In 1998 Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage starred in the very successful romantic fantasy film City of Angels. Based on Wem Wender’s previous film Wings of Desire made in the late 80’s, the film’s story line is of an angel falling in love with a mortal woman. Through their singular relationship the film also explores the greater relationship shared between humans and Angels as part of their greater existence.
Admittedly, Angels don’t come up in much of my daily conversation with others and I would doubt they find context in lives of most people. However, the more I learn about Angels the more I think we should.
If you drop the word “Angels” into the Amazon.com search tool you quickly become reminded of how Angels adorn our lives. Jewelry, home accents, yard items, candle holders, party favors, and even ceiling fans are, but a few, of the available categories. Not to mention the additional outflow of Angel mania that happens at Christmas – Angels are big business! Which brings us to all the books. Much like the proverbial Christmas Album that all once-popular / creatively searching musicians eventually make. It appears that longstanding modern Christian writers eventually take the Angelic lap around the publishing house floor. One example is the popular protestant author Dr. David Jeremiah and his book Angels – who they are and how they help. What the Bible reveals! Even the great American evangelist Billy Graham still has his for sale with a Kindle edition available.
But what is it that we should really be learning or appreciating from our awareness or reminders of Angels? Taking comfort in them as a security blanket, joy generator, ideal decoration, favor provider or even the greatest of messengers seems to be the gambit? Not that any one of those things isn’t important, and may even be life changing. Perhaps their greater gift is in our understanding them within our relationship to both our purposes in creation. Maybe it might be more additive to our faith lives to join our Hollywood friends and further explore how much we have in common, the choices we make (or have made) and how those define what this life is really about?
The first and most basic connection that we have with Angels is that we are the only known aspects of God’s creation that were given dignity in our existence. This is a component of being formed in God’s image. Dignity is where we get free will. Allowing us to be capable of self-knowledge and self-possession. It’s through this that we have the capacity to love. Because without dignity you can’t choose to give yourself away. To give yourself over into communion with God. To choose to love something more than yourself. The choice to serve something greater than yourself.
We also share in an uncomfortable history in our use of our dignity. We both share in a Great Fall, and we know of the Fall of Man and original sin through the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The catechism in its discussion of original sin reminds us also of the Fall of the Angels. This is where Satan enters the picture. Paragraph 391 of the Catechism begins a reminder for us of the words of Scripture and St. John Damascene: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the divine mercy, that makes angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
What I find most profound of this whole shared experience of the fall is that scripture tells us that when Satan was cast down from Heaven he took with him 1/3 of all the Angels in Heaven.
Can we think about this for just a minute? Most of us (Excuse me, most of us who might read this blog) could be accused of trying to get to Heaven. It’s the plan. The life purpose plan, no less. Some of us are more optimistic than others depending on the day and time, but I think we get the point. So…there were Angels that were already there. A third of them no less. In Heaven. And when given a choice decided….nope; I think I’m going with my God. Pardon me, is that the exit door?
Take a minute there…breathe that all in.
I’ve read the New Testament about a dozen times all the way through. I’ve read certain books countless times. I haven’t found one passage in which Jesus promised anybody that following Him was going to be easy. In fact, I kind of remember him indicating it might likely be the opposite. I don’t know of any relationship in life that doesn’t take some effort otherwise it’s not a real relationship. Faith is a daily struggle of the choice between God and Desire. It’s easy to just think of Satan and his horde of evil demons as an ubiquitous evil. But what if we looked at them within the scope of their choices to better understand the magnitude of the battle we fight every day?
What if we looked at their choice to better understand that we are even in a battle? How easy is it to look at your faith day in and day out like it’s a color coded item in your Franklin Planner? To get so wrapped up in your day or your needs that you lose sight of the greater focus of your life. When you look at your father / mother / grandparent / or sibling in a picture of their combat uniform doesn’t that give you feelings of both pride and pause? Why? Because, for some of us, they died in service for something greater. For the rest they stayed home safe, but they fought and could have died. What if we looked at Angels the way we look at photos of active duty military veterans? Warriors. Warriors of a battle that is fought entirely within oneself.
And let’s not forget what control freaks Angels can be. That third; they still think they made the right decision, and they are out to convince you and others to make the same choice they did. Where does that leave you if you ever met an Angel? How would you know if they represent good or evil? What type of relationship would you have to have with Christ? What comfort in your faith would you have to have to stand your ground and understand what is actually happening to you in that moment? Maybe we shouldn’t always look at Angels as cute little candle holders representing an acolyte of the light of hope. Maybe we should occasionally think of them as a mirror into our soul. A reminder of the measure of our faith and the battle we are fighting and must win.
In the September 30th 2013 Issue of America, the Jesuit Review, a series of interviews by Antonio Spadaro’s, S.J. with Pope Francis were published as one article under the title A Big Open Heart to God. A part of that piece included the following Quote:
Pope Benedict XVI, in announcing his resignation, said that the contemporary world is subject to rapid change and is grappling with issues of great importance for the life of faith. Dealing with these issues requires strength of body and soul, Pope Benedict said. I ask Pope Francis, in light of what he has just told me: “What does the church need most at this historic moment? Do we need reforms? What are your wishes for the church in the coming years? What kind of church do you dream of?”
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”
A field hospital after battle. As a veteran I understand all too well who goes to a field hospital. To Pope Francis’ point, a field hospital isn’t for the casually sick, “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds” The Pope is calling on the Church to acknowledge the greater Battle we are all in. The Battle we share as creatures created with Dignity. As creatures created with the choice to love – to give and receive love. That with this comes no easy path. A daily struggle. Through which we can become seriously wounded and need care.
As I look deeper into the world of Angels this is what I am starting to see when I look at them. Hope yes. But not just for better Christmas presents, less stress at work and a cool vacation this year. Hope for life. Hope for Life in Jesus Christ.