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April 19, 2013
Refused to be defeated
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

On April 20, Mother Angelica will celebrate her 90thbirthday. She was born defeated. That is, the child of an unhappy marriage.When she was still a child her father left her mother. The latter helpless anddistraught was incapable of coping with this tragic situation. She and hersmall daughter lived in utter poverty. How devastating for an alert little girl to realize at an early age,that she was the fruit of a marriage that should not have taken place. Her existencewas not “justified,” for all of us know deep down that the marital embraceshould be an expression of love. Later she was granted the grace of defeatingdefeat. Like St. Francis of Assisi she will declare God to be her father.

Although going to a Catholic school, she was not given the lovingattention she needed for many of the nuns did not understand the plight of achild of divorcees. Her life was dim indeed. But one day, as she miraculouslyescaped from a deadly accident, she understood that God loved her and had givenher life for a reason. She decided to become a nun even though she had toovercome the opposition of her mother who heavily depended upon her.

A convent of Poor Clares in Ohio accepted her, even thoughshe did not have much to offer: neither an outstanding education, nor anymoney.

She was given menial tasks. Once while cleaning a parlor,her foot got caught in the cord of the vacuum. She fell backwards, and theearly prognostic was bleak indeed: it seemed that she would be crippled forlife. (For more on this, read Raymond Arroyo’s outstanding book). God had hisplans, and even though she had to wear braces and walk on crutches, shedefeated defeat once again. She lived a “normal” nun’s life. That went on forquite a while, and then she felt the calling to found a Poor Clare Convent in theDeep South, in Alabama where the percentage of Catholics is minimal. She had toconvince her superior who understandably raised many objections. One of themwas money. But refusing to be defeated, Mother Angelica – apart from makingfish flies – invented all sorts of modest means of earning the sum needed forthis wild project. Once again, she won. As a matter of fact, she achievedanother amazing victory; her mother entered the monastery and joined the tinycommunity.

Nothing at this point would make one suspect that Irondale,outside of Birmingham, was going to become the birth place of the largestCatholic TV station in the world. Realizing the crucial importance of the newsmedia for evangelization, Mother had conceived another plan: to build one. Any“sane” person would question the nun’s sanity. Not only she was penniless, butknew nothing about television. Who was she anyway? The nuns were living fromhand to mouth. The money box was always empty. But why fear when one loves aCreator who is all powerful and all loving? Indeed, did not St. Paul say: “Ican do all things in Him that strengthens me”? One thing is to read thesewords. Another is to live them. These were not vague promises. She put God tothe test: huge debts did not worry her. All she and her nuns had to do was todouble their confidence in God, make sacrifices and pray, pray, pray.

Every step of the way she encounters obstacles, and to hergrief many of them coming from the Clergy: who was she to undertake a projectconfided to them? She did not have the education required. She was engaging hermonastery in a mad plan bound to end in failure.

All these highly “reasonable” arguments overlooked onecrucial factor: God often confided his most cherished mission to those whoknowing to be weak, put all their confidence in Him. Indeed, Mother Angelicabelonged to the “weak” sex, but the strength of the latter is precisely thatacknowledging its weakness, it puts all its confidence in Him for whom “nothingis impossible.” Indeed, God has “exalted” the weak, and made a Woman the Queenof Angels, who – according to St. Bernard – the devil fears more than GodHimself. For to be defeated by the “weak” sex is humiliating indeed.Supernaturally speaking, it might be that the weak sex (to which life wasconfided) is the privileged one.

The foundation of EWTN was for Mother Angelica the way ofthe Cross. She did not advertise her sufferings. Her appearance was one of joyand confidence. But she knew that blood was and is the price required by Godfor martyrdom.

The pattern remained the same: defeats, disappointments,suffering, difficulties from all sides. The end result was always anotherdefeat of defeats.

The last one was when a stroke deprived her of her power ofspeech which she had used so eloquently for years, reaching millions andmillions of hungry souls, often deprived of the most elementary knowledge oftheir faith. Now God chose to reduce her to silence.  But it is my deep conviction that with Hisgrace, she has once again defeated this terrible defeat: the joyful acceptanceof her forced silence is a victory of such dimension that it guarantees thesurvival of her great work.

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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October 24, 2014

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Lk 12:54-59

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