Our faith teaches us that God is an active participant in our lives. Sometimes, he acts directly. But God has also acted through the angels who serve him.
Angels have always been popular, and it seems they still are. In a 2016 poll, over 75 percent of Americans believed in their existence. And while most of those people identified themselves with a religious tradition, some did not. However we may imagine them -- chubby babies, long-haired youths, ethereal musicians, or invincible soldiers -- there is something about angels that continues to hold our cultural attention, even when faith in God is declining.
There are all kinds of misunderstandings when it comes to angels. I'm not sure how or when we got the notion that people become angels when they die, but many believe this error. That, however, is not our eternal destiny. As human beings, we are embodied spirits -- or ensouled bodies -- whichever you prefer. The Incarnation of Christ means that he came to save humanity as God created it. We are saved as human beings, not saved from our humanity. The resurrection we hope for includes both body and soul.
But angels are spirits only. Archangels, guardian angels, cherubim, seraphim, thrones, principalities, dominions: they all serve God in the spiritual realm we cannot see, because that is the realm to which they belong. And yet, many of us seem to sense their presence -- or at least, their reality. But how?
Our faith teaches us that God is an active participant in our lives. Sometimes, he acts directly. But God has also acted through the angels who serve him. We see them throughout the Scriptures. After the fall, an angel guarded Eden's Tree of Life with a flashing sword. Michael battled Satan and the powers of evil and fought for God's people. Raphael guarded pilgrims on their journeys and brought healing to bodies, minds, and souls. Gabriel announced the conception of John the Baptist as well as the Incarnation of Jesus. Angels ministered to Jesus in Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. Two "men in white" met the women at the empty tomb. Others were on the Mount of Olives 40 days later when Christ ascended to heaven.
But angels didn't disappear into history. After all, they live in eternity. Imagine for a moment the possibility that angels are as active today as they ever have been. Guarding us, protecting us, fighting evil on our behalf, and leading us to God, angels are, in fact, all around us.
Consider the things that happen in our lives which we find difficult to explain. We walk away unharmed from a serious accident. An opportunity we've been hoping for materializes out of thin air. We meet someone who changes our lives just because we were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. The house we put on the market just a few days before sells almost effortlessly. A deep peace settles over us when we need it most. Angels? Perhaps.
But where angels can be found, most of all, is at worship. If we want to spend time with angels, all we have to do is go to Mass. Whether we see or sense them or not, angels surround our altars. That's because in earthly liturgy we participate in the ongoing and eternal liturgy of heaven. Mass is heaven.
But we don't even have to be at Mass. The Psalms tell us how to enter heaven anytime we wish to do so. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise" (Ps 100:4). Now we might not express gratitude often or be comfortable with making what the Bible calls a "sacrifice of praise." Those are relatively simple problems to solve, especially since God honors even the desire to thank him for what he has done or praise him for who he is. When we want heaven, we can have it, right here and right now. And when we do, we place ourselves not only in the presence of the God who loves us, but in the company of the angels.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.