‘Mother Angelica moved mountains’: Full text of Cardinal Pell’s homily at Mass honoring EWTN’s foundress

Cardinal George Pell celebrates the Mass in memory of Mother Angelica at Rome’s Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, March 27, 2022 Cardinal George Pell celebrates the Mass in memory of Mother Angelica at Rome’s Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, March 27, 2022. | AG/ACI Group.

Cardinal George Pell celebrated a Mass in memory of Mother Angelica, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), in Rome on March 27. The Mass, at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, near the Vatican, marked the sixth anniversary of her death in 2016.

Here is the full text of the Australian cardinal’s homily:

As we all know, today is Laetare Sunday, the Latin for “rejoice.” We’re rejoicing because it’s halfway through Lent. Now, I suppose there’s no particular reason to rejoice if you’re not doing any penance, but we all should be doing some penance during this time of preparation for the great feast of Easter.

All the branches of Christianity perform more significant penances in Lent than we Roman Catholics, with the exception of the liberal Protestants. So I think you could make a case that the tradition for penance in the Catholic Church, in the Latin part of the Catholic Church, is there to be refounded. For example, the English bishops have made it mandatory, to some extent, that there’s no meat on Friday.

So we’ve got an abundance of good stories for today’s Mass. We’ve got two good stories. First of all, the Prodigal Son. The story we all know of the young son who wasted his inheritance, was unemployed, desperate, until he started to work with the pigs, who repented and then returned to his father.

And today we celebrate the sixth anniversary, more or less, of the death of Mother Angelica. A contemplative Franciscan nun, a Poor Clare, from the age of 21, a feisty character who began the Eternal Word Television Network in 1981 with $200.

Earlier, with four companions, she’d formed a monastery at Irondale in the Deep South, in Protestant Alabama, a most unlikely starting place for today’s international agency, spreading the Catholic truth. A company which, incidentally, especially in the 1970s, was a pioneer in world terms of the digital revolution in broadcasting.

Mother Angelica. . EWTN.
Mother Angelica. . EWTN.

So I want to make a few comparative points between Mother Angelica and the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son, with the Good Samaritan, is one of the two best-known figures in the New Testament parables. Of course, he wasn’t a character in history. But sometimes people can be confused. I remember being in Israel at one stage and the guide pointed out the inn to which the Good Samaritan had sent the man who was attacked on the road.

Mother was a flesh-and-bone figure, energetic, pushy, aggressive for the Gospel. She was not well named as it will be difficult to think of anyone who was, in some ways, less angelical. I had a little difficulty getting across the Via della Conciliazione here because of the marathon. And I had to employ an ounce of Mother Angelica’s direct approach to be able to get here for the Mass. So we thank God for that.

Secondly, the Prodigal Son came from a rich farming family and had a wonderful father who’s an image of God himself. The “Parable of the Good Father” would be a more accurate but less interesting title for the parable.

A marvelous old nun with whom I taught, and who wasn’t too much concerned with modern biblical scholarship, claimed that the young man fell into trouble because he lacked the love of a good mother. The mother, of course, wasn’t mentioned one way or the other in the story.

Rita Rizzo was born poor into a family in the Rust Belt of Ohio. Her father abandoned her when she was five and she was brought up by her mother, who unfortunately suffered from depression. She didn’t do well in school, but she was the drum majorette in the school band, which of course doesn’t come as a surprise.

Her story is a great encouragement to those born into difficult family circumstances as an example of just what can be achieved by those who aren’t blessed with a good start.

Prompted first of all by self-pity, the Prodigal Son eventually underwent a profound conversion and repentance to journey home. He’s a good model for Lent and a particular reminder for us to go to Confession to prepare for Easter, especially if we don’t go to Confession regularly.

I am not sure that Mother Angelica ever underwent a radical conversion, growing up with the faith as she did and entering the convent as a young woman. From that time at least, you could say that she went from strength to strength very much in a straight line.

The Prodigal Son was the younger brother, and perhaps a bit spoiled. He was rebel enough to ask for his share of the inheritance and to leave home early. But he was fundamentally a weak man. He was destroyed by his own lack of self-control and perhaps by circumstances beyond his control. Until he returned home to his father, he had achieved nothing as an adult.

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Mother Angelica moved mountains. She was a strong woman with an aggressive nature, sharpened by her environment and upbringing, which she controlled well and she used to marvelous effect.

The Prodigal Son was a Jew who acknowledged his offenses before the good God. But obviously he didn’t know Christ. While Mother Angelica could only have been Catholic, and did have something of the Protestant revivalist about her, she had a wonderful devotion to Christ who was at the heart of her faith, of her theism.

She was a woman of deep faith and prayer and would have made a great double act with the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who saved monotheism under the notorious Jezebel and her weak and evil husband Ahab.

It was love and devotion to Christ which provoked Mother’s most famous and controversial denunciation in 1993, after a female Christ figure was presented [in the Stations of the Cross] at the Denver World Youth Day. It was a searing and prophetic indictment. It was a bit over the top and the end result of years of insults and provocation.

I remember reading it and concluding that whatever might be said of the language, her point was basically correct. She was right. An Australian Catholic activist told me that speech changed the direction of his life.

So during this season of Lenten preparation, on Laetare Sunday, we rejoice in the fact that we know and love Christ, our Savior, our teacher, our healer. We thank God for all the good work that EWTN has done since 1981. And we pray that God will continue to bless EWTN for many decades to come. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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