Mother Angelica

John ArmstrongRoman Catholicism

Most of you have seen her on television at some point over the last twenty-five years. She is a diminutive lady who wears the traditional habit of Roman Catholic sisterhood. I refer, of course, to Mother Angelica. I thought about her again today as I listened to a brief interview of Raymond Arroyo. Arroyo is the Catholic writer and news director/lead anchor for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He is also her biographer. Arroyo was chatting about her life and work and as well as his best-selling book, Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, now a top-fifty book on Amazon. I have not yet read the book but likely will try to do so very soon.

For those of you who do not know much about this lady her story is remarkable, regardless of what church you belong to personally. She established Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961. Twenty years later, in 1981, she began EWTN, which has now become the largest religious media organization on the planet. Her program Mother Angelica Live remains one of the most popular programs on religious television of our time and has also made her an internationally beloved spiritual voice. She still lives in a monastery in Hanceville, Alabama.

What is amazing about Mother Angelica’s vision for television was how she began and developed this ministry. With only $200, and some simple entrepreneurial instincts, she began in the garage of her monastery. Under her care and prayerful oversight this work grew at a pace that is truly mind-boggling. It is estimated that EWTN now reaches over 100 million viewers in hundreds of countries around the globe.

Mother Angelica was born Rita Rizzo in 1923 to a dysfunctional home if there ever was one. Her father was cruel and eventually abandoned the family. Her mother was chronically depressed. Publishers Weekly says, "She is an unlikely person to have redrawn the landscape of Catholicism in America." But this is what she has arguably done.  In Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica she comes across as "outspoken and sometimes hot tempered, arguing with cardinals and even hurling a knife at a sharp-tongued uncle when she was seventeen years old." She often enrages liberals and generally pleases conservatives but is respected by almost everyone who knows her. She is human for sure, but this is precisely what makes her story so interesting and powerful.

Think of it. At the age of 58 (my present age so maybe this was why I listened to her story so closely in my car today) she began a new ministry that touched the world. Arroyo says she often tells people to just get out of God’s way. "Find out what God wants you to do and stay out of his way." This is the simple way she puts it. She spends two-to-four hours per day in prayer, lives the simple monastic life, and then speaks to the world.

Maybe another thing that appeals to me about Mother Angelica’s way of life and ministry is that she demonstrates what can be done by faith and prayer against great odds and in the face of profound opposition. I could wish for half her faith, courage and perseverance. George Weigel, an author I have immense regard for personally, says, "Mother Angelica’s life is a powerful reminder that the extraordinary lies just beyond the ordinary—if we have eyes to see and ears to hear." How well said.

I am an evangelical Reformed Protestant, thus I do not share some of Mother Angelica’s beliefs. I confess, however, that she inspires me to love God more and to trust him deeply. She is a spunky little lady with a lot to say and she says it in very simple terms. People can relate to her life lessons and hilarious sense of humor. These are the very traits that we all look for in real leaders. She has them in abundance. This little woman is clearly a real spiritual leader. I just wanted you to know that if you’ve already discovered her on television. If you did know already know her I wanted to tell you that I love Mother Angelica and thank God for her vision and faith.