On March 29, 2016, I was driving from Louisiana to Hanceville, Alabama to pay my respects to a woman whom I had never met in my life, yet to whom I owed a great debt of gratitude. Everything that was most important to me was the result of this woman’s determination, suffering, and perseverance for the love of Jesus.
Born on April 20, 1923, Rita Antoinette Rizzo had a tough road ahead of her. Little Rita’s father had abandoned her family, forcing her mother and four brothers to move in with her grandparents, who owned a saloon. The neighborhood wasn’t exactly ideal for a child growing up; mob figures and prostitutes were part of the landscape in Canton, Ohio, at that time. She suffered greatly not only from poverty but poor health. Rita’s parents hadn’t been particularly religious either. But the Italian community had faith, and by God’s grace, Jesus gradually drew Rita closer.
Rita was what you would call “a tough cookie,” a hardheaded, hot tempered, wise-cracking kid. And to make a long story short; no-one expected that wise-cracking kid to become a contemplative nun and the foundress of a Poor Clare Monastery in the mostly Protestant south, or that she would start a world-wide Catholic television network, or that she would build a “Temple,” the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament at the request of the Child Jesus.
“The Saints determined, at some point in their lives, to follow Jesus. A vacuum deep in their souls began to be filled, for they found the Pearl of great price. They all changed their lives, some their state in life, but they did not get rid of their weaknesses. They fought harder, conquered more often, and grew like Jesus, in grace and wisdom before God and men.”–Mother Angelica
How did something so unimaginable come about? There is no doubt Mother Angelica would point to the Eucharist as her answer. It was from the Blessed Sacrament that she drew her inspiration, her strength and courage to accomplish all that she had done. It was never easy, but she knew how to dig deep when things got tough.
“Sometimes, when the cross just seems too heavy and you can’t seem to carry it any longer, go to church to the Blessed Sacrament, if you can, or just in your living room, tell the Lord: I thirst for Your Love, for Your Understanding. Give me strength. Give me courage.”–Mother Angelica
“In our life as Contemplatives, we may never see the fruit of all the prayers and penance we do. It isn’t easy at first, but after a while as you dig deeper into your interior and Jesus comes along with light–it dawns on you, as it must, that the only thing that the Eternal Father wants from you and from me is to become transformed in Love. Then, the Divine Image of His Son will be so clear in us that when He looks at us, He will see no one but Jesus.”— Mother Angelica
To be transformed in Love is also to share in Christ’s thirst for souls, an unquenchable desire to bring souls to Jesus. And that Mother Angelica did – millions of souls – from all over the globe, she drew souls to Jesus through contemplation of His Eucharistic Face, and as a result, her soul grew “brighter and brighter,” reflecting His Image.
“We all have some aspect of Our Lord’s life that we’re attracted to. And if we’re attracted to it, Is that all, to reflect like a mirror? No. We grow brighter and brighter. For what reason? To be turned into the image we reflect.”— Mother Angelica
A few weeks ago, I returned to visit Mother’s Angelica’s tomb. The words of St. Paul are inscribed upon it:
“And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord Who is Spirit.”2 Corinthians 3:18
Thank you, Mother Angelica, for restoring my faith. May you gaze on God’s Face for all eternity.