On January 28, 2006, I saw Raymond Arroyo, EWTN News Director, gave a side-splitting talk about his experiences writing his best-selling biography of Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles. He was one of the speakers at the EWTN 25th Anniversary Family Conference that I attended in San Francisco a few months after my Israel pilgrimage with Fr. Joseph Mary from EWTN. Most viewers are familiar with Raymond Arroyo's more-staid delivery as EWTN news announcer. The San Francisco audience was practically rolling in the aisles listening to his much-more-relaxed comedic delivery at the conference that day.
I found Arroyo after his talk ended in a "Meet the Author" booth signing books. I told him, “People are saying you’re a riot, Raymond.” “Well, I caused a few,” he replied.
When Arroyo signed my copy of the book, he added below his signature, “May you find strength and inspiration herein.”
I actually did find both strength and inspiration therein. Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica is one of those books that can change your life. What was especially exciting to me was that Mother Angelica’s life story was yet another reaffirmation of the truth that if God wants a work to be done, He gives the ones He calls whatever power they need to accomplish His work.
Most of her life Mother Angelica had been plagued with disabilities. She was in pain most of the time. She’d been cured from a serious stomach ailment as a young woman, but she continually had serious asthma. She wore a back brace. Until her legs were miraculously cured on January 29, 1998, she wore braces on both legs and walked with crutches.
She didn’t have much of an education. She would tell people that God asked everyone else to do His work, and they all said no, so she was the bottom of the barrel. She endearingly called herself a dodo.
“God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” 1 Corinthians 1:27.
Raymond Arroyo's talk about her biography at the EWTN 25th anniversary conference had some serious moments too, when he exhorted all of us to live 1 Corinthians 1:27:
"Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote the first encyclical about the nature of love. . . . It’s the primordial creative power that moves the universe.. . . . Mother Angelica harnessed some of that energy. . . . . Mother Angelica said, ‘I am convinced God is looking for dodoes. He found one: me! There are a lot of smart people out there who know it can’t be done, so they don’t do it. But a dodo doesn’t know it can’t be done. God uses dodoes.’ . . . . Every major thing that God wanted her to do was preceded by suffering. . . . . When she started the network, she was 58 years old. She had diabetes. A twisted spine. . . . . You pay the cost to be the boss. . . . . She was following inspiration and the dictates of her spouse.. . . . The struggle. The cross. That’s her real story. Her life has become a parable. She wanted to reach people.. . . . She did what she did for love of souls, It was never about TV. For God’s sake, be a dodo!"
I was sixty when I heard that, a mere two years older than Mother Angelica had been when she started EWTN. God wasn’t finished with me yet either.
It's One Long Purification
A few months later I interviewed Raymond Arroyo by phone for National Catholic Register, but then the editor sat on the finished interview 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 I posted the interview as I submitted it before it was edited here. The final title was "It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo."
Between mid August and early September of 2005, Raymond Arroyo and his family had 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 Arroyo and his family got swept into a disaster of cosmic proportions when Hurricane Katrina hit their home in a New Orleans' suburb.
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. As he put it, they got out of Dodge. When Katrina hit Louisiana against all predictions and everyone else started evacuating, the Arroyo family was long gone. Everything they had left behind was swept away.
The string of stressers continued. As Arroyo later told the story at the EWTN 25th anniversary family celebration, Doubleday had lined up a string of talk show appearances in New York in conjunction with the release of his biography of Mother Angelica 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 even though Arroyo hadn't been able to promote it, and the book stayed on for four weeks. ”Four weeks,” Arroyo exclaimed. “A book about a nun!”
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 all. Here are a few questions and answers from my interview:
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 wrote about how when Deacon Bill Steltemeir 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. Mother was right. I came down and joined the network, and it was good for me spiritually.
This is Part III of a series. See also, Parts I, II, and Part IV.