The choice for God: Diocese of Syracuse priest says ‘goodbye’ to Mother Angelica

Father Christopher Seibt, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, and Father Mark Knestout pray during Solemn Vespers at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery on the eve of the Funeral Mass for Mother Angelica. (EWTN NEWS | JEFFREY BRUNO)

By Father Christopher R. Seibt

Editor’s note: The Syracuse Diocese’s Father Christopher Seibt was asked to be among the priests assisting at the final ceremonies for Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration who founded the Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday at 92. Father Seibt shares his reflections on the experience here.

As I was driving from visiting with my family in Syracuse back to my parish — Sts. John and Andrew — in Binghamton on Easter Sunday night, my cell phone rang. It was Father Michael Weston, the director of liturgy at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. When I was assigned to the National Shrine as a seminarian, one of my responsibilities was to assist him as a master of ceremonies. Father Weston called to inform me that Mother Angelica had passed away and to ask me if I would join him and two other priests in helping EWTN and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala., with the final ceremonies for her, particularly with the Mass of Christian Burial and the Rite of Committal.

After checking with my pastor, Msgr. Michael Meagher, I said yes and made the necessary arrangements to go and do the job I was asked to do, thinking very little about the significance of what was to take place.

When I arrived at the Shrine, Mother Angelica’s body was lying in state and there was a constant line of people waiting to pay their respects, ask for her prayers, and even place their religious articles in her hands, hoping for future miracles.

As my mind was focused on the task at hand, I settled in and began to help with some of the preparations for Mother’s funeral Mass. With regard to the funeral liturgy itself, I was asked to train various ministers, oversee some of the particulars, and direct the priest concelebrants.

I attended Vespers (Evening Prayer) and the Vigil for the Deceased the night before her funeral. During these ceremonies I began to realize that I was in the presence of the body of a saintly woman, one who perhaps may be declared by the Church to be a saint someday.

As we prayed for Mother Angelica, I became more aware of the fact that this experience was an historical moment. I thought of the many people, including myself, who were strengthened in their faith, hope, and love of God because of the efforts this faithful, passionate, and joy-filled woman religious. Consequently, my experience of serving as a master of ceremonies for her funeral began to be transformed from a task-oriented one to a deeply spiritual one.

The homilies that were preached, the comments that were made, and the stories that were told all recounted the valiant efforts of Mother Angelica — how she entered the monastery, founded EWTN during a time of turmoil in the Church to promote prayer and to clearly present what it is that we profess and believe, built the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament to give honor and glory to God and to foster devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and so on. It was clear that what she accomplished was beyond mere human capabilities. Some people even shared the fact that Mother had a bit of a temper and could be somewhat impatient, and that her theology sometimes needed a bit of nuancing and refinement. It was clear that she was human. Moreover, people shared how she personally touched their lives by bringing them closer to God and giving them hope. It was clear that she was a person of deep faith and prayer who cared about the souls of others.

All of this deepened my awareness of the impact that her life has had on so many people. Yet, what struck me the most is what Father Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA, the priest who preached the homily at the vigil, shared. He said that Mother did not die in her sleep, nor did she want to. All her life she strived to make the choice for God and at the moment of her death she wanted to be awake so that she could make that choice one last time. It was clear to me then that, above all, Mother Angelica was a person who feared the Lord — in the positive sense of the word — because she loved him ardently. Thus, she spent her life striving to trust in him completely so that she would always do his will.

There is so much more that can be said about Mother’s life. Of all the commentaries that have been written upon news of her death, I find Bishop Robert Barron’s to be the most insightful one. It is called “The Spiritual Legacy of Mother Angelica.”

Assisting at the funeral rites that helped the world to say “goodbye” to this very holy and remarkable woman religious was an undeserved honor for me. I did not know her personally. Nevertheless, her life and example inspired me and saying goodbye to her reminded me of this simple, yet profound, reality concerning the spiritual life: We all have a choice to make. Through her efforts, prayers, and suffering Mother Angelica encouraged and helped many people to make the choice for God — and now that she is with God I am sure that she will continue to do so. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

Father Christopher Seibt is parochial vicar of the Church of Sts. John and Andrew in Binghamton.

8 Comments on "The choice for God: Diocese of Syracuse priest says ‘goodbye’ to Mother Angelica"

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience in the beautiful testimony of Mother Angelica’s life and her deep love for Jesus. What a simple, high school graduate could do with her life when devoted so thoroughly to trusting Jesus.
    (Saw you in every aspect because I watched EWTN in everything that occurred. God bless you Father.)

  2. Colleen McCoy-Hooker | April 7, 2016 at 3:56 pm |

    So beautifully described, Fr. Seibt! So glad you were able to be there. You are a blessed priest, and we are blessed to know you!

  3. Thank you to you and Fr. Weston for making the liturgy all that it can and should be. I noticed him at the funeral Mass for Justice Scalia. It must be a huge task to train and assemble and move all of the players at such an event…and having it televised for millions. I sincerely appreciate what you did and what you said in this article.

  4. So thankful to read this article after seeing you on television assisting at the Mass for Mother Angelica. What an honor, Father. So many of us wanted to be there and are thankful her services and funeral were so well covered by EWTN. Thank you for your service to the Church. We are very grateful for your faithful witness! May God continue to bless you for all you do for Him.

  5. Mother Angelica has transform my life because now I’m asking Jesus what he wants of me and how can I love him more!! I’m waiting for the results of a biopsy and I’ve given it all to God so his will be done on earth as it is in heaven! I’ll know tomorrow what Jesus wants of me. Whatever the results I ask him not to take me yet because my mission is not done and I have to inspired my 2 kids to go back to church and be as close to Jesus as they can be! They were both brought up catholic but like me all the noise of this world we had all stopped to go to church and had become very lukewarm and we know how Jesus feels about people like that. God bless mother Angelica for her faith, her example and her beautiful sermons so full of love and adoration to the Holy Eucharist and her constant battle to become a saint! I know God has her in his glory and I can’t wait til they declare her the saint he worked so hard to become! Thank you sweet mother may you rest in peace!

  6. Father Seibt … You are an inspiration to me as was Mother Angelica. I loved Mother Angelica and have watched her shows and Ewtn for many years. She has brought me much closer to my Catholic faith and to our Beloved Lord. I Was so excited to see you on TV when I was watching the funeral on Ewtn… I called to my husband that there is a priest who looks just like Fr Seibt on tv! I was thrilled when you spoke of your visits of the funeral of Mother Angelica then at our Mass on the following Sunday. I am a parishioner of Sts. John & Andrew, and I feel very blessed to have Fr Seibt join our parish.. I look forward to the many blessings from Fr Seibt. Thank you, Fr Seibt, for sharing your reflection of Mother Angelica.

  7. Was just going to forward this article to mom and dad when I saw your comment. Small world. Mother was an inspiration. Hope you and family doing well.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience Father. I too whenever i switched on the TV on EWTN the week before Mother’s burial i used to smell a sweet scent not like the Mother Mary’s and i believe that she is in heaven praying for us. Another thing is that before her death i used not to watch her talks most of the times because for one my children used to say they are boring (sorry to say this) but after her death we used to watch every time even when you want to change the channel to watch the local news my kids could say ‘ no mum we want to watch Mother Angelica’ and I also wanted to listen to every word she said. Mother Angelica I know you are in heaven with Jesus. Please remember us. Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. may she rest in peace . Amen

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