Sunday, September 26, 2010

Contemplating the Angels

I have had angels on my radar screen of late. Ok, that sounds a bit weird. I think it began when a friend made a passing comment about how a choir, in the grand scheme of worship at Mass, acts in a way akin to "in persona chorus angelorum." As I contemplated that, I began to see all the references to angels that surround us in our Catholic life sort of highlighted in bright yellow as it were. And then more recently I re-read Volume Nine from Direction for our Times on angels, which you can download here. I've also read the book Send Me Your Guardian Angel about the ministry of St. (Padre) Pio and an currently working through two others which focus on patristic angelology.

There is no denying the reality of angels within Scripture, within Catholic teaching, within the lives and witness of the saints, and within the experiences of regular people. Still, there's this temptation to ignore them or relegate talk of angels to some theosophic, Christless spirituality. Coming up here in just a few days, the Church liturgically reminds us again of the Archangels, with their feast on September 29, and our Guardian Angels and their feast October 2. So, we need to counter the temptation to forgetfulness and listen to the witnesses who tell us of God's wonders.

Today I happened to attend a prayer meeting of the Lay Apostles (associated with Direction for our Times). The discussion was on, you guessed it, the angels. Of the fifteen or so people who attended, many spontaneously shared experiences of their own lives of asking for and receiving specific help and guidance from their guardian angels. These are the things we tend to think of as strange, isolated incidences in our lives, until we begin to share with others of the faithful and discover that while these are personal and sometimes private experiences, they are also as common as water.

I'll just share one personal experience that has happened in these last weeks since I've been paying more attention to my guardian angel. I was contemplating the fact that angels are pure intellect, with wisdom of exactly what God's will is for me at any given time. So I asked my guardian angel for help in making a good confession the last time I participated in that Sacrament. I had no flash of insight until I was in the midst of confessing my sins to God before the priest. Suddenly, I saw that everything I brought hinged together, and the difference between how I had made these various choices and what God's will for me actually is became very clear. I walked out of that confessional not only grateful to God for His grace, but with a deep respect for the ministry of my angel!

A Scripture that came to mind early on in this adventure that I mulled over was St. Paul's passing statement in 1 Corinthians 13 about speaking "in tongues of men and of angels." Years ago when I first encountered the baptism of the Holy Spirit (as we called it then) and speaking in tongues I had read many testimonies in which one person's prayer language was confirmed to be an actual spoken language that a native speaker could understand perfectly. But then there seemed to be many other people whose prayer language was not recognizable as such. I had never thought much about this little insertion of St. Paul's, apparently making a reference that was not necessary to explain to his readers, of the tongues of angels. I wondered if perhaps what God was giving with this gift was the possibility for human beings to ask for intercessions from the angels according to their perfect wisdom and understanding of God's will, in ways that the human intellect wouldn't conceive of asking. (Doesn't this just resonate wonderfully with the fact that everything God gives us is a grace, a gift? Nothing is of our own merit or labor, and yet we must give ourselves personally to God, with the exercise of our wills. Does not the Spirit pray for us with groans that words cannot express?)

Then, after contemplating this, I read of Padre Pio's ministry. At one point, in order to test him (and he was always having people test him), his superiors wrote to him in languages Pio could not understand. But he read the letter and responded naturally, saying that -- of course! -- his guardian angel translated the letter for him. Language is no barrier to heaven; only to us limited humans.

God never forces grace on us, and angels never force their help on us. But we can be more inclined to accept their ministry and if we ask, we receive. We can also intercede for others whose minds and hearts are far from focused on the Lord Jesus, asking for the specific helps their guardian angels are able to minister to be given to them. We each have a (usually) small but (always) vital part to play in the grand drama of the Kingdom that God had designed and that God sustains. It is a gift to us that He calls us to participate with Him, with heaven, to bring heaven to souls who need Him.

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