Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Come, Bride of Christ" – Mother Angelica Dies at 92

For a good many American Catholics, this Easter night brings a bigger blow than the loss of a Pope.

See, there'll always be another Bishop of Rome... but there can never be another "Mother."

Arguably the most influential voice for the Stateside church's "base" over two generations – and, indeed, a woman whose prime saw her wield more clout than almost any churchman at home or abroad – the beloved, famous, ever-original, sometime-controversial EWTN foundress Mother Angelica died at 92 at 5pm Central time, surrounded by the Poor Clare sisters of the Alabama monastery she built, as the world's largest religious media empire beamed the Resurrection to the masses.

Within minutes of the network's announcement two hours later, the news spurred a global outpouring of grief and prayers reflecting the peerless devotion of the "EWTN family" to the apostolate, and the unparalleled breadth of its reach across global television, local and shortwave radio, newsprint, a wire service and a growing piece of the internet. Accordingly, in these days' ultimate tribute to anyone – let alone to an unlikely titan of "legacy" communications long kept from public view – "Mother Angelica" ranked among the top trending terms on Twitter both in the US and worldwide through the night, with the Spanish "Madre Angélica" likewise climbing the chart.

To be sure, the story and legacy of the Ohio Italian born to a single mother could fill volumes – it already has, and even those are far from the last word. For now, though, the order of the moment instead is simply to give thanks and pay tribute to a witness and example that, objectively speaking, has brought the life of faith to untold souls and, with it, has irrevocably changed the face of this church.

If you've ever heard Latin at a parish Mass or found Eucharistic adoration in the trenches, well, there's your proof. What's more, meanwhile, even if some close encounters with the sinful, destructive polarization and ideological self-righteousness that mark this ecclesial moment seem inevitable over the days to come – after all, no less than Holy Week itself didn't lack for them in some quarters – just remember this: 35 years after EWTN was launched in a garage and went on to reach "the ends of the earth," every Catholic media effort that's stepped out on its own since (often in the face of skepticism or much worse, and these just within the church) is in Mother's debt. For those of us who've sought to take on the work in our own ways, we didn't just learn more from her than any other, but in more ways than can be put into words, she represented the "gold standard." And for this and so much more, we will forever be grateful – all the way down to the reminders to "keep us between your gas, water and electric bill," because if you don't, we can't.

Once upon a time, many moons ago – long before the network was ever envisioned – Mother's earliest media initiative was the steady stream of "mini-books" she cranked out on various aspects of the faith, which could be obtained by mail from the monastery at low cost. The circulation of these created the relationships and support from which the TV apostolate would be built.

Even if they'd come to be replaced by the ever more memorable live shows, the mini-books and their role should never be forgotten... but among them all, the title of one particularly sticks out on this night: a work she called To Leave, And Yet To Stay.

It was on the greatest love of her life – not the studio, of course, but the Eucharist. And fittingly, at least in a way, it's hard to find a better summary than that simple title of what she accomplished, too, and how her own unlikely victory will long remain a source of life among us and nourishment for the life of the world.

Tonight, then, may the ancient prayer be our own....
Saints of God, come to her aid,
Hasten to meet her, Angels of the Lord,
Receive her soul, and present her to God, the Most High.
May Mother's Easter never end. Lord only knows how, well more than most, we will never see her like again.

* * *
After two days of public visitation at the Hanceville, Alabama Monastery/Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, the Funeral Mass will take place Friday at 11am Central.

At the liturgy's close, Mother Angelica will be laid to rest in the Shrine's crypt, in the niche above the body of Sister Mary David – her own mother, who would eventually follow her into religious life.