Last weekend, I curled up on my backyard swing and devoured the Raymond Arroyo’s latest bestseller Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy. As one whose spiritual and professional life has been profoundly impacted by what Mother Angelica built, I was anxious to learn “the rest of the story”. I went in with a few preconceived notions based on my personal visits to both EWTN in Irondale, Alabama and a pilgrimage with my parents to Mother’s The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville. But I have to say though that within the first several pages, I literally couldn’t tear myself away from this book.
Today, I am thrilled to share my interview conversation with the multi-talented Raymond Arroyo. Whether you’ve read all of his books or none of them, I can’t recommend Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence strongly enough. The book moves beyond a biography and into the realm of spiritual wisdom being delivered by someone who was not only a colleague of Mother Angelica, but also a companion and student. Don’t assume though that his closeness to Mother in any way clouds Arroyo’s honesty in describing what unfolded in her life in the years since she left our screens in her live shows. Some portions of the book were surprising to me, but they were perhaps even more important in understanding the fullness of Mother Angelica’s legacy. Her final years, out of the spotlight, provided a different way for her to be a spiritual warrior on our behalf.
Enjoy Raymond’s comments below and please do yourself the favor of reading Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy.
Q: Raymond, first and foremost thank you for the gift of this beautiful testament to Mother Angelica. So many will be blessed in coming to know Mother’s ongoing life lessons and legacy through your work. Why is this particular book such a critical completion of your role as Mother’s biographer?
RAA: I am so glad that the conclusion to Mother’s biography touched you. This book is very personal to me. It is the fulfillment of a promise I made to Mother Angelica—to tell the full story of her life without embellishment—and a way for me to say goodbye to her. This last stage of Mother’s life, the final 15 years or so were filled with such meaning that I think they testify to who she was and demonstrate her commitment to her final mission. There are also powerful lessons here about the final stages of life and the richness and value to be found even in profound suffering. What an example she is and will be to so many.
Q: Please share how it was for you to write the book during this painful time of saying goodbye to Mother and how it has perhaps helped you in your own grieving process.
RAA: Since Easter Sunday it has been very hard without Mother. She was only a plane ride or phone call away for so many years. Still I feel she is still very close to me… As you know from the reading, I had been working on this book for the last 4 years or so. I could not have written this during the week of Mother’s passing while doing live coverage of the events surrounding her funeral. I wrote the prologue and finished the last chapter that week, but the lion’s share of the book was done. I knew I had to finish Mother’s story and that I would be unable to write it in the wake of her passing. So I conducted interviews and wrote the book in installments over many years. While I was finishing my Will Wilder children’s series, I continued to add to the manuscript. I wept over the pages and truly thought that the process would prepare me for Mother’s death. It didn’t. Though I had been with her only a few weeks before her passing, the reality of the moment hit me hard. You’re never really ready—even after writing hundreds of pages.
Q: Despite your closeness to and compassion for Mother Angelica, you openly discuss challenges faced in her religious community and her personal journey. Why is this honest assessment an important part of your work in this book?
RAA: Back in 1999 when I started working on Mother’s biography she told me, point-blank: “Don’t sugar coat my life. I wish you 40 years in Purgatory if you do that.” Mother understood something that many do not: it is a person’s wounds and failings that make them relatable to an audience. Not everyone has visions or hears the voice of God calling them to some great work, but all of us experience pain, heartache, anger, and frustration. Mother candidly revealed so much of her personality to me that I felt compelled to include that in the first book. I have followed that pattern in this sequel. Mother used to say, “People who tell you the truth love you. People who tell you what you want to hear love themselves.” I just honestly reported what happened. Now there are always things that a biographer omits. My rule of thumb is: if it is important to Mother’s story and character it stayed in. Anything else was cut. I have had hundreds of letters from people expecting a hagiography sharing how moved they were by Mother’s story and witness. More often than not it was the humanity and difficult moments of Mother’s journey that drew them to her. Her whole life is a testament to the fact that no matter how broken—how abused— we may be, all of us are called to great things. And with faith all things are possible.
Q: In many ways, we readers learn much about your own faith journey and growth through the prism of your shared path with Mother Angelica. How would you hope that each reader might better embrace their own role in the New Evangelization through the lessons Mother teaches us in this book?
RAA: At a time when the infirm and frail elderly are treated as expendables—something to be ignored or pushed aside—this final chapter of Mother’s story offers a counter perspective. Through the intensity of her last years readers experience this woman of great faith offering her suffering up to God for others. It’s a rare story that I thought needed telling. During those last years I came away from each of my visits with her changed. I think readers will have a similar experience. Bette Davis once said: Old age is not for sissies. It’s hard. But our job whether going through it ourselves or helping those we love on their final journey is to remain faithful; to continue being a witness. Mother said she always considered her suffering and pain to be a witness. In this final book of the canon, that witness is thrown into stark relief.
Q: Your book and Mother’s witness are a balm for those who face struggles in their own lives. What words of encouragement can you offer to those who suffer challenges about relying on God’s providence as Mother did?
RAA: Mother one told me something when I was hesitating and worried about undertaking the first biography. I knew it would be such a massive lift and I had never written a book before. Her words were blunt and to the point. She said: “Being afraid is not a problem. Doing nothing when you’re afraid that’s the problem. Whether you’re afraid or shaking in your boots, take the first step. The grace comes as you step. Franciscan virtue is to follow the Providence of God—and He only moves if you move first. That’s the scary thing about it: if you don’t go, He won’t go.” Mother’s message was to go where God leads. It may not always be a pleasant place or even where you desired to go, but it is often the best place. Ours is to go and trust.
Q: I would remiss if I didn’t ask you to say a few words about Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls! How do you think Mother would have reacted to this fantastic new turn in your writing? How is it a further fruit of what she taught you over the years?
RAA: Telling Mother’s tale really gave me the confidence to tell big stories and to take risks in the telling of them. Without her there would probably be no Will Wilder. I won’t presume to say what Mother would think of Will. But I know she would be pleased that I did what I felt called to do. There is no more important audience than children because they take stories to their hearts. Fictional characters become part of their world and can actually reorient their lives. I wrote Will Wilder to take kids to places they would never go. But he has taken me to places I could not imagine: schools and classrooms, libraries and theaters. It has been such a gift to me. The reaction of kids and adults to the first book of the Will Wilder series has been extraordinary. Kids are hungry for adventurous stories of mystery and adults crave wonder. To have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about history and the nature of good and evil with them all has been a complete joy. I’m working on book three now! I don’t mind the writing, it’s the outlining and thinking that hurts.
Q: What’s next for you personally and professionally?
RAA: I will continue to tell stories and hopefully challenge and uplift my audience in new ways. Whether through interviews or in fiction, music or through the written word I have to tell stories. This year has been incredible. I have been able to pay tribute to my friend, Reverend Mother, on air and now to finish her story in print. I have seen the first of my children’s series published and been allowed to watch my children grow. I am so blessed. I still have surprises planned for later this year. I’ve always felt you have to keep challenging yourself and stretching your talent. Gifts are meant to be used and shared. That’s what Will Wilder is really about and I suppose it is what I am about as well.
Q: In the book, you poignantly leave the “final word” to Mother. In parting, what final words of Mother’s legacy would you like to leave with our readers, busy mothers who face the daily challenge of ministering in the mission field of their own Domestic Churches?
RAA: I see my wife and so many mothers running from duty to duty: from the soccer field to doctor’s appointments, from dinner to softball practice. Mother had a great bit of advice she gave me for navigating the frenzy. She would insist that I “live in the present moment.” She had what she called a “Do-Drop system”: “You do it. Then you drop it.” This approach keeps you available to the blessings and challenges of each present moment without worrying about the past or fretting about the future. It is one of the great spiritual lessons of her life and a principal I use daily. It’s the only way to keep from carrying the stresses of work into the home or vice-versa.
Copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey