Angie. Angelo. Los Angeles. Entertaining angels unawares. The Blue Angels. Michelangelo. The Angel Moroni (Mormon). Satan. The Angel of Death (Jewish). Angel food cake. Jibril (Muslim). Isn’t she an angel?
Part of our American lexicon includes words and phrases that have to do with angels. The cultural focus on angels was high during the 1990’s, when books about angels flew off the bookstore shelves, Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America” was a big hit, and the Walters Art Gallery featured “Angels from the Vatican.” With all that is on our plate these days, we don’t hear much about angels.
Still, this week, in the Catholic liturgical calendar, we celebrate the feasts of the archangels Michael (who is like God), Gabriel (God is my strength) and Raphael (God has healed) on Sept. 29 and the feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to the “messengers” of God, go-betweens between God and human beings. The word “angel” comes from the Egyptian word “aggelos” and isn’t used until a few centuries before Christ. But the messengers come to many, including Abraham, Mary, Joseph. The angel Raphael stays close to Tobit. Jesus, in Matthew 18.10 speaks of guardian angels for children: “Do not despise these little ones, for their angels in heaven are always beholding the face of my father.”
Some of the stories about Lucifer becoming Satan, the wars among the good and bad angels before and at the end of time are not biblical. They come from the Mesopotamian religions and were woven into post- biblical Christian beliefs. Because of the richness of religious imagination in the near east, we also find that Judaism and Islam honor angels in their literature and belief.
Medieval theologians helped make some sense of the place of angels in the order of creation by placing them in the ascending order from earthly matter to the transcendent God. Angels filled in the gap between the human and the divine. The poetry, art and stories of Milton, Dante, Fra Angelico and other artists included angels in their finest works.
Strictly speaking, according to the Dominican theologian Richard Woods, “the existence of angels is not a matter of divine revelation, but is presupposed by both biblical witness and church teaching. Angels are less the subject or content of revelation than its medium.” But humanly speaking, we are comforted by the sense that angels watch over us and that we are not alone in the cosmos.
Angels are not just for Christmas decorations. “Angels add color and richness to the spiritual life.” (Arthur Green) “The angels of all creeds are part of that mystery.” (Anne Underwood)
Celebrate your special angel today.
~ Sister Joan Sobala