Last night I attended an annual dinner for Life Choices, a local pregnancy aid center. Their guest speaker this year was Raymond Arroyo, news director for EWTN and author of the excellent biography of Mother Angelica. Raymond blended his message about the courage needed in the Pro-Life movement with the courage shown by Mother Angelica in the founding of what he called the "largest Catholic media empire in the world, encompassing television, AM and FM Radio, Shortwave Radio, Internet, and even Podcasting."
I visited Alabama in 2000 for the ordination of a seminary classmate and had the chance to take a tour of the EWTN studios in the Irondale suburb of Birmingham. They show you amazing things like transmission equipment that sends the various programming to the satellite dish; equipment bought in the early 1980s that the manufacturer says had a life expectancy of 10 years, but still works today. The dish that sends the signal up to an orbiting satellite is located on the original monastery property (the Poor Clares moved 90 minutes north to Hanceville in 1999). This dish is located in a valley which should make a clear beam of the transmission signal impossible, but works perfectly. What did the Archangel Gabriel say to Mary? "With God, all things are possible."
Raymond's explanation of how cloistered Roman Catholic nuns from Cleveland, Ohio (who made their original income by roasting peanuts and tying flies for flyfishing) were able to build this global media empire deep in the bible belt revolves around what he calls Mother Angelica's "Theology of Risk." He explains it in his book on page 151:
"You want to do something for the Lord ... do it. Whatever you feel needs
to be done, even though you're shaking in your boots, you're scared to death -
take the first step forward. The grace comes with that one step and you
get the grace as you step. Being afraid is not the problem; it's doing
nothing when you're afraid."
The first reading of the Mass for today was from Ephesians: "In Christ we were also chosen ... so that we might exist for the praise of his glory". And if your parish celebrated the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross, then you heard your first reading from 1.Corinthians: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." Once when she was asked by a reporter why she thought she was able to build the a Catholic television network from scratch, whilst the US Bishops with all their financial resources could not, she replied with a wink and impish grin, "It's simple. God didn't ask them to do it."
Mother Angelica has her fans as well as her critics; you cannot be in the public eye without both. Say what you want about her, you have to stand in amazement of what she has been able to accomplish for the New Evangelization. In recent weeks my diocese was looking at the cost of continuing to produce and air the weekly radio show that I currently host, called "Proclaim the Good News." In addition to secular radio stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, "PGN" is also aired on New Jersey Catholic Radio, an EWTN affiliate, and I've heard the station manager's lament about the costs involved in keeping the station going.
In her last years, my grandmother wasn't able to get to Mass. But thanks to EWTN on the TV in her bedroom she went to Mass three times a day, prayed the Rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy, made the Stations of the Cross once in a while, and watched a TV show where guests were interviewed by a nun my grandmother affectionately called "my girlfriend."