, you’ve surely had the pleasure of seeing her sense of humor in action. Can you share a favorite memory from a time when she made you laugh?
Even in some of her darkest moments, when she was being assailed by those in the Church, Mother never lost her sense of humor. I can remember sitting with her in a guest house behind EWTN, where she would retreat after her live show. One night in the late 1990′s we were sharing tea and Nutter Butters speaking about her recent clashes with a Cardinal who was tormenting her. Out of the blue, Mother holds up one of the cookies, which was shaped like a huge peanut, and stared at it hard. ”I don’t mind the attacks. I don’t mind the slander. It’s the NUTS I could do without.” She ferociously bit off the top of the peanut cookie and uncorked one of those wheezy laughs that only Mother could produce. Her reference could not have been more clear. She would best that cookie and the Cardinal before it was over. Her timing was impeccable as was her feisty wit.
Q. Mother Angelica once told you she considered herself a “porcupine at a balloon party.” What a great visual. Can you recall a time when you saw her put those porcupine quills to use?
It’s easier to tell you when Mother didn’t use her quills. Mother was (and is) a woman obsessed with doing God’s Will, even when it would have been easier for her to give in to those with more power and influence. There is that wonderful story that I relate in Mother’s biography when the Bishops’ conference wanted her to air interviews with certain individuals that she considered heterodox.
“What makes you think you can decide who can be on air or not?” the priest demanded on the phone.
“I happen to own the network,” Mother said flatly.
“Well, you won’t always be there.”
“I’ll blow the damn thing up before you get your hands on it.”
How’s that for a quill? Human respect was the last item on Mother’s to do list. She was never rude. But when she encountered people whom she felt were obstructing God’s will or her mission–watch out! She had guts and vision and a deep faith. It was that faith that allowed her to be so free and so strong for so long–even now. That faith allowed her to overcome disability and hardship and create what is today the largest religious media empire on the planet. We shall never see her like again. And when the history of cable is finally written alongside the Ted Turners and Brian Lambs, there will most certainly be Mother Mary Angelica. On her 90th birthday I am amazed by not only what she has accomplished, but the way she accomplished it.
Q. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from Mother Angelica?
Undoubtedly, the lesson that Mother most impressed on me and that I took to heart is to “live in the Present Moment.” This notion of living in the present and not permitting yourself to dwell in the past or fret about the future is at the very center of Mother’s spirituality. She would say: “We have to ask God, ‘What are you calling me to do now in this present moment?’ Not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now. God’s will is manifested to us in the duties and experiences of the Present Moment. We have only to accept them and try to be like Jesus in them.” Once you begin living in this way, you are newly aware of inspirations, people, and events happening now. You are receptive to the many surprises God places in your path. It’s quite freeing actually. And when you truly live this way, you are entirely receptive and available to what you should be doing right now. This is one of the reasons Mother was able to accomplish so much during these past 90 years.
In honor of Mother Angelica’s birthday, we’ll be giving away 90 copies of Mother Angelica this month! Enter to win here by April 30th. Winners will be randomly selected and notified on May 1, 2013.