A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

ANGELS


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 tradition?

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 and successes.

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 think.

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 witnesses.

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 worship.

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

 

 
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