Mother Angelica: Christian Suffering Is a ‘Helpful Companion’ on the Road to Heaven

Mother’s advice in her book, ‘Suffering and Burnout,’ is more relevant today than ever.

Book cover of ‘Suffering and Burnout’ by Mother Angelica; background details from Quinten Metsys (d. 1530), “Crucifixion”
Book cover of ‘Suffering and Burnout’ by Mother Angelica; background details from Quinten Metsys (d. 1530), “Crucifixion” (photo: EWTN Publishing)

Mother Angelica said to me one time that suffering had been her constant companion who kept her dependent on God. In other words, she was telling me that suffering was her “helpful companion” that always reminded her that she needed the help of God — certainly in the remarkable works that she was called to do, but even in her everyday life.

Two of the nuns related to me that there were occasionally times when Mother was very nauseated before going to do her live show. During the show, she would be fine and would be able to do the program with her characteristic humor. Then immediately after the show, the nausea would return.

This helped Mother always to remember that it was God’s grace that enabled her to do the mission given her — that she was dependent on him - but that she could also count on his grace to assist her – she could have confidence that she would have all that she needed (though not necessarily what she wanted).

Suffering and Burnout

In her book Suffering and Burnout, which is a compilation of six of her mini-books, she writes of different types of suffering that help us to see suffering as “our helpful companion.” It was, in fact, her suffering as an 18-year-old, with a physical problem that doctors could not cure, that led her to discover, in a profound way, God’s love for her personally.

She said, “When the Lord came in and healed me through the Little Flower, I had a whole different attitude. I knew there was a God; I knew that God knew me and loved me and was interested in me. I didn’t know that before. All I wanted to do after my healing was give myself to Jesus.”

Suffering brought her as a teenager to pray, to grow in devotion to St. Thérèse, and eventually to discover her vocation as a nun devoted to the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In September 2001, I received a call from the nuns that Mother was in the hospital. I rushed over there and found her in the hospital bed with the left side of her face sagging and her speech slurred. I was somewhat saddened to see her this way with a patch over her eye when she quipped, “Now people will be saying, ‘See, I was right, she really is a pirate.’” And then she let out her ready laugh, undeterred by what had just happened to her. She continued to do her Mother Angelica Live show, and two events illustrate two types of suffering that Mother Angelica talks about in the book: “redemptive suffering” and “witness suffering.”

Redemptive Suffering

Paul Darrow, in his work with Courage International, speaks about the immoral lifestyle he was leading when he came across the “pirate nun” for the first time on television. He joked to his companion about her appearance when she said something that touched his heart deeply. Later, he would secretly watch her programs and he eventually made his way to living a more virtuous life and back into the Catholic Church. One year before Mother Angelica’s death on March 27, 2016, he traveled to Hanceville to visit her and to thank her for saving his soul. Mother’s uniting her sufferings with those of her spouse, Jesus, brought her to share in his work of redemption for Paul’s soul and the souls of so many others.

Witness Suffering

When Mother was asked whether she really wanted to do the live show with her slurred speech and patched eye, she responded with a definite “Yes,” for she saw that that would help others in their sufferings. A woman contacted the network saying that after her stroke she no longer went out in public because of the embarrassment she felt over her appearance and her difficulty in speaking, but after seeing Mother Angelica continue to do her show, she began to go out again. Mother’s “witness suffering” gave her courage in her own suffering.

Spiritual Hangovers

Some sufferings are of our own making. In another of the mini-books, Spiritual Hangovers, included in this compilation, Mother talks about our tendency to nurse and nourish resentments, anger, hatred, regrets, worry and guilt. Our minds become broken records that rehash, repeat and re-live hurts, worries and disappointments. We make ourselves miserable. Mother calls these “Spiritual Hangovers.” She writes, “Jesus wants us to trust Him to take care of all our yesterdays and tomorrows.”

Do-Drop System

I have often called to mind, in my own work for EWTN, Mother’s “do-drop system.” You do it and then you drop it. Don't replay in your mind your mistakes or things you could have said or done better. You leave it to God to use it as he will for the good of others, remembering that he is not limited by our limitations. Do it as well as you can — then drop it. Good advice!

God’s Silent Presence

Finally, in another of the mini-books of this compilation, His Silent Presence, in words that are even more relevant today, she writes that we have forgotten how to pause, to be still and to listen. Instead, we are always in a rush. We want to keep moving and to be heard. She writes, “The noisy world around us, and the distracted world within us, seem to unite in an effort to prevent us from ever arriving at a serene and continuous contact with God.”

But it is in pausing, being still and listening that we will find help in our suffering.

Helpful Companion

And of suffering, she writes, “Sorrows and illness of every kind weigh us down, and then it is that we must go into our secret place, weary and pained, and enjoy the cool refreshing silence of His Presence.” Yes, suffering will be “our helpful companion” who will lead us to God and keep us dependent on him — helping us to never forget that we need him, and that he will always support us and give us all that we need.

So, do you see suffering as your “helpful companion?”