Archbishop’s Column: The boldness of Easter

Archbishop Aquila
The boldness of Easter

“Holiness is not for wimps, and the Cross isn’t negotiable, sweetheart. It’s a requirement,” the late Mother Angelica once told a caller to her TV show. Sometimes we need a reminder that we are called to greatness, and during this Easter season the Scriptures remind us that the Father calls each of us to boldly trust and follow him.

Catholic media outlets these past two weeks have been filled with testimonies about Mother Angelica, following her death on Easter Sunday. What Mother Angelica accomplished in founding EWTN is truly a story of radical trust in God. But there is a side of Mother’s story that is often not heard – the story of how God used her trust to transform a life of suffering into a path of sanctity.

Mother Angelica was born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio in 1923. When she was only six years-old, her parents divorced and she and her mother moved from place to place in search of food and shelter. “That’s when hell began,” Mother Angelica said in a 2001 interview with the National Catholic Register. Despite being shamed at her Catholic school for coming from a divorced family, she didn’t turn away from the faith. At one point, young Rita and her mother left the Catholic Church for nearly a decade after a cruel experience in the Confessional.

When she was a teenager, her faith grew immensely because of an encounter with a local woman known for holiness. Mother Angelica left that meeting with the charge to pray a novena to St. Therese, and when it was finished, the severe stomach pains she had been battling for much of her life were gone. Jesus took her trust, and turned her suffering into joy.

Years later, during her time as a young sister in the Poor Clares community, Mother was tasked with cleaning the floors of her convent with an electric scrubbing machine. No sooner had she started, then the machine went haywire, causing her to slip in the soapy mess and slam her back into a wall. Over the next two years her back injury got worse until she couldn’t walk and had to have surgery.

As she waited to undergo a surgery that had a 50/50 chance of allowing her to walk again, Mother Angelica promised God that if she walked again, then she would build a monastery in the South. The surgery was a success and Mother Angelica founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in 1961, in a part of Alabama where Catholics made up only two percent of the population.

Mother Angelica’s story follows a similar pattern that we see in the Gospel readings for these first Sundays in April. It is the pattern of the Resurrection, in which Jesus takes on our suffering, calls us to trust him, and transforms it into goodness.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus appearing to the disciples shortly after his Resurrection. They had locked themselves in a room out of fear of the Jews, but Jesus appeared to them and said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them the power to forgive sins. One week later, he returned and invited Thomas to believe, telling him to put his hand in his nail marks. Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”

On those two occasions, Jesus gave the disciples peace, the power to forgive sins, and belief.  Much like Mother Angelica’s story, he entered into their wounds of shame, betrayal and disbelief and called them to boldly trust in him.

There is no place we can go that our Lord and God has not gone before us, and there is no suffering so great that he cannot overcome it by the power of his love and presence.

What is our job? To show up. To bring him our meager offerings and wait, expectantly, as he transforms them into far more than we could have believed possible.

“We are all called to be great saints,” Mother Angelica said, “don’t miss the opportunity.”

In this Year of Mercy, may we all grow in our trust and love of Christ, so that we can boldly follow him in building up the Kingdom of God.  Let us put our complete trust in Jesus and pray, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

COMING UP: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson