I have just been reading a small book, published by ETWN, entitled Praying with Mother Angelica. They are all short meditations on the Rosary, the Way of the Cross and other well-known prayers and were first published in the 1970s when Mother Angelica’s nuns started printing her devotional writings at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama. Amazingly, they were soon producing over 25,000 copies of these pamphlets every day – rather reminiscent of St Maximilian Kolbe’s own publishing venture at his Franciscan monastery in Poland before the war. An apostolate blessed by the Holy Spirit will always flourish.
As one would expect from this down-to-earth holy woman, her meditations are pithy and straightforward (just the opposite of the writings of the late theologian, Bernard Lonergan SJ, which I was given recently and which I put aside after a brief and unsuccessful struggle to work out what he was saying). For example, meditating on Our Lady’s Fiat at the Annunciation, Mother Angelica writes, “We live in a world that does not accept the Father’s wisdom, does not trust in His providence, does not believe in His power.”
For the Baptism of Our Lord, she comments, “Only Jesus is Saviour. Only Jesus is the Messiah. Only Jesus is Lord. Only Jesus prepares a place for us in eternity.” And for the Agony in the Garden, she writes, “Your example of resignation, acceptance and love makes me realise that the Father has my life in His hands, and nothing happens to me that is not for my good.”
A final quote: for the Ascension Mother Angelica writes, “I want to rise above the demands of my emotions and have the courage to live in spirit and truth.” I give these examples to show her clarity, simplicity and profound faith, evident in her writing style – and in her broadcasts – which have proved so successful in communicating the Faith to millions of Catholics. In certain Catholic circles Mother Angelica was mocked as a “conservative”; actually she was simply a courageous Catholic who loved her Faith and who knew how to share it on a level that ordinary Catholics could understand. She, alongside Archbishop Fulton Sheen and St John Paul II, recognised that the new media could be harnessed to spread the Good News.
I wrote on Mother Angelica, who died on Easter Sunday, in a recent blog about psychologist Oliver James’s book, Not in Your Genes to show that neither nurture nor nature determine human behaviour, though they certainly influence it. Christians know that, whatever the dire circumstances of childhood or “bad genes”, grace can transform nature, even as it builds upon it.
Revelations in the Telegraph last Saturday concerning the paternity of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, teach a beautiful lesson on the transformative power of Christian faith. Like Mother Angelica, the Archbishop had a difficult and lonely childhood which he has described, with some understatement, as “messy”. His parents, who divorced when he was two, were both alcoholics throughout his childhood. His mother overcame her addiction in 1968 when he was 12 but his (supposed) father, who died of alcoholic abuse when he was 21, caused much heartache for his son by his behaviour.
Now, aged 60, the Archbishop has learnt from DNA tests that his real father was actually Churchill’s last private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne, with whom his mother had a brief fling just before she married Gavin Welby. This could have been a sordid scandal, the kind of “revelation” which all newspapers love to publicise. Instead, the Archbishop’s response has been a powerful witness to Christian teaching. I found his statement in response to the news of his paternity an inspiring example of the strength that faith can give. He writes, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes…Although there are elements of sadness and even tragedy in my father’s case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives. It is a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate us and redeem us …”
Like Mother Angelica, whose father left her mother when she was very young, Archbishop Welby trusts that he has been given the strength to rise above “the demands of my emotions” and that “the Father has my life in His hands.” Indeed, he gives a message of great hope to all those who will never know who their human father is, perhaps because of anonymous sperm donation or for some other reason. Whatever the circumstances of our conception and upbringing, our conversion to Christ – Welby himself became a Christian as an undergraduate at Cambridge – and coming to know the love of God, our heavenly Father, changes everything.