Communication, Mother Angelica style

An Alabama nun died on Easter Sunday, and honoring her life and work in the service of God is a much more edifying way to spend time than parsing the latest outrageous remark by a presidential wannabe. So here we go: May Mother Angelica rest in peace – and I hope I can learn as she did how to use media to communicate the truth in love and charity.

The television network she founded, EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), is well-known. I wonder how many people who watch it remember what preceded it.


I was a college freshman in Florida in 1977.  One day in the back of the church I attended, I found a little free booklet by someone named Mother Angelica. I can’t remember the title, but it was about prayer. The brochure was a low-budget production, which didn’t surprise me when I saw that it came from an Alabama monastery. When I started reading, though, the quality of the printing didn’t matter. Here was sane and sound and sensible counsel.

As time went on, more Mother Angelica brochures appeared in the literature rack. The topics varied, but there were repeating themes: love of God, His infinite mercy, the value of human life at all stages, the need to keep growing in faith. The writing was always clear, good-humored, and down-to-earth.

That was a time in my life when by imperceptible steps I was moving from a personally-opposed-but view of abortion towards a pro-life commitment. The Alabama nun’s brochures that looked as though they’d been cranked out on a high school’s mimeograph machine were to play a subtle, indispensable role in changing my life.

I couldn’t anticipate in 1977 what kind of reach EWTN would eventually achieve. All I had were those simple little booklets. They were tiny masterpieces of communication and evangelization and pro-life coaching. They were like the snack food whose tagline was “betcha can’t eat just one” – I couldn’t read just one. I kept looking for more. And thus that Alabama nun with a gift for communication became one of the many influences that set me on the path I’ve been trying to follow for many years now.

Mother Angelica didn’t need fancy equipment to communicate. She used the tools at hand, however sophisticated or humble.

In her own words, “You see, God expects His people to do the ridiculous so He can do the miraculous.”

By the way, it turned out that the man responsible for the supply of brochures back in my college days was Father Bob, pastor of the church I attended. Father Bob is now Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama – the diocese where Mother Angelica lived and prayed and worked with her sisters in faith at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

Rep. Robert Luther, RIP

Rep. Robert Luther. Photo from his biography at gencourt.state.nh.us.
Rep. Robert Luther. Photo from his biography at gencourt.state.nh.us.

I note with respect and regret the passing of New Hampshire state representative Robert Luther, who died February 20 at his home in Laconia.

When I reviewed major bills at the close of the 2015 session, I noted that Rep. Luther was among those who supported bills on personhood, fetal homicide, keeping public funds away from abortion providers, conscience rights for medical professionals, and repealing the buffer zone law. This year, he was on the right side of the House votes on dismemberment abortion and protecting children born alive after attempted abortion.

In 2014, when he was serving on the Judiciary Committee, he voted in committee and on the House floor against the buffer zone bill, which has been enjoined by a federal court since its misbegotten passage.

According to Rep. Luther’s obituary, his family suggests that memorial donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Maggie Karner, RIP; campaigned against assisted suicide

Maggie Karner at 2014 East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide (photo by Ellen Kolb)
Maggie Karner at 2014 East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide (photo by Ellen Kolb)

Connecticut’s Maggie Karner died on September 25, almost a year and a half after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. She chose not to hasten her death. That wouldn’t be noteworthy, had another woman with the same kind of brain cancer not announced last year an intention to commit suicide. Karner’s videotaped reply –  “A Letter to Brittany Maynard” –  didn’t stop Maynard from carrying out her plan, but it found wide circulation (more than 400,000 online views to date) as a unique affirmation of life in the face of a deadly illness.

“I’m a strong woman, just like you. And I understand the horrible fear that you’re facing. Brain cancer sucks in a really big way. It’s a beast that lurks and prowls just waiting for a chance to pounce and take away more of our faculties. our everyday joys, and our very life. But you know what? Death sucks, too. It rips us from the people and the passions we love the most…. Please don’t let cancer get one more second of your life than it desires. No one is judging, but people are watching. I guess I’m yelling to you, Brittany, on your ledge: I’m asking you to stay with us as long as possible…. I know the predictions. I know what’s ahead for me and possibly for you. But we’re still here, aren’t we? We haven’t squeezed out every drop of life that’s in us yet….don’t leave us yet. Choose life for as long as we’ve got it.” 

It was my good fortune to meet Maggie Karner briefly last year, when she was a featured speaker at a pro-life conference in Connecticut. I wrote then about her call for fearless debate about assisted suicide.   I’m going to remember her as she was that day, speaking quietly and without hesitation.

“We have to come to terms with what this really is – with the fact that assisted suicide, let’s call it what it is, affects others, and not just those close to the self-appointed victims. It affects especially the weak, the disabled, and the most vulnerable. Because how long will it be before the right to die quickly devolves into the duty to die? What does this mean for all who are elderly, or disabled, or just wondering if they’ve become a burden to the family?

“My whole point today is that I have a brain tumor. So what? That doesn’t qualify me any more than you to speak about the danger to our society that assisted suicide poses.

“Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that you can’t have an opinion on this because you haven’t been through it. Today, you’re learning the information you need to have an opinion and to express it, without all the emotional baggage that Compassion and Choices wants to interject into it. This topic isn’t just for folks with an unfortunate diagnosis to decide. Not just people like me and Brittany. This topic of assisted suicide needs to be about every single one of us. It’s about all of us in our society. It’s about you.”


Update: in RI, an abandoned human being is finally laid to rest

Followup to a January 2015 post: a human fetus found in January in a Rhode Island sewage treatment plant has finally been laid to rest by the Diocese of Providence. Bishop Thomas Tobin’s offer to provide burial was accepted by authorities after a 5-month investigation was unable to determine the identity of the parents. The fetus’s gestational age was estimated to be 19-20 weeks.

Photo by Rick Snizek of The Rhode Island Catholic
Photo by Rick Snizek of The Rhode Island Catholic

See The Rhode Island Catholic’s coverage of the June 10 burial ceremony. From the post by editor Rick Snizek: “Bishop Tobin said he chose to name the baby Francis in honor of Pope Francis’ eloquence in encouraging the faithful to change the ‘throwaway culture’ of abortion that pervades society today. ‘This child is certainly a victim of that throwaway culture,’ he said. The Bishop again prayed for the parents of the child that God ‘will lift them up and help them through whatever difficult circumstances or sufferings that may have led them to this moment.'”

(My thanks to James Anderson for alerting me to this update.)

“The goodness of God endures continually”: Pastor Tom Clark, RIP

Today’s New Hampshire Union Leader carried news of the death of Somersworth pastor Thomas Clark III. I hadn’t been in touch with the pastor for many years, but his death touches me as a loss. He left his community – indeed, all of New Hampshire – a better place. I will remember him as a member of the clergy who was unafraid to defend life, in a charitable and comprehensive way.

Pastor Clark spent many years at Tri-City Covenant Church in Somersworth, and he taught at Tri-City Christian Academy. He used to bring students to Concord to testify on life-issue bills. He came prepared to offer testimony himself, but he always wanted the students to speak first.

I recall 1997 and the passage of Senate Bill 34, repealing New Hampshire’s nineteenth-century abortion laws. It was the third go-round for such legislation. After being vetoed twice by Governor Judd Gregg, the third time was the charm. Governor Jeanne Shaheen was happy to sign the bill, knowing that no fresh legislation was being prepared to replace the old laws. Abortion was left wholly unregulated.

The bill didn’t pass without a fight. Pastor Clark was among the many people who opposed the bill. Here’s the testimony he gave to a state Senate committee on March 4, 1997.

I come in opposition to this bill. I represent the Tri-City Covenant Church and the Tri-City Christian Academy and more importantly, I am a representative of the Lord, Jesus Christ and His church. I would ask that you would judge that representation by my defense of this book [the Bible he carried] and not by the Reverend before my name – which today means almost nothing, as we heard earlier this afternoon.

I come as a pastor acknowledging the fact that I have a place to come and give advice to the civil magistrates. This foolishness that we are not allowed to have a voice and to come and give advice is a foolish way that our country has gone – that our state often goes.

I come to read a very simple scripture written by King David from Psalm 52. King David spoke these words in his day as we faced down a tyrant that had killed 85 priests and then gone into a town afterward and killed all the women and children of that town and all the animals of that town, and that man was promoted by King Saul. It was a position of great power. King David looked at that man and said to him, “Why boast thou thyself in mischief, oh mighty man?”

David spoke those words to a tyrant. This man held power, but he only held that power for a season – and he fell.

The civil magistrates of New Hampshire in our day have power. There’s no doubt about that. But I come here to address you and to let you know that you are accountable for how you use it and what you do with it.

I come here today to say very clearly that the proponents of abortion of today are the Nazis and Stalinists of our day. You have a responsibility as civil magistrates to stand against them. They have power for a season, and this legislation may pass. They may enjoy their power. They may celebrate the passing of this legislation.

But let’s be honest. What is their boast? What is their might? That they have the courage to pick on the most weak members of our society?

David looked at this man that had killed the 85 priests and women, and said “What is your boast? What is your might?” He then ended that particular verse with these words: “The goodness of God endures continually.” He was reminding this man who was a tyrant that that there was a power higher than him – a power that would eventually bring him down.

One of the NARAL supporters was here earlier, and they made a big deal that they had been fighting [for] this for 20 years. Well, as a member of the Christian church, I can stand here and say that we have been fighting this battle for 2000 years.

No matter what the legislature rules, we will not go away. We will defend the innocent. And Senator Wheeler and Senator Francoeur, you’ll not stand alone. There will be others to stand with you as they have before.

(The senators to whom he was referring were opponents of the bill. “Senator Wheeler” was Dave Wheeler, now a candidate for Executive Council district 5.)

Now there was a courageous pastor.

Last May, Pastor Clark was named Citizen of the Year in Somersworth. He gave decades to his church and its school. He served as chaplain to various community organizations. God bless him for all that. Even more, may God bless him for showing us all what it means to be Christian, clergy, and a citizen all at once.

Related post: The Story of Pastor Tom Clark (published just six days ago), by his friend Peter J. Leithart on firstthings.com