The Christmas story is replete with angels: The Angel Gabriel delivers the startling news to teenage Mary that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. An angel (probably Gabriel) breaks the life-changing news to Joseph, her espoused, in a dream. At the birth of Jesus, an angel sends shepherds to find a savior in a manger, and then a host of angels appear and praise God. An angel directs Joseph to flee to Egypt, and later an angel tells him it’s safe to return home.
Sometimes we speak of people turning into angels when they die. That isn’t true. Angels are a whole other form of being. They are pure spirits with no bodies. In heaven we will still have bodies but glorified ones. Moreover, angels are magnificent, awe-inspiring creatures, wiser, stronger, and more beautiful than we are. Ironically, because of the incarnation, angels now worship Jesus, who is human as well as divine. Although we can never really be angels, we can be angelic on earth by doing three things angels do.
First, angels are worshipers. That is number one in their job description. In heaven angels constantly proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest.” When we praise God alone or with a host of other people, when we sing the Gloria and the Holy, Holy at Mass, we are like angels—albeit without halos. Besides praising God in word and song, we can offer God our deeds as acts of praise. We praise God for who he is. We praise God for the wonderful things he has done for us. What can you praise God for today?
Second, angels are messengers. They tell people what God wants them to know. In particular, they proclaim the Good News. In fact, the word evangelist is based on the word angel. In this world where so many people are in need of hope, we can speak to them the consoling words that God loves them. Prisoners, the addicted, the afflicted, the needy and perhaps someone in our own family can be heartened by a message of Good News from our lips. To whom can you share the Good News today?
Third, angels are vessels of God’s love and mercy. After Jesus was tempted in the desert, angels ministered to him. When he was enduring the agony in the garden, angels comforted him. In the Old Testament, when the prophet Elijah flees to the desert for his life and wants to die, an angel brings him food. In the Acts of the Apostles, when the apostle Peter is imprisoned, an angel comes at night, unshackles him, and leads him out. Certain angels called guardian angels are charged with protecting us. How can you be a ministering angel today?
One day I was delivered late to the sprawling Atlanta airport. After getting a ticket, I had no idea where to board the plane. The ticket agent said, “Follow that man. He’s going to the same terminal.” The young man, who had his little nephew in tow, led me to the train and to the right terminal. Then, because I was going to miss the plane, he took my carry-on and told me to run up the escalator to the gate. A few minutes later, as I stood in line for the plane, which luckily had been delayed, he caught up and handed me my suitcase. “You’re an angel!” I proclaimed.
Every day people act like angels. Who has been an angel in your life?
Would you like to know more about angels? You might read my book The Catholic Companion to Angels (ACTA Publications). It comes with three different covers because the publisher couldn’t decide which one to put on!