Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fr. Perrone: recollections of Mother Angelica

In the two most recent issues of "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, April 3 & 10, 2016), Fr. Eduard Perrone  discusses Mother Angelica and her visits to Detroit, her participation in the 1996 Call to Holiness Conference, her invitation for the Assumption Grotto parish choir to performe Mozart's Coronation Mass at the dedication of her monastery church in Alabama, and her last visit to Detroit and to Assumption Grotto.

From the April 3rd issue:
God often accomplishes His finest works with humblest means. This is a theme running throughout Sacred Scripture. The prodigious accomplishments of Mother Angelica in propagating, defending and preserving the Catholic faith have changed the course of the Church in our time, in the USA, and over the whole globe. That’s saying an awful lot, I know, but I can’t refrain from asserting it. One would have had to live through those dark, uncertain, and even frightening days after Vatican Council II to appreciate fully the recovery of theological sanity, doctrinal stability, reverence and piety that began to emerge from the rubble of those distressing times. While Mother Angelica and her works were not the only factors enabling the revival of real Catholicism -- a work, we might add, yet in progress -- yet she was indeed a mighty force that helped cut through the thick, multi-layered controls which had prohibited the reforms intended by Vatican II. Dissidents were in charge of nearly everything–seminaries and religious education, liturgical movements and publications, chancery bureaucracies and priests’ councils, social media, Catholic schools and universities, local parish staffs. The clergy had made a general turn towards a destructive modernism which manifested itself in every aspect of Catholic life. The sufferers of all this, constrained to keep a respectful silence, were Catholic laity who struggled to keep faith, confidently trusting–in a laudable, if misplaced, loyalty–that they were being led aright. They had been told that this strange, new kind of Catholicism had been officially mandated by Christ’s Church. Thus the tension arose: fidelity and obedience to a Church which was manifestly odd and erroneous. Strong voices were raised in protest. I remember Catholics United for the Faith which valiantly tried to hold back dissent and teach truth. Father John Hardon’s great Catholic Catechism cleared much of the theological air that had infected doctrinal studies. It was, however, the emergence of the great pontificate of (Saint) John Paul II over the whole Church along with the apostolate of Mother Angelica in the communications media that turned things around towards a recovery of authentic Catholic faith and practice.

My association with Mother came about this way. As the newly installed pastor of Assumption Grotto Church, I had been invited to appear on Mother Angelica Live because our outdoors Lourdes Grotto somehow came to her attention. This was back in 1994. Although I had heard much about this bold and influential nun, I had never seen her TV program. After a brief introduction and prayer in the studio, we were to go onto the set and speak about heaven-knows-what. Mother and I got along fabulously, as they say. Immediately I felt comfortable in her presence because of the one thing we held most dear: love for the Catholic faith. An unexpected upshot of this TV appearance was a big boost in the prominence of our parish nationally and locally.

Our next great meeting was in regard to the formation of the first Call To Holiness Conference in 1996. For those who do not know, the story runs that the major dissident national ‘Catholic’ organization at the time was Call To Action, a wealthy, pestiferous monster born in our own Archdiocese in the later 1960s. It had graciously moved out of Detroit and into Chicago but had now planned to make a comeback to its native Detroit for a homecoming. Wondering over what to do about this troubling prospect, and rather confident that nothing would be done to stop it from our diocesan bureaucrats, I decided to hold a day of reparation in our church before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I mentioned my idea to Fr. Hardon who was delighted with the proposal. Contact was then made with Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press who said that this local countermove was far too little but that I should “go big” with the whole thing. I asked Fr. Hardon if he would invite Mother Angelica to come to the event and speak (Father had been her spiritual advisor). After prayer, Mother agreed to come. She made the day. Our Conference was a major anti-dote to the toxic offerings of Call To Action. It was, I would say, a great hit. Mother was to return to Detroit twice more for CTH Conferences, making a great impact on the people of the Archdiocese and of the whole country as well.

My last involvement with Mother came upon the dedication of her ‘temple,’ the new monastery church she had built for her Order in Alabama. When the dedication date for opening the new chapel had to be delayed due to construction set-backs, Mother found that the musical program she wanted for the dedication Mass couldn’t go ahead. Alabama’s local choirs and orchestral musicians had made other commitments for the new opening date. Mother appealed to her TV audience for help. Was there a choir out there that could sing Mozart’s Coronation Mass for the dedication? Briefly put, we were able to fill the bill. Mother flew our parish choir down to Alabama, put us up in a motel, fed us and carted us about on a chartered bus. Our part was to have a single rehearsal with local orchestral musicians and to sing the opening Mass. It was a memorable event, of course, and Mother, with all that must have been on her mind those days, gave us a generous amount of personal attention. My favorite moment was during the singing of the Agnus Dei when I saw Mother’s head peeking out behind us to see what she was hearing. Evidently she was pleased. After Mass she met with us to thank us personally. Needless to say, we were overcome with gratitude ourselves.

Following the days of her increasing debilitation I had often thought of inviting her back to Detroit, if only to be seen once again (she could no longer speak) and receive a warm and generous public thanks for all she had done for the Church in her ever-so-fruitful religious life. I realized that this would not have been possible. She was perhaps doing more than ever by her silent prayer and personal suffering than she had done in active apostolate. News of her death brought me the happiness of thinking that she had finally finished the work God had asked of her and was moving towards reaping the harvest of her tireless labors.

You must pardon me for mentioning only these select things about this remarkable woman of faith. I’m aware that she did a great deal more in her writings (her inspiring pamphlets were loaded with sound doctrine), in her radio and TV network (which today, as EWTN, did so much to  brighten the face of a depressed Catholicism worldwide), and in the founding of her religious communities which continue to steady, purify and strengthen the Church through the sacrificial lives of her many spiritual children. 
Mother Angelica, may your warm and lovely smile glow with the heavenly radiance of the One you served so well on earth. We thank Him for your inspiring and inspired religious life. Rest, Mother, but do not neglect to pray for us.
From the April 10th issue:
Last week, in writing my recollections of Mother Angelica, I forgot to mention that she visited our parish and our Lourdes Grotto.  It was at a time in her life when she still had difficulty walking with a walker, and so I had to drive Mother (with Deacon Bill) in my car up to the Grotto.  Mother got out and prayed for a while.  Photos were taken of which we can't find a good clear copy to print here for you.  The significance of this visit?  It was our cherished moment of the meeting of Our Lady with one of Her devoted clients.  This is what prayer is always, if only we were conscious of it.  I thought you would have wanted to know about this little, forgotten incident which had escaped my memory when I wrote to you last Sunday.

Mother Angelica's passing away on Easter necessarily drew my attention away from the usual expression of thanks I make to those who had participated in the extraordinary days of Holy Week.  Faces of the congregated people have changed over the many years of my pastorate here but the ceremonies of  Holy Week remain substantially the same from year to year.  In these liturgical ceremonies our Lord yearly relives His Passion and Resurrection in His people who die and rise with Him in a certain way.  The meaning of these sometimes hackneyed expressions ('dying and rising') is that the people of the Church, with penitent mind and with bodies chastened through fasting and other Lenten penances, have come to resemble Christ through these small but effective ways, sharing His divine life more completely.  It is in this sense that I prayed that you would have been enriched by those ceremonies of Holy Week and as a consequence have become better Christians.  We have been in need of this strengthening and will doubtless need it even more as mankind persists in its rebellion against God, its only final good, and exerts its pressures against the Church.

There is yet another dimension of this new paschal vitality in the Church in the baptism or the reception into the Church of former non-Catholics.  This year we did not have any adult baptisms at Easter but we did have three Christians come into the Catholic Church and be confirmed.  Among those who are dearest to a pastor's fatherly heart are these newest members of the Church.  They have before them the immense edifice of the Catholic Church to further explore in her doctrine, liturgy, history, and in all the related arts of learning and works of beauty.   On your part, you need to be especially welcoming to them -- when you see these new faces in church -- in order to lend your spiritually helping hands to them.  All of us who have been lifelong Catholics know how much there is to learn and practice in this great faith of ours.  How daunting then must it be for these newcomers to take-in and assimilate so much of what Catholic life is!  God the Holy Spirit moved them to enter the Church.  My part was to instruct them in the rudiments of the faith.  Your part is to be of further assistance to them, at Mass, in holy conversation and in -- may it ever be so! -- edifying example of the Catholic life.  The very least you can do is to pray for these new brothers and disters in Christ.

If the season of Lent seemed long and arduous at times, Eastertime is equally long but celebratory.  We have before us the great springtime festivals of Pentecost and Corpus Christi.  First Communions and Confirmations will soon be made for those who have been in long preparation for these sacraments.  The feast day of the Sacred Heart is also on the horizon.  Worthy of honorable mention too are the other events that skim off the top of Easter, such as weddings, graduations and banquets of various kinds.  Nature itself comes back to life as God prepares the earth to bring forth its fruits to sustain us for yet another year.  The bounty of God is persistent and unstinting.

Fr. Perrone