Circular Letter: Summer 2015
The Holy Angels – Our “Good Samaritans”
This year, the Holy Father reminds us in a special way of Jesus’ request: “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). What does it mean to “be merciful”? The common understanding is to have compassion which moves one to help another in need.
When we get to our limits, when—due to a problem—we cannot sleep at night, when we don’t know the answer to the child’s question, when we don’t know how to get reconciled with a sibling, … we then look and call for help. And whom do we call? Of course, someone who can help, someone who has both the wisdom and power to find and help implement a solution. We do not call a mechanic if we need food nor go to a dentist when the car breaks down.
It is God in His mercy Who knows our needs and can help. Often He sends us through His holy angels the appropriate help. Mercy, precisely with respect to its effect, “most properly belongs to [God, namely] to dispel that misery, whatever be the defect we call by that name” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 21, 3).
“I will not stop singing the song of Your mercy.”
In the Old Testament we hear about Tobias. In his need he came upon the angel Raphael, who, under the disguise of a young man looking for work, was willing and able to accompany him on his journey, to regain the family fortune, and in the course of which would free Sara of the demonic obsession and cure his father of his blindness.
In the New Testament, Jesus explains to a lawyer how we are supposed to be merciful. He did so not with a philosophical definition or with a paragraph of the law. He told him the story of the Good Samaritan. A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among robbers. They left him half dead. By chance a priest and thereafter a Levite came by; they saw him and passed by. But a Samaritan came, had compassion, bound up his wounds, set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, cared for him and gave two denarii to the innkeeper that he may take further care of him. He had mercy, that is effective compassion, and helped (Lk 10:25-37).
We all reach our limits on occasion and find ourselves in need. But where do we find help, where is our “Good Samaritan”? God said to Moses, “I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. … If you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies” (Ex 23:20,22). Therefore, St. Raphael is just one of the many holy angels with whom God surrounds human life “from its beginning until death, … by their watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336). They are commissioned to guard us in all our ways (cf. Ps 91:11). There is one angel, in particular, says the Holy Father, who is “a friend, whom we don’t see but we hear.” Our personal Guardian Angel, our heavenly helper, our personal, angelic Good Samaritan is “a friend who one day will be with us in the everlasting joy of Heaven” (Pope Francis, Homily on Oct. 2, 2015).
We may well wonder what life would be like if we would just become more familiar with these our heavenly brothers. Let us listen to someone who was quite familiar with the angels, St. Faustina. She confessed: I ask “nothing from [human] creatures and communicate with them only in so far as is necessary. … My communing is with the angels” (St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary, Marian Press, Stockbridge, MA, 3rd edition, 1200; hereafter referred to by D.). And thus, she could say, “I saw how the angels and the Saints of the Lord give glory to God” (D. 1604). So she decided for herself: “With you, Jesus, I go through life, amid storms and rainbows, with a cry of joy, singing the song of Your mercy. I will not stop singing my song of love until the choir of angels picks it up” (D. 761).
Let us hear her explain who the angels are and when and how they help us.
Who are the Angels?
“All heaven catches the flame from You and is filled with love” (D. 1808). St. Faustina speaks of the angels under the general terms of “heavens” or “pure spirits” (D. 180) or more explicitly as “Choirs”: “I see the angelic choirs giving You honor without cease, and all the heavenly powers praising You without cease” (D. 1805; cf. 80). Note how she speaks of all the angels as “powers” (D. 85, cf. 309) or “power and dominion” (D. 1810), although on other occasions these terms designate just one of the nine choirs into which the holy and pure spirits are ordered. Saint John Paul II explained this in his Catechesis on the Angels:
“The ancient authors and the liturgy itself speak also of the angelic choirs (nine, according to Dionysius the Areopagite). … Sacred Scripture refers to the angels also by using terms that are … ‘collective’ (like the titles: seraphim, cherubim thrones, powers, dominions, principalities), just as it distinguishes between angels and archangels. … these beings and persons, as it were grouped together in society, are divided into orders and grades, corresponding to the measure of their perfection and to their tasks entrusted to them” (St. John Paul II, Catechesis on the Angels, August 6, 1986, 3).
Saint Faustina writes clearly about the existence of a hierarchical order among the angelic choirs: “This great majesty of God … is worshipped by the heavenly spirits according to their degree of grace and the hierarchies into which they are divided” (D. 1604). She refers to individual choirs explicitly, for example, in the explanation of the Divine Mercy Image: “Two streams in the form of rays have gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, not for angels, nor Cherubim, nor Seraphim, but for the salvation of sinful man” (D. 522). She speaks most frequently, at least 16 times, about the Seraphim, those “who stand closest to Him [God]” (D. 1805). The Lord told her once about a Cherub: “My daughter, the moment you went to the gate I set a Cherub over it to guard it. Be at peace” (D. 1271). She speaks still more often about the Cherubim (D. 781, etc.), then about the Thrones (D. 1805), Archangels and angels, as well as about the Dominions, Powers and Virtues (cf. D. 180; 1810). The only choir not explicitly mentioned in the Diary is the choir of Principalities whose identity is clear in Sacred Scripture (Eph 1:21; Col 1:16).
Further she speaks about certain “groups of angels.” In 1935, the Saint wrote, “I saw a spirit of great beauty who spoke these words to me: ‘Don’t cry – says the Lord.’ After a moment I asked, ‘Who are you?’ He answered me, ‘I am one of the seven spirits who stand before the throne of God day and night and give Him ceaseless praise’.” (D. 471). It reminds us of St. Raphael who also identified himself once and with similar words: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One” (Tob 12:15).
Besides the reference to groups, we do well to reflect that the angels are individual persons: “they are personal and immortal creatures” (CCC 330). The individual character of the angels is graphically brought home to us in a number of Faustina’s observations. For instance, she wrote that she “heard the voice of an angel” who was about to cause a damaging storm (D. 1791), or she saw “an angel, the executor of divine wrath. He was clothed in a dazzling robe, his face gloriously bright, a cloud beneath his feet. From the cloud, bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning were springing into his hands; from his hand they were going forth, and only then were they striking the earth” (D. 474)—a description which reminds us of Dan 10:5-6, Ez 8:2-3 or Rev 10:1-3 and 18:21.
“When I was riding on the train, I saw an angel standing on every church we passed” (D. 630). “Saint Michael the Archangel, I saw by my side that great Leader, who spoke … to me” and “I feel his presence and assistance” (D. 706; cf. 480, 667). And then, of course, is there her Guardian Angel, another individual angel whom she mentions and with whom she speaks.
Manifestations of the Angels
St. Paul says about the angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Hb 1:14) The holy angels are not only oriented towards God; they also have, simultaneously, a task related with human creatures and even with the entire material world.
The angels she saw standing “on every church” help us to a clearer understanding of the angelic world. The entire note about them comes down to this:
“I saw one of the seven spirits near me, radiant as at other times, under a form of light. I constantly saw him beside me when I was riding on the train. I saw an angel standing on every church we passed, but surrounded by a light which was paler than that of the spirit who was accompanying me on the journey, and each of these spirits who were guarding the churches bowed his head to the spirit who was near me” (D. 630).
In noting the difference in luminosity among the angels, St. Faustina indicates that the angel accompanying her belonged to a higher choir than angels who watch over churches. The higher or closer to God a creature is, the more brilliantly it is manifested.
Saint John of the Cross corroborates our conclusion in a text where he explains the communication among the angels:
“Ordinarily these works and inspirations are derived from God by means of the angels, and the angels also in turn give them one to another without delay. This communication is like that of a ray of sunlight shining through many windows placed one after the other. Although it is true that of itself the ray of light passes through them all, nevertheless each window communicates this light to the other with a certain modification according to its own quality. The communication is more or less intense insofar as the window is closer to or farther from the sun” (St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, Washington, DC 1979, II, XII.3).
When observing men, it can be seen that some persons are gifted with a certain charisma and are capable of transmitting special beauty, light, or strength to their surroundings. This can be found with the angels too according to the choir they belong to. On the natural level, it is a matter of the participation these creatures enjoy in the perfections of God. Even when raised to the supernatural dimension, the relative position and rank of the angels is retained according to the mind of St. Thomas, who taught that grace and supernatural light was given to the angels in proportion to their nature (Summa Theologiae, I, 108, 4).
St. Faustina’s observation of “… an angel standing on every church” or “these spirits who were guarding the churches” means that there is not just one angel for all the churches, but that each church has its own spiritual guardian or protector. The same applies to the variety of tasks which the angels have over the parts of the material world. Saint Augustine and, after him, Saint Thomas Aquinas teach that “all corporeal things [are] ruled by the angels” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 110, 1). Of course, then we can expect their special care for areas which are in a stricter sense related to men. For example, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “The presiding powers of the angels have been distributed according to the nations and the cities” (St. Clement Alexandria, Strom., 6, 17). The biblical argument goes back to Dt 32:8 which says: “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God,” which means here the angels. That is the reason St. John Paul II invoked St. Michael as protector of the city of Rome (on Sept. 29, 1986) and why recently Pope Francis entrusted the Vatican to St. Michael: “In consecrating the Vatican City State to St Michael the Archangel, let us ask him to defend us from the Evil One and cast him out” (July 5, 2013).
These different forms of the angelic manifestations confront men with the serious problem of the discernment of spirits, questioning who is this person who stands before me? In case of the angels: Is it a good angel or a fallen one? How can we discern the communication from this invisible world to us in the visible world? Here we can find important indications also in the Diary of Saint Faustina.
What she underscores in a special way are the effects that they cause in men, the “fruits” according to which one has to examine and discern the spirits (cf. Mt 7:16-20; Gal 5:22). Of that spirit of great beauty whom our Saint saw, she affirmed, “His beauty comes from close union with God” (D. 471). Of the Seraphim she said: “The Seraph was surrounded by a great light, the divinity and love of God being reflected in him” (D. 1676). His proximity to God caused not fear but confidence and peace. And, of the Cherubim at the gate of the Convent she says, “I saw a little white cloud and, in it, a Cherub with his hands joined. His gaze was like lightening, and I understood how the fire of God’s love burns in that look” (D. 1271).
Sister Faustina perceived positive effects when holy angels manifested themselves to her: a sensation of beauty and power, peace and especially a longing for heaven! “I saw a spirit of great beauty … this spirit did not soothe my yearning, but roused me to even greater longing for God. This spirit is very beautiful, and his beauty comes from close union with God. … His voice was like that of a thousand voices; it is impossible to put it into words” (D. 471). And of her Guardian Angel she could say, “I once again saw my Guardian Angel at my side. He was absorbed in prayer and in contemplating God, and I followed him with my thoughts” (D. 490).
In relation to those whom they serve, the Guardian Angels act like good instruments of the Holy Spirit, consoling, illuminating, encouraging and protecting. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1Jn 4:18; cf. Gal 5:22-23). Therefore Jesus constantly exhorted the disciples, “Have no fear” (Mt 14:27), and so did, for example, “the angel of the Lord” who appeared to St. Joseph, “Do not fear …” (Mt 1:20; cf. Dan 10:12 …). This encouragement is found also on the lips of the Guardian Angel of Saint Faustina and certainly also on the lips of the Guardian Angel of every one, as they are faithful followers of the Son of God: “Do not fear, spouse of my Lord” (D. 419).
The Help of the Angels—our Good Samaritan
These perfect, beautiful holy spirits, absorbed in the beatific vision of the Triune God, would they care for us weak worms who dare to offend God? St. Faustina wondered often about this. But we saw just now that God set them in charge over the whole world below them in the hierarchical order of creation. And so St. Faustina expressed her wonder also about men. She wrote: “I thanked God for His goodness, that He gives us angels for companions. Oh, how little people reflect on the fact that they always have beside them such a guest and, at the same time, a witness to everything! Remember, sinners, that you likewise have a witness to all your deeds” (D. 630).
Let us look at the many ways in which the angelic ministers, as an expression of God’s mercy, helped St. Faustina and herewith invite us to turn with confidence to them.
Saint Faustina received help from the holy angels in moments of daily life, e.g. from a Cherub when she “heard how dangerous it was to be at the gate” of the convent (D. 1271); “one of the seven spirits… I constantly saw him beside me when I was riding on the train” (D. 630; cf. 490); another angel “does not leave me for a single moment, but accompanies me everywhere” (D. 471; cf. St. Michael, D. 706; Dan 14:33-39).
It is important, however, that all sincere devotion to the holy angels has salvation as its goal and the growth in one’s relationship with God. Mainly for this reason God has sent them into our lives and this is, without doubt, also their first interest. An angel at the end of the Book of Revelation says it clearly: “And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets… Worship God’“ (Rev 22:8-9).
St. Faustina, therefore, rejoices that the angels help us praise God worthily. “In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance” (CCC 335). What the Church believes, God let some Saints experience or see: “One of the seven spirits who stand before the throne of God day and night … during Holy Mass, before the Elevation, began to sing these words: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’“ (D. 471).
When the Saint stayed in the hospital and remained, in the eyes of men, too weak to participate at Holy Mass and even to receive Holy Communion—which is a heavy cross for a loving soul like Faustina—God had mercy: “I saw at my bedside a Seraph, who gave me Holy Communion, saying these words: ‘Behold the Lord of angels.’ … This was repeated for thirteen days” (D. 1676). We know of similar graces from the life of other Saints and of the three little Shepherds of Fatima. However, when she asked “the Seraph, ‘Could you perhaps hear my confession?’“ he answered her, “No spirit in heaven has that power” (D. 1677) for, as the Church teaches, “Priests have received from God a power that he has given neither to angels nor to Archangels “ (CCC 983), and the Saint confesses: “Jesus … You have shared Your power and mystery with them [the priests] more so than with the angels” (D. 1240).
St. Faustina speaks even about the angel’s guidance in her interior growth. She should not give in to emotions, and yet long for God: “One day, when I was at adoration, and my spirit seemed to be dying for Him, and I could no longer hold back my tears, I saw a spirit of great beauty who spoke these words to me: ‘Don’t cry – says the Lord.’ … Yet this spirit did not soothe my yearning, but roused me to even greater longing for God” (D. 471; cf. 470).
God can direct our lives through the guidance of the holy angels much better, especially through the personal Guardian Angel. Similar to St. John Bosco, the angel lead our Sister to Purgatory (D. 20), Heaven and hell (D. 683 and 741). She was taught through her Guardian Angel to assist the agonizing, “God has given me a wondrous contact with the dying!” (D. 835; cf. 314, 820, 828, 834, 1565).
And when evil spirits seem to threaten our lives? God promised the angels’ help, and this confirms the example of St. Faustina: “When … a great multitude of demons blocked my way … I immediately asked my Guardian Angel for help, and at once the bright and radiant figure of my Guardian Angel appeared and said to me, ‘Do not fear, spouse of my Lord’“ (D. 418, 419).
Something similar we are told in the Book of Tobit. Having expulsed the demon, the companion of Tobias, the Archangel Raphael, followed the demon who “fled to the remotest parts of Egypt,” and there “the angel bound him” (Tb 8:3); this way Tobias could have a peaceful and blessed married life with Sarah.
This example from the past and the experience revealed through St. Faustina encourages us all to believe: God in His mercy created a wonderful world of angels and this is also close to each one of us as well, here and today. We really have constantly in the holy angels, especially in our personal Guardian Angel, a “Good Samaritan” at our side who may not even permit that we will be beaten up by robbers, and if God allows us to share in Christ’s suffering, then too they are with us to help and heal.
Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC
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