When I had first read on Twitter that Mother Angelica had died I was surprised to find myself tearing up. This was not unexpected news as reports from EWTN had mentioned here physical decline. This hit me anyway. This these were tears of joyful sadness. A mix of emotions from my own sense of gratitude towards her and her work.
It is etched in my mind when I first came across Mother Angelica. I was in my limbo between atheism and theism moving towards Christianity where I was devouring the shelves of the library and searching on the internet. It was early 1997 when I came across the home page of EWTN which had a prominent picture of her. I remember just how much I was struck by her photo. “What they still have nuns who look like this?” Still I found their discussions forums and bookmarked the site. The internet archive first shows EWTN having a web presence in late 1996 with a very barebones page. I had no idea who Mother Angelica was and had never even heard of her.
When I retired from the Navy and moved from Virginia to Florida I had my next run in with Mother Angelica. Flipping channels I ran across EWTN and her program and was instantly hooked. I was quite disappointed to find out that EWTN at the time was only available for 3 hours a day by my cable provider. Still the channel soon to become a mainstay for me. I even remember the first episode of Mother Angelica Live that I watched where she had Fr. Groeschel on as a guest talking about his book “In the Presence of Our Lord”. Now if Mother Angelica’s appearance caught me by surprised originally, the same could be said for Fr. Benedict Groeschel. In this day and age? The banter between them quite amused me. Wow these odd looking Catholics can be pretty funny. His book was the first Catholic book I purchased.
I soon found that we had a local Catholic radio station Queen of Peace WQOP. I later found out it was only one of three Catholic radio stations in the country. I remember devouring content from the radio. I even recorded hours of the show on cassette to listen to later at work. I remember it driving me crazy that I could not get their signal within the walls at work. Catholic Answers Live soon became another addiction back when it was available for one hour during weekdays.
I owe such a massive debt to Mother Angelica and the media network she created. The content she freely provided enabled local efforts to startup Catholic radio stations. Having freely available content is the main factor in why there are over 300 Catholic radio stations in the U.S. now and the growing number outside of the country.
Before EWTN my reading was quite scattershot. I was basically just checking out a whole section of the library regarding Christianity. I had no idea what was worthwhile or not. My reading became much more directed by what I was hearing as I was becoming more and more convicted that not only was their a God, but that the Catholic Church was what Jesus founded. As important as all the book knowledge became for me, Catholic radio provided another important factor. The call in shows showed me an aspect of the Church I was not going to easily experience myself. As an introvert getting out and meeting other Catholics is an uphill battle. From the shows I learned the reality of the faith lived out. The struggles people have and the myriad difficulties within the Church. This helped me to not have an idealized picture of the Church. I found out that things are messy in the Church, but more importantly that things have always been messy in the Church. Catholic radio helped give me a dimension that my introvert tendencies was not going to easily fill out through experience.
The time period between when I first started watching Mother Angelica Live and her having a stroke was unfortunately way too short. Still I can remember so much from those episodes. I especially remember the time when she walked out on the set of her show not wearing braces on St. Thomas Aquinas’ feast day. I remember being stunned by this image and the story she told of the healing. I remember so many of the guests which sent me buying more books. I also remember the show where she had Marcus Grodi on which led to The Journey Home, a show I have seen almost every episode of. Plus who could forget her rant on a letter Cardinal Mahoney wrote on the Eucharist. Her grudging apology later was not her finest moment, but she made the effort in obedience. Most of all I remember laughing over and over at what she had to say. She had a way to make the Gospel stories so alive. She could make them alive since she knew people so well and could project attitudes in people’s reaction to Jesus. On Monday I happened to listen to a rerun of her show via podcast and was struck again at her wisdom and common sense.
In the years since being introduced to EWTN I have listened to thousands of hours of audio, now mostly via podcast. People complain about EWTN’s sets, but listening to most shows via audio this has not been important for me. Pretty much most EWTN show works just as well as audio since the content is more important than the video.
When I think about Mother Angelica what I think about is that she was the greatest evangelist in the United States since Venerable Fulton J. Sheen and that she has had even more impact. I could hardly measure all the conversions stories I have heard or read that involved people running across EWTN on TV or radio. She had a treasury of very funny conversion stories from people who wrote to her after coming across her show. The same goes for Catholic radio where on a variety of shows I hear how they impacted somebodies life. Most recently Ramona Treviño book Redeemed by Grace where she describe how helpful Catholic radio was in bring her out of Planned Parenthood.
I saw one article that described Mother Angelica network as a “media empire” and that phrase struck me as being wrong, but still being right. She enabled a whole media framework that inspired others to add on to it. There is much to complain about the state of the Church in the United States. Still there are plenty of hopeful signs and the media seeds she planted are growing. There are so many ironies regarding how a cloistered nun achieved all of this and how it was her partnership with the laity that have made her efforts something that does not pass with her. She was willing to take a back seat in her media empire since she always let the Holy Spirit drive anyway.
Her faithfulness to the Church was quite inspiring. There were plenty who wanted to pull her down or take over. She was a thorn in the side to those who wanted to water down the faith. In the biography of her life by Raymond Arroyo there are plenty of interesting stories about run ins over her network with the hierarchy. That the U.S. Bishop’s once had their own cable channel might seem surprising now, that it was less than orthodox at times is not as surprising. Her rapport with the audience was part of EWTN’s relative success. Still it was the faith presented winsomely and faithfully that had the most impact. The hard sayings go down better when your laughing hard. I recently heard Paul Darrow, who is same-sex attracted and a former international model, talk about first seeing a “Pirate nun” on TV. He relates this episode today in How the ‘Pirate Nun’ Changed a Gay Man’s Life.
There is so much talk about the Catholic Church holding women down since they see the priesthood in terms of power instead of in terms of service. Yet the greatest evangelist for the faith in recent time in the United States is neither a bishop or a priest, but a contemplative nun who built a network on total trust in the Lord. Her resume and life experience was totally at odds with what she achieved, but totally in keeping in what God can do with us when that still small voice is not drowned out.
This is one of those cathartic blog posts whose main point it to let loose what is inside and to try to show some gratitude for Mother Angelica in what she did and enabled. The great thing about the Body of Christ is that I finally get to talk to Mother Angelica and that she will pray for us as we pray for her. Her friend Phil Lawler who use to appear with her wrote about how much she would be amused to have her funeral on April Fools Day. It was fitting for her to die on Easter and fitting that her funeral is to be held on this date. Like St. Francis she was a Fool for Christ and was foolish enough to achieve what she was not qualified to do according to the world.
Requiescat in Pace