Michael Ham was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and placed in a wheelchair at the age of 4. At the age of 10, his father left the family, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Toward the end of college, Ham experienced worsening pulmonary issues. Doctors realized he instead had a rare form of muscular dystrophy called Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, which is characterized by progressive muscle weakness.

Ham is a cradle Catholic and grew up watching Mother Angelica. At 33 years old, he is reaching his final days and will be visiting the EWTN campus in Irondale, Alabama, on Aug. 5 as part of his last wish.

Ham spoke with CNA about the role Mother Angelica and the network have played in his life over the years and the strength he has received through EWTN to endure his sufferings. (Note: EWTN is the parent company of CNA.)

“I remember watching EWTN as a 2-year-old. It was one of my first, earliest memories,” he recalled. “I remember in 1993 seeing this wonderfully-dressed nun who had such a peaceful countenance about her and she was talking about the Father’s splendor.”

He added: “I couldn’t believe that so much grace and so much humility could pour forth from one human being. I truly looked at her and saw a grandmother, a second mother, and a hero all in one.”

Ham explained that he felt he could relate to Mother Angelica because she too had a father who left her at a young age, but her willingness to openly speak about it taught him how to unite his suffering to Our Lord’s suffering.

He remembered when Mother Angelica had crutches in the late 1990s. She said: “Lord, I’ve always been grateful for my handicap because it’s kept me close to you and it’s been a witness for others.” Ham said he felt she was saying those words directly to him.

“Every part of my life she had a role in, in a strange sense, even though I had never met her directly,” Ham said. “But I would call to mind her words, her practical guide to holiness, and that made my life, which already had so many challenges with being disabled with muscular dystrophy, all the much more bearable because here was somebody who had her own physical trials, who didn’t hide them, but she exuded the Holy Spirit.”

Throughout his life, even in college when everyone else was playing video games, Ham said he was watching EWTN. 

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“What EWTN enabled me to do was to act on my faith,” he shared. “It was really wonderful because, when you’re in a wheelchair 16 hours a day, you need — when you’re not in school or you’re not otherwise engaged in things — you need something to focus on, and EWTN became my focus.”

EWTN was on Ham’s television 24/7. He would fall asleep with it on because it helped him sleep peacefully. Even more incredible was the fact that his muscle spasms would stop whenever he listened to the Gregorian chants of the Franciscan Friars.

Ham shared that he spent a brief amount of time in the seminary. However, due to being unable to kneel, the bishop felt it was not his vocation.

“I said, ‘Well, I may not be an ordained priest, but I can certainly live the life of one,” he explained.

Ham gets up early every day to pray, make a Holy Hour, and is involved in several Catholic charities.

His participation in Catholic charities was inspired by one of Mother Angelica’s teachings encouraging the faithful to go out because “you may be the only Jesus your neighbor ever sees,” she said.

Ham recalled: “I thought, ‘Well, OK, as I have a disability, let’s not sit back and be battered by it. Let’s go out and be the only Jesus my neighbor should ever see.’”

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Now, as Ham prepares to visit the place that has played such a vital role in his life, he is looking forward to “seeing what I look at every day in reality.”

He is especially eager to thank Father Patrick Mary of EWTN, whom Ham remembers immediately connecting with.

“I remember when he was a new priest coming on — up to that point Father Joseph Mary was always my favorite — but then here comes Father Patrick [ordained] in 2012, and he had a zeal, and an easy way of explaining the faith, that just reminded me of the spirit of Mother Angelica,” he said. “Every one of the friars has it, but he has something extra special that I connected with.”

So, when he was told that he would not be able to travel much longer, Ham knew that a visit to EWTN had to be his final trip.

“I said, ‘Well, then the last trip has to be to EWTN to say thank you, Lord, and thank you EWTN for being a constant in my life for three decades.’ It’s almost like a relationship. You see them on the television and they do become part of your family.”

“I thank the Lord for the grace, and I thank everybody at EWTN for their kindness and their prayers to me. They helped me immensely.”

When asked what he would have told Mother Angelica if he could have, Ham said without hesitation: “I love you. Thank you. I know that you’re going to tell me that Jesus loves me and you love me, but I love you and thank you so much.’ And of course with that would come a big hug because she was a very huggy person.”