Monday, 29 October 2012

Leon J Podles on Angels


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Extracted from 'New Age Angels', an essay by Leon J Podles

http://www.podles.org/new-age-angels.htm

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Theologians are accustomed to ditching dogmas—the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the like—with the explanation that "modern man can't believe in these things anymore." What they mean by "modern man" are a few thousand Kantians in German universities.

However, if by "modern man" one means the vast majority of the population, including modern Western societies, then modern man is capable of believing the most remarkable things.

In Iceland, despite its secular Scandinavian culture, there is still a strong belief in the huldufolk (creatures like elves, but more dangerous) who live in rocks; and the roads are designed so as not to disturb them. Dreams in Iceland are widely thought to be messages from beings in the stars. For an idea of what Americans believe, visit any New Age bookstore...

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Meanwhile, churches continue to be stripped of their images and vigil lights. Felt banners with mottos like "Service and Celebration" replace stained glass windows where radiant angels and saints glow in the spiritual light that fills the world. But the modern version of the Roman liturgy is something in which no self-respecting angel participates. No one invites them anyway. 

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As all Thomists know, one may sin by both defect and excess. Sinning by defect in the belief in supernatural phenomena (including angels) is to deny their existence or to almost completely dismiss their role in the life of the Christian...

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Catholics have traditionally prayed to their guardian angels, and Catholic children have learned the poem: “Angel of God, my guardian dear/To whom God's love commits me here/Ever this day be at my side/To light and guard, to rule and guide/Amen.”

Does contact with angels vanish with age, like the craving for lollipops? Or is there a mature faith in angels, our fellow citizens in the heavenly fatherland?

I think there is. 

Opus Dei has a charming and effective custom of praying to the guardian angel of someone one wishes to influence to the good.

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Why bother with angels—why not pray only to God?

Because by multiplying intermediaries through whom He accomplishes His will, God gives them the dignity of sharing in His causality, and increases the number of those to whom gratitude is due.

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I have also discovered that guardian angels can be relied upon to find parking places in almost all circumstances. One law of the spiritual life is to begin with small things. First, develop your faith by praying for, and receiving, healing from a headache, then pray for healing from cancer.


Angelic action has also been the path to faith for some in the modern world.

M. Scott Peck attributes his conversion to Christianity to his growing sense that the fingerprints of Providence were unmistakable in the circumstances of life, as were, alas, the marks of the enemy, including diabolical possession.

Our true struggle is not with human enemies—Communists, abortionists, secularists, or even hardened sinners; these are but agents of the spiritual enemy who seeks to oppose God, and against that enemy we have every need of angelic help.

As Catholics used to pray after every Mass: "St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle." 

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My own feeling is that angels are at work in the preternatural events that defy rational explanation: sudden feelings that something is happening to someone you love; brief glimpses that seem to overcome space and time.

These happen too often to be dismissed as coincidence, but they do not happen often enough to be examined scientifically. They do not appear to be the operation of some natural, impersonal, psychic unity of mankind. Rather, they bear the marks of personality.

They cannot be predicted, but they accomplish some purpose when they happen.

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Perhaps angels are the channels of invisible communication among men, the hidden messengers that allow us to see briefly into the mind of another person.

Sophy Burnham... recounts an experience to which many parents can relate in their own childrearing. She left her baby sleeping on a bed while she worked in another room. She suddenly thought "Molly's falling off the bed." She ran down the hall, rushed into the bedroom, and caught the baby in mid-air.

There are few children who would make it to adulthood if their guardian angels were not clocking overtime. When we meet them face to face, we shall have much to thank them for.

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Note: I added bold emphasis to the question and answer: Why bother with angels—why not pray only to God? Because by multiplying intermediaries through whom He accomplishes His will, God gives them the dignity of sharing in His causality, and increases the number of those to whom gratitude is due; because this is the stumbling block about angels for many Protestants.

Protestants usually believe in the reality of angels, in an abstract kind of way, but seldom or never think about their reality because they do not find any use for them in their spiritual lives, and (in order to avoid any risk of idolatry) prayers are always directed at God the Father or more often Jesus Christ.

But, as always, risk avoidance by elimination of a whole domain of Christian practice creates its own hazards - in this instance the lived experience of a 'hollow' spiritual world exclusively consisting of God and Man, emptied of the multitudes which lie between.

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6 comments:

dearieme said...

If ever I have a spiritual crisis, whatever that may be, I'll want to hear from a parson about God and me. If he starts up with flummery about bloody elves and leprechauns - aka angels, saints and whatnots - he'll lose the chance of hauling in this unbeliever.

bgc said...

@d - that's the Scots Puritan talking...

I certainly do not believe that an active belief in Angels and Saints is necessary to salvation (or else I would have to reject nearly all post-Reformation Christianity, which would be nonsense) - but an *abstract* belief in A & S is scriptural (hence *is* necessary), an *active* belief in A and S is not forbidden, and an active belief in A & S is very helpful (to sanctification/ theosis) for some people - probably most people, in fact.

Anonymous said...

When my sons were small my wife and I used to joke that their guardian angels must be exhausted at the end of day protecting them from mishap after another.

Samson J. said...

Protestants usually believe in the reality of angels, in an abstract kind of way, but seldom or never think about their reality because they do not find any use for them in their spiritual lives

I believe in their active agency because I think I might have met one once. But that is a personal story.

If he starts up with flummery about bloody elves and leprechauns - aka angels, saints and whatnots - he'll lose the chance of hauling in this unbeliever.

If there's one thing I know about God, it's that he has a habit of humbling us by using means we would have considered RIDICULOUS or contemptuous to teach us important lessons; and the number of Christians who in their former lives said "I will NEVER..." is high as the heavens!

bgc said...

@SJ - Absolutely.

As an active proselytizing atheist from age 6- about 49 I know exactly how absurd and pathetic my born-again conversion looks to those who are now, the same as I was then.

But it happened to me, so it could happen to (almost) anyone...

Samson J. said...

As an active proselytizing atheist from age 6

This post is getting low in the queue, so perhaps no one will be around anymore, but this is another one of my perennial favourite topics: it seems that many, many of us in the high-IQ crowd became atheists at the age of less than 10 - and refused to ever question this decision even when we reached adulthood.

I don't know about you, but as a general rule I would say that it's probably a good idea, once you become an adult, to re-evaluate things that you thought were crystal clear when you were 6. But atheists so often don't; they think that their youthful (de-)conversion was perfectly reasonable.

In fact, I don't even know where we get the *idea* of "atheism" when we're that age. I can remember walking home with a school friend and telling him I didn't believe in God - where did I get that idea at the age of 8? They don't discuss atheism on cartoon shows, after all! To me it shows that we are spiritual creatures (and fallen ones!) the whole way along.