Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thanks for the Memories, Mother Angelica (Part IV: How God-Incidence, Not Co-incidence, Brought Me to Alabama)

Like a bolt from the blue one day, the acquisition of the computer company where I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area by a company in Alabama made it possible for me to see for myself the network and a basilica Mother Angelica had built.

The basilica came into being this way. After the network was thriving, Mother Angelica bought a large amount of property seventy five miles north of EWTN in a much more rural area to build a quieter self-sufficient monastery, and she planned also to build what she called a farm chapel there. Her plans got much bigger when she had a vision of the Child Jesus, and He told her to build Him a temple.

Mother Angelica heard the words that gave her a new mission: to build a shrine honoring the True Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Five families gave enormous amounts of money for her to realize that vision, fifty-million odd dollars later, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament was the result.

One day when I went to work at my technical writing job at Cyclades in Fremont, CA, a sign on the parking lot entrance at Cyclades that morning said to go to a nearby Holiday Inn, where we found that Cyclades had been purchased by Avocent, a company in Alabama.

As I drove home that day, I was shaking my head, thinking, you never know when you wake up in the morning what new directions your life might be heading towards. The Avocent tech writing management flew us writers out to Huntsville a few times for training. Both times I stayed over the weekend before flying back, and I drove down to visit EWTN’s campus near Birmingham and the beautiful temple Mother Angelica built in the Alabama countryside in Hanceville.

While I was in Huntsville during the training, my loquacious Tennesee-born boss talked of many things. One of the things he mentioned one time was this weird Alabama TV station with a nun talking on it. Then he and looked at me and stopped himself. I had told him my plans to go to EWTN that weekend, but he had forgotten.

Before I went to the TV studio and the basilica for the first time, I detoured to a chant workshop led and organized by some of the most active leaders and organizers of the Church Music Association of America, in Auburn, AL. The director of the Gregorian chant and polyphony choir I sang in at the time in Palo Alto, Professor William Mahrt, is president of CMAA; I had attended a couple of the inspiring CMAA Sacred Music Colloquia, and so I was surprised to discover three CMAA bigwigs training local people to sing Gregorian chant and polyphony in an ugly little 50s-built church in that small college town in Alabama. It turns out that two of them are choir leaders at that very church.

On another of the weekends I was there, I attended another EWTN family gathering in a convention center in Birmingham. My letter to Deacon Bill Steltemeir, which I mentioned in Part II, included a photo I took of him taking photos of the audience members who had clustered around the stage at the Birmingham EWTN family gathering. I was later able to work with Deacon Bill to arrange for Professor Mahrt to be interviewed about chant and polyphony on Fr. Mitch Pacwa's EWTN Live show. It took a while to get on the schedule, but Prof. Mahrt appeared on December 12, 2007. As you can well imagine, the church musicians I met at the workshop at that little church in Auburn were there too. (You can listen to an audio file of that show here.)

Deacon Bill Shoots Back at the People Shooting Pictures of Him and Other EWTN Stars on the Birmingham Convention Center Stage

Audience of One at the World Over Live Show

Even though the front entrance to the TV studio in Irondale was shut up tight when I got there and nobody answered my knock, I decided to look around for another way in. I drove around the back of the building, and I caught a woman going in a back door to work on Arroyo's news show, The World Over Live. She agreed to take my card to Raymond. That worked out, so I was happily able to finagle my way in to see his show as an audience of one, a year before Arroyo moved the show to D.C. and started having live audiences.

The Temple in the Alabama Countryside

When I drove to the basilica seventy-five miles north the next day, I began to think that I might be on a roll and that I might be able to get to meet Mother Angelica, even though she was no longer active at the network after a major stroke in 2001. After driving miles and miles on Alabama country roads lined with white split-rail fences, I finally came upon the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament basilica facing a spacious open plaza.

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

I ran after Deacon Steltemeir after he served at a Vespers service at the shrine. He recognized me because I'd also sent him the photo of Arroyo charmingly squeezing my hand at the book signing. When I told Deacon Bill of my hopes to see Mother Angelica, he told me she was mostly bed-ridden, and she might appear only occasionally behind the cloister grill at Mass. When I was at Mass, I couldn't make out individual faces behind the grill, so she might have been there.

In any case, the glorious works she had brought about in seeking to serve her Spouse were all there for anyone to see. In that basilica built with nothing but the best, with jasper and other precious marble and stained glass, an ornate bronze altar rail, and row upon row of mahogany pews with kneelers all facing the altar. Other impressive sights in the main church were the gold reredos, and the gold eight-foot high monstrance, the second-biggest monstrance in the world, which is mounted over the altar. The tabernacle looks like a miniature temple itself, gilded with 24 karat gold, and its inside back wall is encrusted with diamonds, where Mother Angelica insisted they be placed, where only Jesus can see them!

"Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica."—John L. Allen Jr. “We won’t look on the likes of Mother Angelica again.” Let's not forget, St. Teresa of Avila, another cloistered nun who established many religious foundations of both men and women and made lasting contributions to her culture. We don't need a committee to promote this phenomena, God raises up saints of both sexes when they are needed to help save the Church, and to help save us all.

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