Interview with Organizer of World Youth Day 2002
Part I: Separating the Hype From the Reality
ROME, 9 DEC. 2002 (ZENIT).
During a recent visit to Rome, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the
chief organizer of World Youth Day in Toronto, spoke with ZENIT about
the trends in Christian spirituality among people. One of those trends
touched on angels....
ZENIT: Why do you think that there is such a great interest in angels
today among young people? Do you think that young people really
understand the meaning of angels in the Catholic Christian tradition?
Father Rosica: Over the past three years, as I moved around the world,
and particularly throughout North America, to meet with young people who
were preparing to attend World Youth Day 2002, I was struck by the sheer
volume of artwork, depictions of angels that seem to occupy much space
in the lives of young people.
On the one hand, I see much of the proliferation of angels as part of
large consumer-advertising gimmicks. People wear angels as lapel pins.
The angels cover our coffee mugs, greeting cards, T-shirts, wedding
invitations, picture books, and, I fear, far too many other things.
Angel fans boast of Internet chat rooms, television programs, and famous
stars who have returned in the form of angels. I also fear that the
theme of angels is part of the New Age spirituality or fad so deeply
embedded in our culture today.
We have good reason to be bothered by this blitz of angels. But I also
think that their presence reveals a deep hunger and thirst for
spirituality, especially in the lives of young people, who are searching
and seeking for meaning and for closeness with God.
Q: When did we first start speaking of angels in the Catholic Christian
Father Rosica: Angels are found among the four Western "religions
of the book": Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
While they were an element of Christian piety from the beginning, it was
not until 325 that the Council of Nicaea made belief in angels a part of
dogma. Soon after, articles were written about their comings and goings,
and it wasn't long into the fourth century that artists joined the fray
and began to portray them with wings to distinguish them in paintings
and sculpture from ordinary human beings.
The study of angels, angelology, took off in the early sixth century,
when the theologian Dionysius the Areopagite first classified them. His
celestial hierarchy would later be elaborated by St. Thomas Aquinas, the
Italian Dominican scholar of the 13th century who was nicknamed the
"dumb ox" by his classmates, but the "angelic
doctor" by the Church, not because of his holy life, but rather
because of his profound teaching about angels.
Those in our times who think Thomas was naive about angels, simply
betray that they have never bothered to read him. Few of these
enlightened ones could claim, even in their wildest moments, to greater
breadth of mind than Thomas, yet they poke fun at ideas in a superior
way and laugh at theological debates about how many angels [can stand on
the head of a pin, as if they were] material, concrete beings.
They are spiritual realities that reveal themselves to women and men in
moments of vision, and that also break in on human consciousness in
dreams, flooding it with awareness and wonder and fear.
Q: What does the notion of angels mean for us? How can we communicate
their significance to young people?
Father Rosica: The notion of angels is [to be] mysteriously in the
presence of God on our behalf, and simultaneously with us on our behalf.
What a tender gesture of our loving Creator! Guardian angels provide
free, womb-to-tomb guidance—lighting and guarding, ruling and guiding
... all the days of our lives.
Angels move our imaginations with good thoughts and impulses, and impel
us toward goodness ... through secret impulse, intuition, without the
benefit of [our] actually seeing or hearing them. They pray with us and
for us, and in transporting our prayers to God, they may alter them ever
so slightly to make them more perfect. They protect us in times of
danger, in the physical as well as in the spiritual life, because not
all is sweetness and light here below.
The appearance of angels in the Old and New Testaments, as well as in
our lives, is consistent with a minor actor in a major play: They have
one line to deliver, or a task to perform; they do it, and exit
promptly. It is God who always takes the credit for their interventions
Our Church ancestors also warn of us a whole army of rebel or fallen
angels, led by Lucifer, who similarly employ our imaginations to tempt
us away from God. And yet, the lines of the angels remain some of the
most prophetic and powerful messages in the Scriptures. ZE02120921
Interview with Father Thomas Rosica
Part II: What the Angels Have to Show Us
ROME, 10 DEC. 2002 (ZENIT).
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, a key organizer of World Youth Day in
Toronto, spoke to ZENIT about the significance of angels in contemporary
culture, in Catholic theology and in Christian life.
Father Rosica studied Scripture in Toronto, Rome and Jerusalem before
serving as director of the Newman Center Catholic mission at the
University of Toronto and lecturer in sacred Scripture at the Toronto
School of Theology from 1994-2000. For the past three years, he was the
chief organizer of World Youth Day 2002….
ZENIT: As we prepare to enter the season of Christmas, what insights
do the angels give us into the mystery of the Incarnation?
Father Rosica: The angels of the Christmas and Easter stories are not
absurd, for the Spirit that fills holy seasons like Christmas and Easter
helps us realize that life and living are not as simple as we sometimes
We realize we are surrounded by mysteries and marvels so great that
they can make even us change our lives. We may recognize that we need to
love one another as the Holy One loves us; this can force us to a new
way of life.
When we remember and relive the events of Bethlehem, Gethsemane, the
Holy Sepulcher, the powers of heaven come close. The veil that separates
us from the world of the Spirit is drawn back. Whenever God breaks
through, we are surrounded by angelic powers.
The stories of Jesus' childhood contain many mentions of angels. An
angel informs Zechariah about the birth of his son John, and the angel
foretells the birth of Mary's son, Jesus. An angel advises Joseph to
accept Mary's pregnancy, and the angels announce the good news to the
shepherds in the fields. An angel warns Joseph of the danger he's in
from Herod, and later returns to give Joseph the "all clear."
The only other page of the Gospel which has anything like this number
of angels is the story of the resurrection, where they are mentioned
seven times. In the rest of the story of Jesus, angels are very scarce.
In fact, they've got no walk-on parts at all, except once in the story
of Jesus' temptation in the desert, and once in the account of his agony
in the garden. These are two events which, the story says, have no
For the writers of the New Testament, the difficulty and challenge
before them was to find a way to express the uniqueness of this man
Jesus, to find words to convey the depths that they saw in his death and
resurrection. In his selfless death, they knew that in him the love of
God had come among human beings in a remarkable way. They knew that God
in Christ was reconciling the world to himself.
The stories of the angels in the life of Jesus do this: They have a
power which no lecture or broadcast could ever have. When we read the
story of his birth of a virgin mother, it speaks to us of the utter
kindness and generosity of God, and of his creative power which can draw
new life out of empty wombs and barren tombs.
When we read the story of the turmoil this child brought into
people's lives—Mary, Joseph, the Magi, Herod, the whole of Jerusalem,
and all the babes of Bethlehem—we are forced to ask ourselves whether
the risen Christ challenges and moves my life in the same way.
When we read the story of the shepherds and their vision of angelic
choirs, we discover anew that in Christ, the heavens open and God breaks
into my life. When we read the story of the message from heaven, of
glory in the highest and peace on earth, we hear an echo of the risen
Christ who said just that to his disciples: "Shalom, my peace I
give to you."
And he's continued to say that to millions of his followers since.
It's through these stories that Christ continues to come to us today and
invites us to become part of the story of his life.
Our Christmas hymns describe a world more fully real than the
materialistic world in which so many of us have been brainwashed. The
drama of Christmas may well be giving us one of our deepest glimpses
into the heart of God.
Q: Can you summarize what the angels teach us today?
Father Rosica: If the angels teach us anything, they show us what it
means to put on the mind of Christ. What a great privilege is theirs, to
stand constantly in God's presence, to feast their eyes on Jesus, to
know his face and even more, his mind. They look upon the world, and on
each of us, with the mind of Christ.
To truly love someone is not only to adore their face and their
external reality, but to enter their mind and heart. To have the mind of
Christ is not a boast but a prayer, and the prayer is that we, more and
more, learn to think his thoughts and to see the world around us through
his eyes. We have not only the spirit, the love and the strength of
Christ. We also have been given his mind.
Our minds as well as our emotions are to be trained to see and to
judge the events of our day. That is why we are invited by the
Scriptures and by the Church to discern the signs of the times, and why
the early Church swept over the Roman Empire, not only by out-loving and
out-living the pagan world, but by out-thinking it as well.
The pagan world, today as in the past, is always happy to tolerate a
church that neglects the Christian mind. Even dictators have been
undisturbed by Christians who confined their activities to prayer and
When we think of how the Christian Gospel inspired and shaped the
civilization we have inherited, how it taught generations to look at the
human drama through the lens of Christ, and inspired not only the
glories of art, music, poetry and architecture, but also the thinkers
and theologians who swayed our destinies, then we must have a different
vision of our religious heritage.
How often do we hear: "I don't want to look at the world through
any lens at all, especially angelic ones: I want to look at the facts
and let them speak for themselves." This is the great heresy of our
times: the myth of objectivity—the belief that the factors of life
around us need no interpretation.
Anyone who brings some prior conviction into play is accused of
ignoring or distorting the facts. But there is no such thing as a purely
objective judgment. We all bring some lens through which to see the
facts. The angels have much to teach us—they offer us ways of looking
at Christ and at the world.
Second, the angels teach us about simplicity, about delighting in
God's presence. Responding to the question of who was the greatest,
Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly, I
tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never
enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is
the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child
in my name welcomes me. Take care that you do not despise one of these
little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the
face of my Father in heaven."
St. Augustine captured this well when he said, "It was pride
that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as
angels." Children and angels know how to delight and how to
rejoice! In the midst of our busy lives, I fear that we have lost the
art of delighting and rejoicing. How often do we focus on our
disappointments, rather than our delights!
Third, the angels invite us to become angels and messengers for one
another. For what is ultimately their role—to be messengers, bearers
of words of consolation, hope, peace, joy, protection ... to remind
others of the beauty and consolation of God's presence ... to invite us
ever more deeply into the mystery of God ... to mirror God and God's
glory to others ... to gently lead others to God.
The important thing is not the terminology, but the realization that
there are such powers, powers of numinous strength and majesty, that can
break in on humans. These powers stir the deepest and most awesome
responses within us; they can destroy or upbuild, illumine or darken.
Those who do not recognize them, who persistently refuse to admit
their existence, have little chance to avoid the destructive powers in
the human psyche and in the universe; they are unlikely to open
themselves to the angelic, and to the Christ who wants to live within
all humans. There are dimensions of life far deeper and more mysterious
than most of us usually admit.
Angels are very important, because they provide people with an
articulation of the conviction that God is intimately involved in human
life. Angels address the loss of the depth of being of a person. As we
become a more individualistic society, we are strangely becoming more
isolated, because we rely on technology and science to find all the
angels. Angels in art, especially, represent a soaring of the spirit, a
desire to reach out.
There is much more to life than meets our eyes here and now. So much
of the resurgence of angels today and this angel mania is pure
sentimentality—devoid of any authentic spirituality. But some of it is
not. Some it betrays our deep human longing for God, for whom our hearts
are restless until they rest in him. ZE02121023