Book review: Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, by Raymond Arroyo

About 15 years ago I was browsing through a religious bookstore and came across a small book called "Answers, not promises" by a nun called Mother Angelica. I had never heard of her. She was apparently part of some Catholic TV channel called EWTN, that I had never heard of either (and which was not, at that time, available in Canada). But the book seemed interesting, full of little bits of everyday wisdom, so I picked it up. To make a long story short, I found it very unsatisfying. I had just finished reading a similar book of spiritual quotes from another nun, Mother Theresa. Perhaps it was an unfair comparison, but between the two Mother's I knew which one I preferred.

Skip ahead to earlier this year. Doubleday sends me a book of — you guessed it — spiritual aphorisms, edited by Raymond Arroyo but originally from the lips and pen of Mother Angelica. My reaction: oh no! But I decided to give the book a chance. And I am glad I did, as I found it to be a delightful little work!

There are plenty of books of spirituality out there, and plenty of people ready to give advice. Sometimes Catholicism is accused of being too "pie in the sky" to be practical in everyday life, but this is simply a perception — something Mother Angelica shows in the pages of this book. "Life lessons and everyday spirituality" really is what this book is all about, a guide to walking with God in every moment of our day, and in every challenge we face. It is about simple things: how we treat family members, how we deal with anger and live forgiveness, how to confront all the little corruptions that threaten to creep into our lives, how to live with suffering, how to keep our eyes fixed on God and heaven. Simple stuff, but very worthwhile.

I did not agree with everything the book contained, in terms of theological wisdom or practical advice, but I must say that 95% of it was just fine and the other 5% was largely harmless. For example, I found her theology of angels a bit dated, but that is really just a quibble, not a showstopper. When it comes to things that really count, however — for example, her views on suffering, on God's love, or on heaven and hell —`I found what she had to say both profound and accessible to the ordinary reader.

What I found I liked about the style in the book comes from Mother Angelica's gift of getting to the point in a way that connects the spiritual and the practical. For example, I was really amused by her story of the peanut. Her monastery, to make ends meet, ran a peanut roasting business. At one point, a supplier asked for a kickback. She refused, and he threatened to cut off the monastery, to which she replied "Go ahead, if I'm going to go to hell it isn't going to be over peanuts!" I love it! In one line she connects deep issues of moral theology and our eternal destiny with something practical — the kind of challenges any ordinary person might encounter in life.

I do not believe that this book will change the world, but it just may change a few hearts, and from my point of view that already makes it immensly valuable. My rating: B+ ('B' for 'good' and the '+' as an indicator of its special qualities)