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The Holy Angels

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Our retreat theme, surprisingly, is on the Holy Angels. For our opening meditation I think we should begin by asking ourselves “Why a retreat on the angels?”

Why concentrate on the angels? Our focus will be mainly on the good angels but we shall also include in our meditation, reflecting on the fallen spirits. Here are some reasons why a series of meditations on the angels is especially needed in our day. I might begin by observing that never in the history of the world, surely of the modern world, has there been more interest, surprisingly, than today in the angels. I have a list of over one hundred books in print, all dealing with the angels.

We begin by observing that there is no such thing as chance with God. God has a purpose for everything which he created. God must have a purpose, and a purpose for us, in creating the angels, and the first I would say, fundamental reason is because God wants us to both understand and live spiritual life. And the angels are pure spirits. Our lives are only as spiritual as they are angelic.

Why a retreat on the angels? Because the angels, as spiritual beings, do not have, as we have, a body. These are only, what a strange adverb, they only spiritual beings. God is pure spirit. In the work of creation, the angels are on a much higher level than are we. The angels beings without bodies, are more like God who is pure spirit, than are we who are composites of both spirit and body.

Why a retreat on the angels? The angels are the great creations of the universe. They are, dare I say it, the chief contemplatives in God’s world. Our lives are only as contemplative as they are angelic.

Why meditate on the angels? Because they are the perfect models, being creatures, of how to live a deeply spiritual life in union with God. We casually use the terms, ‘united with God,’ ‘close to God ,’ ‘near to God.’ We are only as united with God, close to God, or near to God as we use the spiritual part of our being which we have in common with the angels.

The angels are close to God. Let’s be clear, nearness to God is not spatial proximity. It is not, say, the closeness of two hands clasped together. Nearness to God is nearness of our minds and wills to the mind and will of God. The angels are the great models for us of growing closer, and closer, and closer to God

Why meditate on the angels? Because the angels are powerful intercessors for our needs. They, in the Beatific Vision, are always in contact with God. They are always speaking spirit to spirit with the Almighty. We should cultivate the habit of speaking through the angels to God.

Why meditate on the angels? Because the angels are in heaven. That is our goal. We don’t know how long, centuries, too short, millennium, too short, or countless ages before there was any human being in heaven, angels were in heaven from the moment of having faithfully served God and resisted the temptation to which Lucifer gave in. They are in heaven. That is our goal. We are aiming for heaven. The heaven to which we are looking toward is a heaven, of course, in which God dwells, with His angels. Our destiny is to live in the company of the angels for eternity.

One more reason why. Faith tells us that the angels that are in heaven had to merit the beatific vision. We too must earn our heavenly eternity, but, what a crucial adversity this is, but the angels had to earn their heavenly reward, and not all the angels earned the beatific vision. If there is one thing Ignatius makes clear in the Spiritual Exercises. Early in the Exercises and throughout the full thirty days it is, that some, changes the verb, many of the angels are unfaithful to God. Many of the angels fell, what a casual verb that is, they fell. They fell from their heavenly destiny for which God made them into everlasting suffering in hell.

Why meditate on the angels? Because, how this needs to be said, we like the angels, are now on trial. We like them are now on probation. We like them have to remain humble in submitting our wills to the will of God. Why meditate on the angels? Because they teach us, alas, we in our probation like they in their probation, the blinds humble submission to the will of God. We too, risk the loss of our heavenly destiny.

Why meditate on the angels? Because, like them, we too must prove our loyalty to the Creator that made us, like the angels, out of nothing. Know that God wants our humble submission to His divine Will. To know that those who refused to submit to God, and that we might not lose that heaven for which we too were made.

God created the angels to teach us the meaning of the spiritual life.

For the present we ask ourselves, what do we mean when we say we are living the spiritual life? We presuppose that there are two kinds of creatures that God made: that God made pure spirits, and He made bodily beings. But among these Bodily beings are some who share with the angels in having a spiritual life--meaning they have an intelligence and a free will. As human beings understandably we are concerned about our bodily needs. We need food to nourish our body. We need drink we need sleep. We too need to watch the conditions of our body. We have our bodily concerns – the state of our health, our bodily comfort. This is all understandable because we have a body.

The world around us, as we shall explain, is a world that is preoccupied with what is material, what can be touched, what can be tasted, and what can be felt with the bodily senses. We commonly express something that is important as that which, not ‘immaterial to us’, rather if something is important, ‘it matters.’ We tell someone “he does not matter,” if they are unimportant. We are naturally so preoccupied with things of the sense, sound, taste, and shape. Hear it, the world in which we live, we can say identifies reality with matter.

I speak a number of languages. In English, what do we say is pure illusion? What is pure fancy? We call it nonsense, as though if the senses cannot perceive it, it is nonsense. It is meaningless.

There are writers now who talk about celestial quackery. Talking to the angels, believing in angelic spirits and how nonsensical can you be than to believe in an evil spirit. It is nonsense only because it cannot be perceived by the senses. We normally and correctly as persons who have the faith believe in the interior life. I’ve taught theology too many years to know that people use words that they really do not understand. What is the interior life? The interior life is that part of our being that we share in common with the angels. Our minds and our wills. What does it mean to live our lives by serving God? It means to serve God interiorly. It means to know God interiorly. It means to love God interiorly.

Angels have no bodies. We human beings are inferior to the angel. The Church calls them pure spirits. I hesitate saying the next sentence. We, in contrast, are impure spirits. What is impure about us? We have a body. We depend on our body to know anything. If a child were conceived, whose bodily sense were totally inoperative could not see, touch, taste, smell - that child would be born, and could live several years, but would have no idea, talk about being inferior to the angels. The spiritual part of our being depends on our bodies. As we will see the angels engage in conversation. Unless we had the faith, that would be nonsense. How can you communicate one person to another unless a person had a mouth with which to speak and the other have ears with which to hear? We are inferior to the angels because we need our bodies not just to acquire ideas but to communicate ideas.

Angels have no bodies and are therefore pure spirits. They are only a mind and a will. Are they limited? It is just the opposite. We are limited. We speak about living the spiritual life. What does that mean? It means living a life according to the mind and will of God, with that part of our being which we have in common with the angels, an intellect and a will. The focus of this meditation we said is on how the angels teach us to live the spiritual life.

How do the angels live the spiritual life? By using the two powers that every spiritual being possesses. By using their intellect and by using their will. They use their minds to know God. Oh how much we need to learn. We need to know God. The angels know God. The angels understand God. The angels think of God. How much they have to teach us. The angels are always thinking of God. What a safe question. Are we always thinking of God?

The angels, we are saying, are to teach us the meaning of the spiritual life. The angels speak to God because their minds are thinking of God. They see God. Are we to see God here on earth? Yes. That is what our faith is all about. See God by faith here on earth, so that by believing in Him and seeing him in the minds, so that like the angels we may enjoy seeing Him face to face for all eternity.

As spiritual beings, the angels use their will that is what the spiritual life means, it means to use the spiritual powers that we have in common with the angels: our minds to think of God, and our wills to do the will of God. What a petition this is in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Do the angels in heaven always do the will of God? Always. How much they have to teach us. That is why God has given us a free will.

Why do we have a free will? You might say that we have a free will to choose. But as we sadly know, since the dawn of human history until the last moment of human life on earth, human beings will use their free wills in one of two ways: in choosing to do God’s will or choosing to do their own wills. That is why the angels are in heaven. They chose to do the will of God.

That is what being in heaven means. Heaven means doing the will of God. And even this side of eternity, who are the only happy people on earth? Those who choose to do the will of God. The angels are therefore the perfect examples of what spiritual life should be. Like the angels, we have a mind to know God, and we have a will to choose His will. The angels are the ones to follow here on earth in order to join them in the eternity for which we were made.

But we are not finished yet. What conclusion should we reach on what we so far said on how the angels are to teach us how to live the spiritual life?

How we use the creatures in our life to learn what the angels can teach us. We have the spiritual life and we are to live it only that like the angels we might use our spirit and our two spiritual powers: our minds and our wills. Our minds to know God and our wills to love Him. However, you may object, we have a body. But the body that we have is to be used according to the way our minds are enlightened by God. The root of our interior life is in following the angels in using our minds, like the angels, to know God and using our wills to choose to do His Will. Christ spent most of the visible life on earth as a hidden life. He spent hours, as we know, in fact whole nights in prayer. What does this teach us? That this is, as Christ said at the Last Supper, “This is eternal life, that they may know you the true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

What are the angels teaching us? The meaning of eternal life. First to use our minds. The interior spiritual part of our being – our minds to know all we can about God and Jesus Christ who is the second person of the Holy Trinity become man. What else does Christ tell us? If you love me, keep my commandments. Even as we know God and Jesus Christ, with our minds, so we love God and the God who became man, with our will. The commandments of God are meaningless unless we love God. We shall obey God’s commandments only in the measure we use our wills to obey the God who commands us.

What do the angels have to teach us about the spiritual life? Everything. Like the angels we are to use our minds to know God, to know Him more and more and deepen our understanding of the faith we now have. What do the angels teach us? They teach us to use our wills to love God and to learn the most important lesson we have on earth to learn, there is no happiness, no joy on earth except in, with our free wills, in submitting our wills to the will of God.

Mary, mother of God, queen of angels, obtain for us, something of your own deep respect for the angels, to see why God had made the angels. God made the angels to teach us that we have two spiritual powers in common with the angels: the power of knowing and the power of choosing. That we use our minds to know God more deeply, more clearly, and that we might learn to love God, to choose His will always. So that by choosing the will of God here on earth, we might enjoy that happiness, of which is reserved for those, like the faithful angels who know God and do His will.

Dallas Carmelites, Conference #1, Saturday 2/24/96, 9:30 AM

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica

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