After I became a Catholic, I waited 10 years before I finally received the gift of ordination. During my time as a layman I often wondered how I was supposed to serve the church. Then a visit from a wise older Catholic man named Francis pointed the way. He listened to my frustrations and then smiled and said, “Dwight, in the Catholic Church, don’t wait to be asked and don’t wait to be thanked. Just get on and do what you can with the gifts you have been given. The Lord will open the doors.” So I began writing because that was something I could do, and in doing so I found a way to serve God and his church.
This was the way of Mother Angelica. She did what she could with what she had, and God blessed her efforts and opened the doors. Her success could be called “Mother Angelica’s Mad Method” and it has particular principles from which the whole Church can learn.
The first principle of Mother Angelica’s Mad Method is that she began with prayer, not a master plan. The worldly way of accomplishing something is to determine the overall object, work out the strategy, set goals and establish a schedule to reach those goals. Mother Angelica’s Mad Method is similar to Pope Francis’ exhortation to “go out and make a mess.” She didn’t have a master plan. She had a relationship with the Master, and that was the foundation of her mad method.
The second principle of Mother Angelica’s Method is that she began with service, not buildings. Time and again in church life I see priests, prelates and people make big plans that involve bricks and mortar, staff and salaries.
Not long ago I was visiting a northern city and heard the story of a new multimillion dollar Catholic high school that was struggling for enrollment. Meanwhile, a private Catholic high school with a classical curriculum that met in a converted warehouse was bursting at the seams. The bishop had made the mistake of constructing a building before he constructed the ministry. “If you build it they will come”? Not necessarily.
Mother Angelica didn’t set out to have an international Catholic media company with posh offices in an affluent metropolitan area. She just started making her own TV show with second-hand equipment in her garage in the backwoods of Alabama. She began with ministry, and the bricks and mortar followed.
Mother Angelica’s third principle concerns money. She did not start with a huge capital campaign to raise the money to establish an international Catholic media empire. She didn’t have gala dinners with Catholic high-rollers who had to stump up for an army of highly paid directors, producers, financial advisors and administrative staff. She just got on with doing what she could do. She didn’t wait to be asked and didn’t wait to be thanked, and the Good Lord provided the money as it was needed.
Mother Angelica’s Mad Method is what I call entrepreneurial Catholicism. This mad method is very often not only Spirit led, but it is in a healthily subversive relationship with the hierarchy of the church. In a prophetic way, the entrepreneurial Catholic does God’s work without running to the priest or bishop all the time for approval.