Quodlibets: Mother Angelica Live

If you or I had been in charge of providential planning for the effort to counter distorted versions of Vatican II and the Magisterium generally, it is doubtful that we would have cast a Yugoslav nun working in the streets of Calcutta or a cloistered Franciscan from Canton, Ohio in starring rolls. Yet it is arguable that Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica, in their very different ways, best symbolize for millions the authentic spirit of post-conciliar Catholicism. Quite fittingly, these two women are noted for their devotion to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. It is pleasant to learn that our bishops in their recent meeting in Collegeville voted to enter into a two-year exclusive relation with Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

About a year ago, taking up a theme first struck by Phyllis Zagano, I suggested that, in order to circumvent the problems created by Church teaching being filtered through the secular media, Vatican Radio should be made available in this country otherwise than on shortwave. It was a somewhat desperate suggestion, but it was difficult not to lament the fact that most Catholics first hear of a new encyclical, declaration or other magisterial document through newspaper and television. The secular media, fitting the Church into their Procrustean bed, balance these statements as from the party in power with negative comments from dissidents, with a predictable bias toward the “progressive underdog” and against the “conservatives” currently in charge.

During the past year, two things have caused me to take a cheerier view. A few months ago, 30 DAYS, the English version of Communione e Liberazione’s 30 Giorni, began to appear in this country under the editorship of the redoubtable Joseph Fessio, S.J. The slick and attractive monthly is largely made up of translations from the mother edition and thus provides a preponderance of news from the Vatican. The current issue features a story on Archbishop Lefebvre, contains a tribute to Hans Urs von Balthasar by Father Fessio, a story on the new top men in the Curia, an interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, and much more. All in all, the best thing to happen to the Catholic press in this country since, oh, five years and ten months ago.

And then there is Mother Angelica. That I should not have seen her television network as the antidote we seek can be explained, apart from general obtuseness, by the fact that the cable service in South Bend does not yet pick her up. True, during the papal visit, she was carried on C-Span and I had the pleasure of hearing her comment on that dreadful address to the Holy Father on the part of the priests of the nation by one who shall be nameless. “Isn’t that a lot of bunk?” was Mother Angelica’s comment.

It was, and it was refreshing to hear it said. But one swallow does not make a spring, the Pope left, and C-Span went back to its ordinary fare. My eyes, like those of the NCCB, have been opened, however, and I now see EWTN as the single most important Catholic effort in public communication. This is not so because of shrewd planning, feasibility studies, or efforts to put some spin on sound doctrine to make it more palatable. Human calculation cannot explain EWTN.

The spiritual heart of EWTN is the convent of cloistered Franciscan Nuns of the Most Blessed Sacrament, contemplatives whose essential work is perpetual adoration. The convent was founded by Mother Angelica in 1962 on rocky terrain outside Birmingham, Alabama, in fulfillment of a promise to bring the Church to the south, mainly through the prayers of her community, but also by way of the pamphlets she began to write. These are almost exclusively concerned with the spiritual life and address the human hunger for intimacy with God. She has written eighty of these simple, wise, and powerful little booklets; they are printed on site by what is now a booming publishing effort, with many employees. The television effort grew naturally out of that.

With Vatican permission, these cloistered nuns have over the past half-dozen years, relying on divine help, created a television network.

The enormous ultramodern television studio and the printing building flank the convent and draw their strength from it. There is now a large lay workforce in both publishing and television. EWTN is on the air 24 hours a day; Mother Angelica Live is broadcast two nights a week before a live audience; over fifty percent of the programming is produced in its studios. This Catholic cable network is making the faith known to millions. Father Michael McDonagh is superior of the new Order of the Divine Word, made up of priests and brothers with a monastery abuilding. A new order for women, the Sister Servants of the Divine Word, also flourishes. When the grill behind the altar rolls back each morning at seven, these three communities are one in worship. God who can raise up children of Abraham from stones seems to have done just that in Alabama.

If your local cable service does not carry Mother Angelica, start a campaign now to secure a channel. The Knights of Columbus have been engaged in this effort for some time. For information on how to go about it, write: EWTN, 5817 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35210 (205-956-9537).

Mother Teresa eschews publicity. Mother Angelica, in the spirit of Vatican II, has made television an instrument of spreading the authentic faith. The bishops have chosen well, recognizing a powerful and providentially provided means of evangelizing the nation. Now if 30 DAYS would publish EWTN’s monthly program….


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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