Beliefnet
Slouching on a brown sofa each week, her braced legs crossed at the ankles, Mother Angelica was like no one else on television. She coughed when her asthma acted up, chomped on lozenges, unleashed explosive sneezes that drew tears from her eyes, and regularly collapsed into fits of laughter. This purposely unvarnished approach endeared her to the audience. In the gaffes and imperfections, they saw themselves.

For many Angelica became a surrogate grandmother; a trusted friend the confused, the bruised, and the elderly could rely upon for spiritual counsel and comfort. More than any other Catholic in the late twentieth century, she seemed accessible. The pope, though beloved by Catholics of all stripes, remained a distant icon of holiness: the father guiding the faith in another part of the world, removed from their daily existence. Mother Teresa, already regarded as "the saint of the slums,” had achieved an almost mythic level of sanctity few in suburbia felt capable of imitating. And though people knew their bishops by name, personal encounters were rare. Only Mother Angelica peered into the daily lives of the laity--into their living rooms, their bedrooms, their kitchens. As familiar as a morning cup of steaming java, she popped in with an inspired word just when they needed it. Evincing humanity, poking fun at her flaws, she made holiness attractive and feasible for the masses.

Mother Angelica conversed in the idiom of the people, using lingo sooner found in a barbershop than a cathedral.

“If you're close to Jesus in your daily life, you can explain Jesus in a very simple way because you're attuned to the living Jesus, the living Gospel," Angelica said of her approach. "Jesus spoke the language of the people--you could understand; children could understand. Too often, we in the Church talk to ourselves."

Applying spiritual balm to the wounds of the common man, her program tackled drug addiction, alcoholism, the pain of divorce, and loneliness. The “people that hurt” were hers. They were people like Rita Rizzo [Mother Angelica's birth name].

When a caller informed Mother that her husband had brought another woman home to live with them, Angelica's advice was typical: "Well, kick him out!"

"Oh, I can’t,” the caller said.

"What do you mean, you can’t?"

"They have no place to go."

"I could tell them where to go,” Mother purred. “They’re headed for hell. Tell 'em to go there.”

"I can't judge them,” the caller whimpered.

"Are you nuts? Another woman is sleeping with your husband under your roof, and you can't judge!"

On another occasion, Mother lectured her audience about dressing modestly, not sparing the senior citizens: "Nobody tells you because they’re afraid to hurt your feelings. But some of you old gals—believe me—cover it up! Whatever was there is gone."

There were serious moments, too. Abandoned by her children and her spouse, suffering with multiple sclerosis, a woman called Mother Angelica one evening in despair. “I know how you feel. My mother used to feel that way,” Angelica counseled. “Don’t blame God for what your husband or your children did....You have a great cross there, but don’t put the cross of bitterness on top of it, because that’s when you get hopeless. I want you to take that cross and give it to Mary....She knows what it means to be abandoned....Now I’m going to say a prayer for you.”

“She tends to be earthy and biblical,” Ben Armstrong of the National Religious Broadcasters Association said in 1985. “She’s the Bishop Fulton Sheen of this generation, and there’s room for her voice.” The cable industry agreed.

Mother Angelica’s spiritually enhanced straight talk garnered the attention of her peers, who in 1984 nominated "Mother Angelica Live" for an ACE (Award for Cable Excellence), conferred by the industry. Mother’s would be the only religious program nominated. Catholic broadcasters and communicators similarly recognized her impact, awarding Angelica their highest honor, the Gabriel Personal Achievement Award, in December 1984.

Even her blunders attracted notice. At the close of 1984, Mother Angelica received the Golden Blooper Award from Dick Clark and Ed McMahon. During the presentation on NBC’s "Bloopers and Practical Jokes," she guffawed at her own less-than-perfect takes and reveled in the lunacy of the honor. Like her Spouse, she went where people could see her and fearlessly ventured into places where no bishop would be caught dead.

Her secular approach worked. By early 1985, EWTN was carried on more than 220 cable systems, and could be seen in nearly 2 million homes. Broadcasting magazine, a television-industry publication, tagged EWTN as the fastest-growing cable network in the country. That growth could be directly attributed to Mother Angelica and her common touch.

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