Pity the holy angels, whose feast days are almost upon us.
They’re the namesakes of our diocese and our city, Los Angeles. We Angelenos raise their name whenever we fill out a form.
But do we give them a second thought? As we celebrte their feasts, Sept. 29 for St. Michael and all angels and Oct. 2 for the Guardian Angels, I want to make the case for a return to traditional Catholic devotion to the holy angels.
The glossary of the catechism defines an angel as a “spiritual, personal, and immortal creature, with intelligence and free will, who glorifies God without ceasing and who serves God as a messenger of his saving plan.”
That’s important information. An angel is not just a force, like electricity, and not just a decorative detail in the Bible stories. An angel is a person — and no less worthy of our attention and good manners than any other person in our lives. What do we do with family members, friends, and co-workers? We greet them, thank them, and acknowledge their presence.
This is how God’s people behave in the Bible. The prophets Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah address questions and concerns to their angels. They engage in a bit of back and forth. And they benefit as a result.
I love the story of Isaiah’s calling. When he sees the seraphim, he is so awestruck he cries out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” When he sees these powerful pure spirits, he is keenly aware of his sinfulness. He knows he is unworthy to be in their presence, and he knows that they see him as he really is. And then one of them takes a burning coal from heaven’s altar and applies it to Isaiah’s lips.
“See,” the angel says, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
You’d think that Isaiah would be even more frightened, but he’s not. Instead, he’s transformed by the touch of the angel. The man who had been frightened just a moment before is now strengthened and ready for anything. “Here I am,” he says. “Send me!”
What we see in that story is devotion to the angels. A man cries out to heaven, and heaven responds with angelic ministry. Things change for the better.
It’s not just angels acting on unwitting and unwilling humans. It’s a relationship. St. Augustine called it a form of friendship.
Each of us has one of these angels as our closest companion, from the day of our conception. Jesus made it clear that even little children have guardian angels, and this is confirmed in the Catechism (n. 336).
It seems to me that it’s only good manners for us to live up to our end of the relationship. We should thank our guardian angels for the help they give us. We should ask their help when we feel we need it. We should pray the guardian angel prayer that parents have taught their children for many generations:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love entrusts me here,
ever this day be at my side
to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
Almost no category of persons so prominent in Scripture is so utterly neglected today. Even the poor have advocates — thanks be to God — in every city.
Let’s not be guilty of neglecting our angels. The Scriptures teach us to acknowledge their help and call upon it. The Church’s tradition teaches us how to do it.
In the coming weeks, let’s celebrate their feasts with gusto. We are Angelenos, after all!