BEFORE THE CROSS | We all benefit from the help of angels

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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The back wall of the chapel at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary is painted a brilliant gold. When the lights are out, that's all you can see — a gold wall. But when the lights come on you see the pattern painted there.

As with many other elements of the seminary's chapel, in addition to being beautiful, the wall is designed to teach a lesson. In this case, the lesson is that the pattern is always there, but there are some things we will only see by the light of faith.

We celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angels this week (Oct. 2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the existence of angels is a truth of faith (CCC 328). But angels are purely spiritual creatures, so we don't ordinarily see them with our physical eyes. (There are exceptions, of course. Occasionally they make visible appearances in the Bible, in Church history, and in the lives of ordinary believers.) But we trust the words of Jesus, who spoke of them (see Matthew 18:10, for example). And when we stretch out with our spiritual senses we know their presence. In other words, they're a bit like the pattern on the chapel wall: they're always there, but we see them best by the light of faith.

So what? Even if the existence of angels is a truth of faith, what difference does it make?

Well, if you don't know the laws of buoyancy you can still make a stick float in the water. You can even make a canoe that will do a lot of work. But you can't make a Mississippi River barge that weighs more than 200 tons and carries more than 2,000 tons of goods. The law of buoyancy is true, whether you know it or not. But the more you know about it, the more you can put it to work.

Something similar is true of the guardian angels. Whether we believe in them or not, they're there to light and guard, to rule and guide. But when we know this by faith we can take our relationship with the angels to a whole new level. We can't command them. But we can ask for their help. And we can get specific in our asking. We can ask for a guardian angel to be given to a meeting, or a particular task that has to be accomplished, or a particular place that needs protection. We can get even more specific and ask for an angel of strength, hospitality, courage and so on.

That may sound strange. But just as we can grow in our knowledge of science so we can also grow in our knowledge of faith. And just as our growth in science has practical consequences, so does our growth in faith. Try it out. As the catechism notes, the whole Church benefits from the powerful help of angels (CCC 334). Don't be too proud to ask for help. 

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