Stop me if you’ve heard this: the Church is out of touch, a relic of the past, and could not possibly understand the problems a modern person might have. I can answer that with just two words: Mother Angelica.
The contemplative Franciscan nun, who founded EWTN in 1981, had a hard-knock life. “I
came from the wrong side of the tracks,” she said of growing up poor with a mentally unstable mother and a deadbeat dad. Her father left when she was five. Her mother attempted to run a dry cleaning business but failed and had a nervous breakdown. Little
Rita became the parent, even driving at age eleven. Her grades suffered, and she failed in school. She avoided making friends and kept would-be helpers at a distance. She got angry enough to kill when her uncle called her mother lazy. The knife she threw narrowly missed him.
A priest helped her mother send her to Catholic school, but the sisters teaching there treated her as a second-class citizen because her parents were divorced. They gave all the kids new trinkets for Christmas, but they gave Rita a beat-up yo-yo with knots in it. Her distraught mother pulled her from the school, and for a time they stopped going to Church. In addition to all this, she was a wreck physically. She had swollen knees, ptosis of the stomach, and an extra vertebra. The surgeon bungled the operation to remove it, which left her a cripple.
During the decades Mother Angelica was broadcasting on the air, people would call in to her program with their pain, their grief, and their resentment, and she would say, “I know what it’s like.” She would lovingly console them and lead them to seek refuge in the Lord. She would smile and crack jokes and show them that they did not have to let their pain beat them. She would urge them to forgive, and they could accept it because they knew she had done it. Through it all, she taught the doctrine, morals, and spirituality of our noble faith, lessons which so many people never had the opportunity to hear before. She was the world’s catechist. Today, her message is still only a click away on YouTube. Looking back on the life of Mother Angelica, I am convinced that God raised up a saint to address the deepest problems of our times. Just as he has often done throughout salvation history, he prepared for us a missionary. We can read about Jesus, but it’s so much better if we can meet him through another person.
That is the role of the catechist. That is the role of the parent. That is the role of the Christian. To show us Jesus — his love, his teachings, his patience, his suffering, and his forgiveness. If we suffer, he knows what it is like.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
No matter what problems we face or when or where we come from, that will never change.
Susie Lloyd has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2019.