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

By Alice von Hildebrand *

On April 20, Mother Angelica will celebrate her 90th birthday. 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 and distraught was incapable of coping with this tragic situation. She and her small 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 existence was not “justified,” for all of us know deep down that the marital embrace should be an expression of love. Later she was granted the grace of defeating defeat. Like St. Francis of Assisi she will declare God to be her father.

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

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

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

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

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

All these highly “reasonable” arguments overlooked one crucial factor: God often confided his most cherished mission to those who knowing to be weak, put all their confidence in Him. Indeed, Mother Angelica belonged to the “weak” sex, but the strength of the latter is precisely that acknowledging its weakness, it puts all its confidence in Him for whom “nothing is impossible.” Indeed, God has “exalted” the weak, and made a Woman the Queen of Angels, who – according to St. Bernard – the devil fears more than God Himself. For to be defeated by the “weak” sex is humiliating indeed. Supernaturally speaking, it might be that the weak sex (to which life was confided) is the privileged one.

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

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

The last one was when a stroke deprived her of her power of speech which she had used so eloquently for years, reaching millions and millions of hungry souls, often deprived of the most elementary knowledge of their faith. Now God chose to reduce her to silence.  But it is my deep conviction that with His grace, she has once again defeated this terrible defeat: the joyful acceptance of her forced silence is a victory of such dimension that it guarantees the survival 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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