by Raymond Arroyo
(Doubleday, 2005, 384pp, $45.00. Available from AD Books)
Reviewed by Stephen Hitchings
This is one of the most extraordinary biographies you will ever read. It is the story of a poverty- stricken girl, whose parents were divorced, who hated her father, hated nuns, was poorly educated and had little contact with the Church, but who grew up to become the best-known nun in the world and reputedly "the most powerful Catholic woman in America".
More importantly, it is a scarcely credible story of what divine providence can accomplish when matched with unshakeable faith.
Raymond Arroyo spent five years interviewing Mother Angelica and gathering information, and his dedication pays off in his beautiful and detailed portrait of this amazing woman. And for people like me with failing memories, his index is very thorough.
It is an honest book. Arroyo does not gloss over Mother's faults. He presents her as an inspired, very determined, but humble, fallible and frequently confused woman who is willing to endure anything in order to do what she perceives as God's will.
Two things stand out in her life: her complete orthodoxy in matters pertaining to faith, morals and liturgy, and the complete unorthodoxy of her manner of doing things. She defines her faith as having "one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach," and one of her personal mottoes is, "Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous."
Her achievements, particularly the formation of the Eternal Word Television Network, have been breath-taking, but they have never been easy. Month after month, year after year, she would be on the verge of financial ruin, with no way of getting any more money, but at the last moment a cheque would arrive for thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands, often from someone she had never even heard of. Just reading about her financial difficulties was stomach-churning. What must living through them have been like?
At every point, her success has been matched by suffering. All her life Mother Angelica has been fighting - against poverty, against prejudice, against unbelief, against a life- long succession of serious illnesses, against her own inadequacies, against those who would destroy her work, and against the sheer impossibility of the tasks she believes God has sent her to do. Truly, God will not be outdone in generosity toward those who are generous with Him.
According to Cardinal Oddi, John Paul II said: "EWTN is the key to restoring the Roman Catholic Church in America." This book shows why.
Stephen Hitchings is a Sydney-based science teacher.