A Perfect Angel
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
2nd Sunday of Advent, 1996
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, California
When my sister Mary Anne was very little, she used to reach behind her back like this, and feel her shoulder blade sticking out, and say, “I’m going to be an angel! I can feel my wings growing already!”
When was the last time you thought of yourself as an angel? Well, hold onto your wings, because I’ve got some amazing news.
Everybody knows that John the Baptist was not an angel. He was a holy man, a prophet, but not an angel. Why, then, is he called an angel in the Old Testament?
That’s right, an angel. Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I will send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee.” Angel?
Now this is important to understand. The English word “angel” comes from a Greek word which means “messenger”. So it is appropriate to call John the Baptist an angel, because he is the messenger of the coming of Jesus. Remember this: “angel” means “messenger”.
Now here’s a heavy thought: Malachi calls all priests “angels” too. Although the very thought makes me tremble, here’s what Malachi 2:7 says: “For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and the people shall seek the law at his mouth, because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.” So in the Old Testament, the priest was considered an angel, meaning, the messenger of God to the people.
Now here’s an even heavier thought: We are often told that we in the New Testament have become a priestly people. What does this imply? If we are all priestly people, and priests are angels, then we are all angels, we are all messengers of God to the people. How can this be?
We are angels, messengers of God, in more ways that we can imagine. Whenever we exhort a friend to avoid evil and do good, we are giving to them the message that God gave to us, we are being God’s messengers, we are being angels, in the literal sense. Whenever we help people call to mind the eternal kingdom, whenever we remind people of the punishments that await evildoers, whenever we include tenets of our faith in our conversations, then we are indeed angels.
You might say, No, no, not me; I’m no angel, I’m not fit to exhort other people in religious matters; I have enough trouble walking the straight and narrow myself! To which I reply: There are greater and lesser angels. Even the littlest angel is nonetheless an angel. Do what you can when you can to spread the message of the Good News of God’s love for us, and you are an angel, no matter your past sins, no matter your lack of self-esteem. You have been called to be an angel, a messenger to your family, friends, and neighbors. And you have already often been an angel to them. When was the last time you thought of yourself as an angel?
Please don’t say to yourself, “Oh, how sweet. How poetic. He thinks I’m an angel. Isn’t that cute. If he only knew me he wouldn’t be calling me an angel.” No no no, that’s missing the point. You say your halo gets tarnished now and then? You say your feathers are easily ruffled? You say you often harp on certain things? So what? So you’re an angel with problems. Get over it. And keep on being the voice that your loved ones love to hear, the good neighbor that your neighbors are happy to know, and the good example that your friends secretly admire, and in a million unsung ways you will continue to be what you’ve always been: an angel.
Still not convinced? Then consider this. Normal people do not go to movies alone. I’m told that movie critics do, but that only strengthens my argument. When a movie opens that I really want to see, I always try to find somebody who isn’t busy who can go with me so I can enjoy the movie with them. Same thing applies to many aspects of life; I’d never think of spending a day alone at Disneyland, but a day spent there with a friend is among life’s finer pleasures. Same with sidewalk surfing, or bicycle riding, and a zillion other ordinary activities that are much more enjoyable when you’re with somebody.
If such ordinary activities can give such joy when you invite somebody to join you, then wouldn’t our journey to God be improved by inviting others to join us? When you pray, invite someone to join you. We feel the movements of the Holy Spirit in our souls, inviting us to go on a spiritual journey. As a priestly people, as angels of our Lord, we pass that invitation on to our neighbors, becoming angels to them.
The heaviest thought of all is that we could, if we put our minds to it, really put our lives to great use by curbing our idle chatter. As the good book says, “Every idle word that we speak, we shall render an account for it in the day of judgement.” If we could somehow direct our idle conversations towards matters that edify, we could be not merely ordinary angels, but great ones. If we could always remember how the days of our lives are swiftly passing away, and that our God is both a loving Father and a just Judge, and if our conduct reflected that awareness and became a silent sermon to those who observe our lives, then we could even be as great an angel as John the Baptist.
Dare I carry this to its logical conclusion? If each morning we were to offer up the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of that day, so as to make the entire day into one large prayer, then every time we interacted with another human being we’d be in prayer, in the presence of God, and bringing others into contact with Him too. We’d be perfectly fulfilling the role of God’s messenger. We would be in fact what only our mothers ever thought us to be: perfect angels.
Sound impossible? I don’t think it’s impossible. But keep in mind, you don’t have to be a perfect angel to be an angel. And next time you have an opportunity to spread God’s message, be an angel. And once in a while do what Mary Anne did: reach back, and say, “I’m going to be an angel! I can feel my wings growing already!”