29 September 2012

Angelic ministers

Feast of the Archangels
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

If you browse the “Spirituality” section of any Barnes&Noble bookstore, you'll soon discover that angels are popular subjects for occult speculation. All sorts of items—books, Tarot cards, runes—tout the power of angels and their willingness to initiate the curious into the mysteries of the supernatural world. That these items seem to sell quite well tells us that there is a hunger out there for a way to get in touch with something or someone willing and able to draw us into all that dwells behind and beyond our routine existence. As Christians, we know that this Someone is the one God of revelation and reason, revealed finally and uniquely in the divine person of Jesus Christ. With him and in him we are given all that we need to establish and maintain a kinship with our Creator. Though the focus of our adoration rests exclusively on the Blessed Trinity, there are many other important players in the drama of our spiritual lives—the Blessed Mother, the communion of saints, and the angels and archangels of the Lord. Who and what are angels? And how do they serve the glory of God when they minister to us? 

For all we need to know about angels there is no better person to turn to than the Angelic Doctor himself, St. Thomas Aquinas. Our brother Thomas devotes fourteen articles to the nature and activities of angels in the first part of his Summa.* He tells us that angels were made by God, creatures of pure intellectual substance; therefore, they are incorporeal, immortal, and limited in both their power and their location; some choose at the moment of their creation to be perfected in God's beauty, some did not; despite their choice not to be made perfect in beauty, God loves those angels who followed Lucifer into rebellion against Him, yet they remain eternally obstinate against Him; those angels who chose to be made perfect in beauty cannot sin and therefore do not progress in holiness nor fall from grace; they possess an intellect and a free will superior to ours; they love by nature and by choice, that is, it is their nature to love and they freely choose to love. Angels serve God by attending Him in heaven; by bringing His messages to mankind; as personal guardians appointed to every human person; and as agents of the divine in protecting and governing the whole world. Much like those of us who have chosen to follow Christ, angels work for God to carry out His providential will. 

Now, knowing all of this and assuming that all of it is true, where do we stand in kinship with the beatified angels; that is, what is our proper relationship to them? First, we must exclude absolutely any whiff, any hint that angels are worthy of our adoration and worship. Like God's human children, angels are creatures, made beings. No creature—regardless of its superior intelligence or purity of will—is worthy of the adoration that belongs to God alone. We honor the angels as messengers from heaven, but we do not worship them. Second, though angels function as divine messengers, they serve God alone; in other words, angels are not at our beck and call. We do not summon them; interrogate them; or manipulate them in any way. Third, when angels act as our personal guardians, they do so with respect to our free choices; that is, they do not and cannot possess us against our will, or force us to comply with their good advice. And lastly, when we pray to angels for guidance or assistance, they will always respond in the purest love, without guile or temptation to sin, and according to God's sovereign will. Honor God's messengers for their ministry to us and them them thanks for their work, but always remember that they—like us—serve the throne of heaven first to bring the Good News of God's mercy through Christ to the world.

*Thomas has much more to say about angels than I've covered in this homily:  ST I.50-64

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  1. Anonymous12:53 PM

    Do any of the fallen angels regret their choice? If so, through God's infinite love and mercy, might they be 're-instituted' on the Last Day? May even demons hope?

    1. "Regret" implies the presence of a properly formed conscience working on one's awareness of sin. The fallen angels--in their pride--do not believe that they have sinned.