As the Catholic world remembers Mother Angelica, the feisty nun who founded the largest religious communications organization on the planet, it will do us all well to reflect on this first anniversary of her death on how effectively she evangelized just by daring to be herself.
When it came to preaching the Gospel and encouraging others to do the same, Mother Angelica didn’t choose to quote papal documents or the lofty language of our Church’s finest theologians. Instead, she said it in a way that all of us “average Joes” in the pews can understand.
“God looks for dodos,” she once said. “A dodo doesn’t know it can’t be done. God chooses dodos, and I’m a dodo.”
This is vintage Mother Angelica.
And it’s also why Monsignor Graham Bell, an official of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, told the National Catholic Register that Mother was a “New Evangelizer ante litterum (before her time).”
In fact, she had the New Evangelization down pat years before St. John Paul II coined the phrase. She knew how to communicate the Gospel in a language that people could understand, not because she was a gift orator, but because she really believed what she was saying.
“Her communicating the Gospel was [all about how] she was really communicating a part of herself, because Christ was so much a part of her and a part of her religious vocation. In communicating Christ through television, through radio, through her many books, she was actually communicating a part of herself.”
The former Rita Antoinette Rizzo, who was born in 1923 in a ghetto in southeastern Canton, Ohio, would eventually become a Franciscan nun of the Blessed Sacrament. But in her heart, she would always be a child of divorce whose mother was mentally unstable and her father abusive. As a result of this incredibly dysfunctional childhood, she acquired a kind of street smarts that never failed to come through in her preaching. This comes through loud and clear in a short collection of her most memorable one-liners assembled by Aleteia.
“Every moment of life is like God saying, ‘Look, I know you messed up the last moment, but here’s a new one’,” Mother once said.
At times, she might even seem a little irreverent. “Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air and a queasy feeling in the stomach.”
She had no use for the traditional fire and brimstone but could still instill the fear of God into the heart of a sinner. “Everyone drags his own carcass to market, so be careful.”
For the timid among us, she had her own way of egging us onward. “Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous.”
And she made it quite clear that she wouldn’t be caught dead on a high horse. “St. Jerome used to hit himself with a rock every time he lost his temper. I’d be dead as a doornail with no ribs if I did that,” she once admitted.
She might have sounded unconventional at times, but she was always authentically herself – which is precisely what made her so Christ-like.
“ . . . [H]ow did Jesus communicate the Gospel to his disciples?” Msgr. Bell said. “He is the Gospel in himself and in his Person. It was done through what he said and what he did, and what he said and what he did find their center in his very person.”
For those of us who are called to witness to the Gospel – which is all of us by virtue of our Baptism – we’re called to be the same authentic witness to the Christ who inhabits us by grace.
“It’s not enough just to speak about Christ, and it’s not enough just to do good works. There has to be a relationship, so that what we say is explained by what we do, and what we do is explained by what we say. And I think in Mother Angelica, as in the great saints, this is exemplified; this is exemplified very, very strongly," Msgr. Bell said.
Sometimes we get too caught up in trying to be the saint we think God expects us to be rather than focusing on the saint we could be if we’d just accept ourselves for who we are – with all of our warts and weaknesses.
Mother Angelica taught us that it’s okay to be a dodo - as long as we’re God’s dodo – because with Him all things really are possible.
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