Parallel Lives

May 23 2016 | by

ON EASTER Sunday, March 27, 2016, one of the best known women in Catholic circles died. With a name and face familiar to millions worldwide, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, who was born in 1923, achieved fame from behind the walls of a Poor Clare cloister in Hanceville, Alabama, USA. Her funeral on April 1, presided over by Archbishop Cardinal Chaput, was televised around the world on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the television station that Mother Angelica founded, and broadcast on WEWN, the radio station which she began.

When St. Anthony died on June 13, 1231, he, too, was well known in the Catholic world. A Franciscan like Mother Angelica, Anthony, too, was a preacher and author, although his Sermons were written for friars, not for the general public, the target audience of Mother Angelica’s books. Anthony’s funeral was packed with his devotees. Had Anthony lived concurrently with Mother Angelica, we can be sure that he would have been a regular on her program, and that his funeral would have been televised by EWTN and broadcast by WEWN.


Great communicators


Despite their popularity, both Anthony and Mother Angelica had their detractors. Anthony survived at least two attempts on his life, both by poisoning, and Mother Angelica had to struggle to keep her media work going. Both were in ill health at the end of their lives, although Mother Angelica lingered for fifteen years after her initial stroke in 2001, while Saint Anthony, not having access to the medical advances that kept Mother Angelica alive, suffered his final illness and died while being transported to Padua. Ironically his death occurred at a Poor Clare monastery where the friars had stopped to give the dying saint a rest. Mother Angelica, who also died at a Poor Clare monastery, outlived Anthony by fifty-six years.

Both Anthony and Mother Angelica managed to fulfill God’s will in their lifetimes, despite the desire of each of them for a quiet, solitary life. Anthony, after surviving a terrible storm at sea, was sent to Monte Paolo, a small mountain hermitage in Italy, where he hoped to live a life of prayer and obscurity. When a bishop discovered Anthony’s preaching ability, he sent the future saint to preach the faith in an age of heresy. Mother Angelica entered the Poor Clares, hoping to be hidden within the cloister, but, when she began to record her talks for community gatherings on topics relevant to Catholicism, a bishop heard her recordings and encouraged her to continue. Her obedience led her to first taping a Sunday morning radio show, and eventually to establishing EWTN television broadcasting.


Similar thoughts


Both Mother Angelica and Saint Anthony gained a reputation for pithy, pointed aphorisms. Anthony and Mother Angelica often express the same thought, but in different words. Consider the spiritual life which is bolstered by love. Indeed, can one have a spiritual life without love? Not possible! Mother Angelica offered these words on love: “Faith is what gets you started. Hope is what keeps you going. Love is what brings you to the end.”

How do we love? Anthony tells us. “I love with my heart by faith and devotion; I love with my tongue, by confessing the truth and edifying my neighbor; I love with my hand by purity of deed” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Messaggero di Sant’Antonio Editrice, Vol IV, p. 291). Once we love, we are on our way to drawing closer to God whom St. John the Evangelist called love itself.

Knowing that God is love is important, but faith is more than knowledge. “Simply believing in the existence of God is not exactly what I would call a commitment. After all, even the devil believes that God exists. Believing has to change the way we live,” said Mother Angelica.


Pride, lust, avarice


Anthony went into greater detail about what those changes in our life must be: “You who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation from Jesus… [acknowledge] your sins, which consist in these three things: pride in the heart, lust in the flesh, and avarice in the world; tread the pride of your spirit under the foot of reason so that you may mortify the lust of your flesh and repress the vanity of the deceitful world. And take… the grace of the Lord… so that it may enlighten you to recognize the evil things you have done, and help you in the good things you have begun to do” (Sermons I, p. 101). In other words, admit your sin and use God’s grace to overcome it.

One difficulty with admitting to sinfulness, while believing in God who is love, is suddenly realizing how much harm we have caused and wondering how God could ever forgive us. Mother Angelica assures us that we should never despair: “God always forgives when you are totally repentant and you desire to change. He forgives... and he never gets tired of forgiving. Never. You may get tired of asking. I hope not. He never, never tires of forgiving. Never.”

How could she be so sure of God’s forgiveness? Anthony explains that the suffering of Christ in his Passion, out of love for us, is an assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins for which he died: “You [Father God] would rather that one person [Jesus], however dear to you, should be spat on and struck, than that your whole people should perish. Praise and glory be to you!... you make for us an antidote to drive the poison [of eternal death] from our souls” (Sermons I, p. 65).

Because God gave his Son for our salvation, we can pray as Anthony did. “Let us pray, then, dearest brothers, and suppliantly beseech the mercy of Jesus Christ: that he may come and stand in our midst, may bestow peace on us, and forgive our sins; that he may take all doubt from our hearts and imprint in our minds faith in his Passion and Resurrection” (Sermons I, p. 269).


God’s diploma


Once we realize that we are forgiven, and that God loves us, we come to realize our final goal – to live with God eternally. Anyone who lives with God is a saint. Mother Angelica understood sainthood in a profound way. “Where most men work for degrees after their names, we work for one before our names: ‘St.’ It’s a much more difficult degree to attain. It takes a lifetime, and you don’t get your diploma until you’re dead.”

Getting that diploma isn’t easy. Anthony knew the human condition, and he also knew how God deals with it. “You are wretched in your life, miserable in your reputation, blind in your knowledge, poor in charity and naked as regards the robe of purity. But the Lord knows how to cure a disease by its opposite. When he takes away, he also bestows. When he stings, he applies soothing ointment” (Sermons I, p. 61)

When God purifies us, as he purified both Anthony and Mother Angelica, he then calls us home to the heavenly wedding feast of eternity. In the lives of both of these servants of the Lord, Anthony’s prayer has been answered: “We ask you then, Lord Jesus Christ, to make us come in faith and humility to the wedding feast of your Incarnation; to celebrate the marriage of penitence whereby we may attend the wedding of heavenly glory. Grant this, you who are blessed forever. Amen” (Sermons III, p. 75).

Updated on September 30 2016
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