A Protestant friend once asked me why Catholic Confession is necessary; she said she took her sins “straight to God without the need for an intermediary.” I explained that Jesus himself has given us the Sacrament of Confession, which is a good enough reason to use it; but I also thought (without saying this to my friend) how Catholicism is incomparably rich in sacramental and devotional aids to faith, of which we Catholics often take too little notice.
These thoughts are occasioned by reading His Angels at our Side by Fr John Horgan (EWTN/Gracewing £15.50). I have occasionally mentioned angels in book blogs but this one is easily the best I have read on the subject. It makes all the difference between accepting the doctrine of angels merely as a matter of faith, then forgetting all about them (or thinking, uneasily, that they are probably a relic of the pre-Vatican II age), and actually coming to see that they are real, constantly at work in the world on our behalf at the behest of God whom they ceaselessly adore, and that their very existence is another aspect of the extraordinary richness of the Catholic faith.
There was a period some years ago when angels were taken up by New Age fashionistas, fascinated by the “spirit world.” Horgan’s book, which is full of information, personal stories, glimpses of his own faith and apostolic zeal to communicate this vital dimension to his readers, places the subject of angels squarely on an orthodox supernatural plane where we are invited to join him.
The story that medieval theologians concerned themselves with how many angels danced on the head of a pin has no place here. Horgan reminds us that “One of the most beautiful and comforting elements of Catholic belief is the existence and ministry of angels.” His work is not a treatise on angelology “but an introduction to a unique friendship, a marvellous relationship.”
He points out that angels are mentioned more than 230 times in Scripture, carrying out their threefold mission of adoration, fulfilling God’s will and acting as messengers. Yes, there are nine choirs of angels for those who want the (sublime) facts; but in essence, their task is simply to help us “undergo the spiritual transformations that bring us from this world to the next” – in other words, to help us become holy. This goal is not just for saints – Mother Teresa or Oscar Romero for instance – but for us all. The goal is less daunting when we come to see that “authentic devotion to the angels will always lead us to the Trinity and to the Cross”, thence to eternal life.
They help us to purify the three powers of the soul: our memory, our understanding and our will – as they did for the saints who wisely cultivated their friendship, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelic Doctor”) and Padre Pio who called his guardian angel “the shining man.” The archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael get a special mention – especially St Michael, “the angel who presents the souls of the dead to God” – as does the Angel of Fatima who prepared the three children of Fatima for the apparitions of Our Lady.
Reading this book will deepen your appreciation of your guardian angel; and if angels have never been part of your faith or were discarded after childhood, it should kindle a devoted friendship.