Friday 11 September 2015

And All the Holy Angels

christ in the garden of gethsemane 1584 Paolo Veronese.jpg

The nuns in St Bernadette's convent were praying a novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary when the little saint was noticed offering her petitions in the chapel of St Joseph.
"But you are mistaken sister" she was told.
"Oh," Bernadette smiled "In heaven no one is jealous."

Of course the Lourdes visionary was right but if the heavenly angels were ever to be envious I suspect it would not be of their captains St Michael and St Gabriel but of these guys-
"Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him" (Matthew 4:11)
"And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him" (Luke 22:43)

To serve the suffering and sorrowful Jesus in the desert or in the garden where He experienced such agony of spirit is surely a great privilege. Think what a joy it must be to know that the lesser has comforted the greater, that the almost nothing has brought strength to the author of all, the recipient of love has shared that love with its divine author and so brought Him relief in His sorrows. St Thérèse of Lisieux said "disinterested love is for us to console Jesus, not for Him to console us" and those angels who have chosen to serve God exist only for the purpose of disinterested love- "Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). It therefore seems that those fortunate, those blessed angels who ministered to our Lord after His forty day fast and before His Passion fulfilled their role in a way which no other angels could ever equal or surpass.

Fortunately angels are excellent theologians so that the temptation to envy will be removed when they consider these words of Jesus- "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40)  It follows then that when the angels help us in our distress then they are fulfilling their purpose every bit as much as those who ministered in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. And, indeed, it is no accident that the Gospels show us the angelic ministry at times of temptation and torment for that is their particular place of combat by our sides. When we are vulnerable to our inner demons or tested to the limits of our endurance then the angels are at hand to assist us if only we are willing to turn to them and be helped.

It is a curious thing that most mainstream Christians rarely speak about the angels. It's as if we have to believe in them because they are in the Bible but it's a bit embarrassing to actually talk about them. The result of all this is that although there has been a tremendous growth of popular interest in all things angelic- books, TV series, websites, memes etc.- almost all of it has taken place outside of the Church and apart from the Christian faith. What it reveals is that not only do angels play an important role in God's plan for the cosmos but that also they form an important part in the spiritual life of humans. If this spiritual need or hunger is not met in a way that is consonant with revealed truth and the Holy Spirit then it will be fed by those who have little knowledge of the first and do not accept guidance from the second.

It is all very well and correct for us to say that people need no intermediaries between themselves and God. It is nonetheless true that many people actually want such intermediaries. Aaron and Miriam the siblings of Moses and Joshua his successor could have faced the Lord on Mount Sinai but they were happy for Moses to represent them instead. Simon Magus could have petitioned to escape the consequences of his deeds himself instead he asked St Peter "“Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:24) And in that they all showed some wisdom because certainly our case before God is helped if we have righteous and noble advocates acting on our behalf.

And so angels have a twofold function- acting as agents of God's will towards us and as our advocates towards Him. Since God's will towards us is always love, overflowing, abundant, infinite love then when the angels approach us on His behalf they do so as guardians, protectors, friends, companions, helpers. If the principle animating Satan and his followers is 'I will not serve' (Jeremiah 2:20) then the opposite principle animates the angelic hosts; they serve, and gladly serve, the loving purposes of their Lord and our deepest and most urgent needs. They are helped in their labours and we in our needs if we turn to them with hope, acknowledge their presence seeking and accepting their help. And we are more likely to do that and to do it rightly and in accordance with the purposes of the Almighty if the Church regularly reminds us of them and teaches us about them.

It happens that when the Church does teach about the celestial hierarchy it reveals a complex and multi-layered reality which consists of a good deal more than simply our guardian angels and the Archangels. But that is a topic for another day. Here I will close with words from one of the Catholic prayers to our protecting spirits-
O charitable Guardians of those souls for whom Christ died, O flaming spirits, who cannot avoid loving those whom Jesus eternally loved, permit me to address thee on behalf of all those committed to thy care, to implore for each of them a grateful sense of thine many favours and also the grace to profit by thine charitable assistance.


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The painting is Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Paolo Veronese 


  1. Very nice. I like to think the knowledge of those who (in the future) would remember His suffering in the garden while meditating on that mystery somehow comforted Him even back then..

    1. Thank you. It's a nice thought. On the other hand, I think that it was a necessary part of the Passion that our Lord would experience total abandonment by humans, Angels & the Father. It was in being alone with His suffering that He paid the highest possible price for His sacrificial love on our behalf. The only exception was His grieving mother but His sorrow for her suffering added to rather than diminished His own agony. Again, this was a price paid out of total love by both Jesus and Mary.