Angelic Assistance Series, Part 1: Why Is It So Hard to Get Angels Right?
By Thomas McKenna
God’s holy angels are essential to our Christian worldview. They are God’s faithful servants and our powerful guardians on the way to heaven. But because they are part of His invisible creation, they are often misunderstood. In fact, it’s easy to lose sight of who these holy beings are without the guiding influence of the Church.
As we begin this month dedicated to the Guardian Angels, let’s examine a few errors that distort our understanding of the angelic nature. We have to be clear both about who they are and who they are not.
In this first article of our Angelic Assistance Series, we will start by sidelining some notions about angels that get in the way of a proper Catholic understanding of them.
Hallmark Card Angels
Among the numerous bad influences on our idea of angels is the Italian Renaissance (apologies to art lovers and Italians in general). We could call this the Hallmark Card Angel error.
We see it every year in Christmas card reproductions of images from the Renaissance (15th – 16th centuries). Angels are sometimes presented as Italian princes casually walking and talking with their charges, dressed fabulously, of course. Or, they are made to look like teenage girls in flowing gowns playing violins for the Holy Family. Worse yet, some Renaissance angels look like chubby babies with wings plucking harps, hovering around clouds in heaven, or even leaning on window sills looking bored!
So, what’s wrong with this presentation?
In short, these types of angels will never go to battle for us against the principalities and powers of evil. They are sentimentalized angels. This trend has the effect of diminishing their immense spiritual power and lowering them to a human level. In the Bible, however, people usually fall down in terror when they behold a true angel’s glory!
The New Age
Most books in the “Spirituality” section of a bookstore these days fit the New Age profile of angels, which is antithetical to our Christian concept of them. Oftentimes New Age gurus will use the holy Archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – as hooks to lure unsuspecting Christians into their traps.
New Age “angels”, however, are not angels at all but illusions. They are presented as touch-feely companions who just want to make us happy and serve our personal needs. These kinds of angels find car keys for us, get us jobs, comfort us in times of stress, open up pathways to romantic relationships, and even let us feel the brush of their wings so that we never have a moment of sorrow in our lives.
Unfortunately, these are all deceptions coming from a non-Christian but very subtle and dangerous spiritual movement that seeks to lure us away from the Truth of Christ. They are actually demons dressed as “angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). St. Paul condemned all types of distorted angel ideas in the pagan world (Colossians 2:18), and if he were alive today he would undoubtedly mince no words about the New Age.
Holy angels don’t find things for us. That’s not their mission. They do not create love opportunities or touch us with their wings as they fly by. They don’t even comfort us in an emotional sense. Their ministry is exclusively to sanctify us and get us to heaven.
Culture and Technology
Distorted angels of culture and technology are a special distraction for the younger generations. Video games and graphic arts today make angels look like seductive-females with wings or buff blonde guys with huge swords and a taste for violence. These are not angels. They are techno-fantasy creations.
The cultural view of angels is hardly better. Literally thousands of books have been published in the past few years with the word “angel” in the title. They cover everything from romance novels to tales of assassination and revenge. Hollywood, of course, is fascinated with angels, but their angels are rarely the holy type.
The Truth of the Angels
All these alternative views of angels swarming around us can lead to some serious distortions of the truth of these glorious beings. But we can’t afford to be ignorant about the nature and activities of God’s holiest servants. This is a time when we need the good angels more than ever!
It is hard to get angels right, but now that we have a better idea of what angels are not, our next two articles will focus on what the Church actually teaches about the reality of God’s holy angels.
Source: Peter Darcy, Natures of Fire: God’s Magnificent Angels, 2021.
Angelic Assistance Series, Part 2: What the Church Wants Us to Know About Angels
This second installment of our Angelic Assistance Series follows from our first article concerning the dangerous distortions about angels that come from our culture. To guard against these erroneous ideas, it is important to know a few basic truths about angels that only the Catholic Church teaches with accuracy. Divorced from Christ’s true doctrine and Tradition, angels become creatures of comfort. Their true nature, however, is not a matter of comfort or being helpful in daily life; it is a matter of our salvation.
The first thing to know is that angels are purely spiritual beings. Some writers of the early Church thought that angels’ bodies may have been composed of some airy substance that made it possible for people to see them from time to time. The Church, however, later clarified that angels have nothing material whatsoever in them, not even wisps of air or ether:
The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council affirms that God “from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.” (Catechism, 337)
As pure spirits, angels are not bound by the laws of physics or time that rule the material world, so they come and go in our world as God wills. Since they have no material bodies, they make themselves known to men by assuming temporary human form, which they put on and take off like a very elaborate costume. They usually come to deliver messages from God to men, which is consistent with their name “angel” which means “messenger”.
The second thing our Church wants us to know about angels is that they are persons, not impersonal, disembodied spirits. In this, angels and humans have something in common. Like us, angels have their own center of identity consisting of individual minds and wills. Each angel is a unique spiritual being. But since they don’t have material bodies, angelic minds and wills are much stronger than even the strongest human faculties, which are bound to the flesh.
A human mind, for example, gets its information from the senses and does its thinking through the complex mechanism of a brain. A human being can grow tired of thinking for that reason! Angels have no such limitations. Whenever they turn their minds to anything, they see it as sort of an instant snapshot, and they perfectly understand everything they know. That amazing capacity is entirely beyond the human ability of rational thought.
As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. (Catechism, 330)
Along with their supreme intelligence, the angelic will is flawlessly devoted to the will of God (or perfectly rebellious against the will of God as in the case of demons.)
This leads us to the third important fact about angels: namely, that because they have free will like us, some of them abused that free will and sinned. The rebellion of the angels took place before time began, and we can read the mysterious story of it in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation which depicts St. Michael battling Satan and the rebellious angels.
The spiritual rebels were cast out of heaven and down to earth: “But woe to you earth and sea, for the Devil has come to you in great fury”, says Rev 12:13. In that same chapter it says the dragon’s tail “swept a third of the stars from the sky” as he fell from heaven, which probably means that a third of the angels rebelled with him and became demons.
No need to worry, though. Two-thirds of the angels remained faithful to God, which is twice the number of demons!
Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” (Catechism, 391)
With the understanding that the demons were originally created good, Catholics distance themselves from esoteric religions (Buddhism, for example) that see good and evil as equal forces in the world (i.e., the yin/yang principle).
But we don’t believe that evil is equal to good. We believe that evil is a corruption of the good, which we will have to fight, like St. Michael and his angels, until the end of time.
And on that score, God has not left us spiritually helpless against the power of demons either:
From its beginning until death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (St. Basil). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (Catechism, 336)
Thankfully, He has given each one of us a spiritual companion called a Guardian Angel “to light and guard, to rule and guide” us through the battlefield of this life to the victory of heaven!
Source: Peter Darcy, Natures of Fire: God’s Magnificent Angels, 2021.
Angelic Assistance Series, Part 3: Catholic Do’s and Don’ts Regarding Angels
In the first two segments of our Angelic Assistance Series we made some important distinctions about angels (and demons) which brought the Church’s clarity to our understanding of these spiritual beings. These teachings result in a number of Do’s and Don’ts about angels which we would do well to follow for our spiritual benefit.
First let’s look at a few Don’ts:
It is common to hear well-meaning people say that a human being (especially a child) has become “an angel in heaven” after death. This never happens, and we should never believe it or say it. Even though we share some spiritual characteristics (such as mind and will), angels and humans have different natures, and humans never become angels, or vice versa.
Cultic religions such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons are confused about this. They have no teaching on natural law as the Catholic Church does, so as a result, these religions believe that angels morph into human beings when they come to earth, or that humans miraculously turn into angels when they die. These religions do not embrace the truth of Christ, so they easily confuse the truth about the rest of creation as well. We are never to join them or believe their doctrines.
Related to this – and much scarier – is the terrible power of the occult in our society. Because the occult world is dominated by fallen angels, we are never, ever, to participate in occult practices, such as playing with Ouija boards, consulting mediums, fortunetellers, or psychics, or attending séances of any sort. These practices lead to spiritual death because they try to use the power of the spiritual world for personal gain. Any gain they grant for a time is an illusion because all they really do is bind the participants to the power of demons.
We should not have anything to do with occult forms of entertainment either, such as ghost hunters, paranormal investigations, etc. Those who do so place themselves under the deceptive minds and wills of demons. Those shows are deceptions and illusions that lead us away from God. Our attitude toward them should always be what we profess in our Baptismal Promises: “I reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises.”
A final Don’t: we should not try to name our guardian angel or any other angel. The Church forbids this. Angels are the firstborn sons of God, not our pets. They already have the names that God gave them, and they do not want us to be so focused on them as to distract us from God and His saving Will.
Despite these important caveats, there are many things we can do to nurture our relationship with our own guardian angel, and we should do them often. These have to do with those spiritual characteristics we have in common with the angels: mind and will.
We should often strengthen our devotion to our guardian angel through prayer, fasting, and study. Prayer is the language of purely spiritual beings. Fasting overcomes the flesh and strengthens our spiritual nature. Study of the Catholic Faith binds us more perfectly to the truth of Christ so that we are not susceptible to the lies of demons in this world.
It is also good to ask our guardian angel’s help in the practical problems of living out our Christian vocations. Padre Pio used to “send” his guardian angel to assist a human soul who asked for his help. Padre Pio’s guardian angel would then coordinate with the individual’s guardian angel to help the person in need. I’m sure angels love to work that way, but always remember that your guardian angel’s primary mission is to assist you in getting to heaven!
We can and should also ask our guardian angels to open doors for us. Remember the story of the angel in the Acts of the Apostles who was sent to the jail where Peter was imprisoned and then sliced through the chains and iron gates as if they were butter? (See Acts 12.) Angels don’t pay our bills or fix our broken appliances for us, but they very often open doors to new opportunities and graces that will help us do the things we need to do to fulfill our Christian vocations.
If you have not done a personal consecration to your guardian angel, there is no time like the present to do so. Also, if you didn’t get a chance to read the first two installments of this series, you can find them here. A spiritual consecration binds us to the spiritual world and to the amazing spiritual persons who are given to assist us on our way to heaven. There is no downside to such a consecration.
Above all, thank God for your guardian angel – only in heaven will you truly know how much he has done to protect you from the power of the Evil One.
Source: Peter Darcy, Natures of Fire: God’s Magnificent Angels, 2021.