There is a phenomenon drawing people all over the world into a kind of spirituality that focuses on angels. It's as if people of the world's religions have discovered a common ground of piety -- devotion to angels.
And this phenomenon has marched right onto prime-time television. Have you watched the program on CBS Sunday nights called "Touched by an Angel?"
Few programs on television ever mention God, but this show speaks unabashedly about God. When Monica, one of the angels, says "God loves you!" you can feel it in your bones. Jesus is rarely mentioned, though many scenes take place in Christian churches. The show, apparently, does not mention Jesus as it wants to reach out to a broader audience. Christians, however, can find most everything to their liking.
The show's theology is excellent: The angels must not interfere in the individual's world. They can make suggestions, but they cannot stop a car crash if that is imminent, nor can they force a reconciliation. Nor can they stop someone from drowning themselves in alcohol.
The angels on the show make it clear -- and this is accurate theology -- that God will not stop bad things from happening to us because he will not take away our human freedom. Each of us must open up our heart to God for God to be able to help. Each of us must be willing to do what is necessary to change our lives.
Most of the episodes deal with crisis situations in people's lives, very often dealing with crises in family life. A recent episode dealt with an adult young son coming home for Christmas. He was sure it would be his last. He wanted to exchange his love with his father particularly, but also his mother, his sister and his nephew. The crisis comes when he tells his father, very painfully, that he is gay and that he is dying of AIDS. The angels have their work cut out for them in trying to bring about reconciliation between the father and the son.
I have a young friend who was speeding one night down a narrow road. He was passing three cars, and suddenly, the lead car turned left in front of him. His car spun out of control and turned end-over-end and landed in a twenty-foot deep canal. Somehow the two boys escaped from the sinking car and were flown to the hospital by helicopter.
The boy's father went out the next day to see the car and he could not understand how they could have escaped. Was this divine intervention? The father has no doubt that it surely was.
Throughout my illness, there were many times that I felt a kind of direct intervention with God. I remember one night in particular. I was in the state hospital and they had doped me up on thorazine. I was laying in bed trying to sleep. My extremities were in constant motion. For hours I tried to sleep. But, not only my body was so ill at ease, but fear had overwhelmed me. What was going to become of me?
Finally, I fell asleep. Sometime later I was awakened from a dream. I do not normally remember my dreams but I remember this one. It's kind of peculiar. I dreamt I was an orange volkswagen. (I had always seen orange volkswagens as special.) I woke up feeling wonderful. My legs and arms were quiet. I was at rest. The fear had subsided. And I was given the definite message that I would be OK. This moment began the long road to recovery, one which would take many years. There was no doubt that God had sent an angel in my dream to comfort me at that moment and to remind me of how much God loved me.
As for my young friend, he has had his life changed considerably since the accident. Instantly, he realized what life is all about. Instantly, he had grown up.
"Touched by an Angel" shows quite a few deathbed scenes. And the Angel of Death is there to see if the person is to be escorted through the door that opens to the path of eternal life or live awhile longer planetside.
In the episode with the young man who was dying of AIDS, Andrew, the Angel of Death is nearby and stands watch for the time of the young man's passing to the other side. It is interesting that the angel himself did not know the time; he was there only to assist. The time of death apparently is known only to God.
Showing such deathbed scenes is very good for American viewers. Many of us do not want to think about death. We don't want to think about facing up to the wrongdoing of our life and taking the risk of putting our hands trustingly in the hands of a loving God. And there are many deathbed scenes on this show. It is clear to me that spirituality is not just a sub-theme of the show; it is what the program is all about. And this is no easy theology. Almost always, they portray that getting on the spiritual path and off of a harmful one is not easy. It requires much effort, courage, and strength of will. On this show, as in real life, a person must take responsibility for their past if they are to progress in the ways of God.
These angels, (for television effect ) appear in human form. But in the Scriptures, also, angels, at times, take on human form; i.e. the three young men that appear to Abraham and Sarah Gen 18:2); Jacob wrestling all night with an angel (Gen. 32); Tobit finding the Archangel Raphael "though he did not know it to be an angel (Tobit 5); and the young man who appears at Jesus' tomb (Mark 16:5).
Angels, however, are not human. They are spiritual beings; they come to us from a place other than our planet earth. As spiritual beings, they are not bound by the laws of time and space, as humans are. In modern times, people who have near-death experiences seem to always report the presence of a bright light, a loving being at the point of death; these could be reported as angels.
As we study Scripture and doctrinal theology, we learn that angels are creatures -- they are created by God like you and me. Angels, theology says, are just a little more up the ladder than humans. Nevertheless they are simply creatures. They were made by God just as you and I are.
And they have free will. They are not without flaw. They are not perfect. They can make mistakes and they are capable of taking a wrong path. Lucifer himself is a fallen angel. And theology reminds us that battles between the powers of darkness and the powers of light are very real in human history ; i.e. the Holocaust. Occasionally, a bad angel appears on this CBS program. The good angels must respect the freedom of the bad ones; They cannot intervene; all they have permission to do is to continue their work.
There is also the theme that angels have as a major part of their work to protect human individuals from birth to death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that beside each individual stands an angel as a Protector and Shepherd. Already on earth we share by faith in the company of the angels.
Doctrinal theology says we can pray to angels, just as we pray to the saints in heaven. But we must not worship them. Some of the New Age dealings with angels seem to have them take the place of God.
Jesus himself talks about angels. In the Garden as he confronts his accusers he says, Do you not suppose that I can call on my Father to provide at a moment's notice more than twelve legions of angels?( Matt: 26:53)
Jesus was ministered to by angels after the devil tempted him in the desert (Matt: 4:11). And also in Christ's agony in the Garden (Luke 22:43). In a very real sense, the angels were Jesus "Secret Agents," although they were not permitted to change the course of history. They appear most often to simply comfort Jesus. I can very well imagine, now that I am reflecting on the role of angles in our lives, that, angels were always nearby to enable him to simply walk through a hostile crowd "because his time had not yet come."
The characters on "Touched by an Angel" are not intermediaries; they simply help us to go directly to God -- just as the saints do. They are here, as other ministers of God are here, to point to God, to help an individual open up, and then sustain, a wonderful relationship with God.
Tess (Della Reese) on the TV show tells that young man who is dying of AIDS and who is quite despairing, "In God's eyes you are a beautiful child. You can't disappoint God. You are in God's eyes, who you are. God's Love is perfect. His desire is not punishment. It's wrong to use death as a punishment. You don't have to be perfect to receive God's love." The young man breaks into tears and says, "I felt so flawed" His father regarded him as flawed also; that's the reason he could not accept his son. And remember, the angels themselves are not without blemish.
The greatest experience of the angels is to enjoy, with the holy ones of the human race, the Beatific Vision of God. To adore God. To praise God. Once a creature has seen God face to face, there is no other creature that can satisfy one's inner being. "Holy, holy, holy, " cry the angels of God. "Heaven and earth are filled with your glory!" In her liturgy, the Church joins the angels to praise the thrice-holy God. In the funeral liturgy we pray, "May the angels lead you into Paradise."
So we can venerate the angels as we do the saints. Catholic dogmatic theology simply takes the angels for granted, as opposed to the fuss that New Age theology makes over them. Remember they are there to protect us, to help us, to be our advocate in the heavenly court.
They are fascinating creatures, a little above us because they are free of the confines of space and time which defines us as human creatures on this planet. Celebrate the tremendous love of God that they are so willing to share with you.
And if you are ever touched by an angel, enjoy!