Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo

In honor of Raymond Arroyo's upcoming appearance at Fr. Keye's St. Edward Parish in Newark, I've resurrected an article about Arroyo that I published in May 2006 after I interviewed him by phone from his home. Also see this post Raymond Arroyo is Coming to Town: Glimpses and Context.


I originally did the interview for the National Catholic Register, but the editor sat on it for so long that I eventually published it at San Francisco Faith newspaper. I can't provide a link to the published article any more, because the archive is no longer available. So here is the interview as I submitted it before it was edited. The final title was "It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo."

Mother Angelica’s Biography, and Some Lasting Lessons It Taught the Man Who Wrote It

Between mid August and early September 2005, Raymond Arroyo, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) news director and author of Mother Angelica: The Amazing Story of A Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, endured a dizzying variety of life changing events.

First came a blessed event, the birth of the Arroyos’ third child and first daughter, Mariella. And less than two weeks later, articles in several national publications were reporting how Arroyo and his family got swept into a disaster of cosmic proportions when Hurricane Katrina hit their home.

On Friday night August 26, 2005 Arroyo was rendered sleepless and restless by a premonition, and on Saturday August 27, Arroyo and his wife, Rebecca, grabbed everything they could fit into their car, took their ten day old baby girl, sons Alexander, 6, and Lorenzo, 2, and his mother-in-law, and fled their home near New Orleans. When Katrina hit Louisiana, against all predictions, everything they had left behind was swept away.

When reporters talked with him in September, Arroyo’s was thanking Mother Angelica, both for taking them into a guest house at her monastery after they lost their home and for life lessons that helped him make it through it al.

The string of stressers continued. As Arroyo later told the story at the EWTN 25th anniversary family celebration in San Francisco in January, 2006, Doubleday had lined up a string of talk show appearances in New York in conjunction with the book’s release on September 6, but, breaking news bumped Arroyo off the shows. The book seemed doomed.

Then Doubleday called at the end of the week to tell him that the book had, somehow, made it to the New York Times Bestseller list where it stayed for four weeks. “”Four weeks,” Arroyo exclaimed. “A book about a nun!”

The book held for months on the Publishers Weekly Religious Bestseller List and [when this article was written May, 2006] continued high on the Catholic Booksellers bestsellers list.

The book’s continued healthy sales were remarkable, because, as a recent Publisher's Weekly article stated, “getting on the charts is hard, staying on is even harder."

Q: You mentioned in your talk in San Francisco that the week before your book came out that you had to evacuate your home. How did that come about?

A: I was at EWTN on a Friday night doing the show. I rarely have trouble sleeping, but I did that night. And I woke up and was flipping the channels on the television. The weather channel showed a projected path for Katrina. And it was going over Florida and at that time they were expecting it to turn toward Missisippi or Florida. Again it was Friday and it didn’t hit until Monday.

But the way it was coming across Florida it was exactly like Camille [1965] and Betsy [1969]. I didn’t live through those. But they were devastating to New Orleans and that whole Gulf Coast to Biloxi, lots of the areas that were hit this time.

I got on the Internet and I pulled up the paths of Betsy and Camille, and they looked very similar. So I called my wife at 3 a.m.. and I said, "Look I’m coming home tomorrow. I’ll be home at 9 o’clock. Pack the kids up." She said, What are you talking about?" I said, “We’re going to leave. We don’t want to get caught in the traffic once this thing hits."

She said, "But there’s no evacuation here. It looks like it is going to go towards Florida."

I said, "Well, honey Let’s just go. Worse case scenario we’ve spent three days on vacation."

So she packed the kids up with about three or four days worth of clothes. Her mother was there with her because the baby had just been born. And we took the car. I threw my suits and whatever I could pack into a bag. And we grabbed the important papers. [In the house,] I put whatever we could up high up. We put grabbed some videos and pictures. And we got out of dodge. That was it. The flight to Egypt. Or to Birmingham.

So then we had nowhere to go. Then I called the nuns and they let us stay at the guest house.

Q: Where is your family now?

A: In Birmingham, for the moment.

Q: Where are you going to settle down?

A: We don’t know yet. There’s a good chance we’re going to move to Northern Virginia outside of D.C. Rebecca and I were married there. We have a lot of friends there. There’s a wonderful Catholic community.

Q: You’re having to keep up with your role as the news director and anchor on "The World Over Live", also traveling to promote the book, while starting your life over from scratch. How are you juggling it all?

A: I’m living in Mother Angelica’s present moment. She had this idea, don’t cling to yesterday. Don’t concern yourself with tomorrow. Just live in the moment that God is calling you to right now.

It’s a cute idea. [He laughs.] But practicing it is difficult . . .. You do learn to do it though. It’s sound advice. I will tell you. It has really gotten me through this whole period. There is so much coming at me between special events in Rome, the weekly live show, a cycle of illness in our home. Rebecca lost a grandmother . . ..

All of this while the book inexplicably went forward. It is still doing what it’s supposed to do. But we’re all paying the price here.

Q: You emphasize in your book that every victory at the network was preceded by suffering.

A: That is the center of Mother Angelica’s life. I think it’s the center of every human’s life. The trick is learning to understand it, and not letting it frustrate you or throw you off the path. That’s hard. But it can be done. And that’s what she’s taught me.

We had the baby, Katrina hit, and six days later the book came out. I proceeded with the book tour. And it hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s still a force, still selling. People are buying it and are passing it on. It’s amazing the ripples of the story as it moves out, as people realize what this woman went through, who she is really beyond the television personality.

With this book tour I was able to connect with Mother Angelica’s entire extended family. Few people have her kind of influence.

I met a couple who were on drugs and they were just killing themselves, until they came across Mother Angelica one evening. Connecting their own dysfunctional background with her hurting and her pain and her difficult background was the bridge for them. Through that they were introduced to the whole Catholic enchilada. They found redemption, and they found peace and a way to battle their addictions. I was really quite touched.

It also helps me get through this period to see to see what people are going through. Losing a house isn’t such a big deal.

Q: I read somewhere that you said it’s purifying.

Katrina means purification. Heh! Her work has been very slow in New Orleans, I might add. But certainly in the lives of so many friends and in our lives, it’s one long purification. I’ve been living through Lent since August.

There is something freeing about all this. You’re detached from all the stuff you thought you needed. We have the kids. I got a few books out. My Sinatra collection . . . . Everything we need we have.

Q: You wrote about how when Deacon Bill Steltemeir [EWTN Chairman] first saw Mother Angelica, he started hearing “Until the day you die" every day for a month until he drove down from Tennessee to see her. Was there anything like that with you?

A: Nothing quite like that.

I came to do a profile on Mother in 1995. Early in ‘96, she asked me to start a news operation. “It’ll be good for your soul.”

My wife and I were ready. I was covering politics at the time. Politics is a shifting animal, it’s like sand. Yesterday’s hot story is tomorrow’s has been. It’s ephemeral.

Q: You write and speak a lot about Mother Angelica’s life as a parable that shows that God can do great things through you if you cooperate with Him.

A: If you are open to where He’s taking you to. In Mother’s life also you see these great illnesses and sufferings that presaged any major growth for the network. That’s what happens in all our lives. You go through purging experiences, whether they be illness or loss of a loved one or some traumatic event—like the loss of a house.

It prepares you for the next thing He wants of you. It’s a horrible time. Horrific. If you have the faith to cling to the bark like a little baby, if you keep walking, there is this great thing ahead. You have to go through this because you’re not ready for it.

Q: Would you have had those thoughts before you came to EWTN 10 years ago?

A: No. She was right. I came down and joined the network, and it was good for me spiritually.
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