St. Ignatius of Loyola, a deeply revered master of the spiritual life, always counseled people to use their imaginations when they prayed. Ignatius himself loved to imagine himself present at the Last Supper or at the Sermon on the Mount as a way of bringing these scriptural stories to life.
He loved to see himself at the “thirteenth apostle,” listening to Jesus and watching how everyone else responded to Jesus’ words and deeds.
Following Ignatius’ advice, I like to use images from Scripture to help me in my prayer. Some of my favorites are Jesus’ Transfiguration or the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke
24. Placing myself at the scene of these events really helps me to connect with Jesus as I pray. It helps me to sense his presence and hear his voice that much more clearly.
Every Advent, when I read about the birth of Jesus, I also like to imagine being there with Mary, listening to the angel Gabriel as he invited her to become the mother of the Son of God. I imagine, too, what it was like for Joseph to wake up from a vivid dream, knowing that an angel had appeared to him and told him to accept Mary and her child. Finally, on Christmas Eve I always think about the shepherds and their encounter with an entire host of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).
Heavenly Helpers. Now, I must confess that outside of Advent and Christmas, I don’t often think about angels. It’s hard enough for me to distinguish what God the Father does from what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do. To try and think about how angels fit into the whole picture is sometimes just too confusing! In the end, I simply conclude that God created angels to play a role in his plan of salvation—as messengers, as guides, and as protectors—and leave it at that.
But earlier this year, I began thinking about angels more. I began wondering just what it is they do and how they go about doing it. I began to pray and do some research, and I found that there is a lot worth learning. For example, did you know that the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said that he owed God’s angels a great debt of gratitude because of the way they gave him so much “intellectual assistance”? If someone as smart as Thomas took them seriously, surely I should take notice!
So I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the things I have learned, and that’s how the opening essays in this issue came about. I realize that three short articles can hardly do the angels justice, but it’s a start. I hope that this issue helps you grow in your own appreciation for angels and all the work they do on our behalf. I know this has happened to me!
So let’s all look at the angels this summer—our heavenly guardians, messengers, healers, and even givers of intellectual assistance. May we all gain a deeper appreciation for what they do, as well as a greater sense of gratitude for their complete and undivided service to God.