Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The Anchoress offers a meditation by Pope St. Gregory the Great:

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

Read the rest.

This makes me contemplate, among other things, our tendency to confer angelic status on those who have died. Jesus said that we will become as angels, not that we will be angels ourselves; if Saint Gregory is right, to be an angel is to be at once something far more and far less than a human being. As they, pure intelligences, have much that we don’t have, so also do we, being embodied, have much that they don’t.

We have, oddly enough — oddly, because it’s too easy not to think of it as a gift — the capacity for suffering. The angels, for all their brilliance and power, cannot enter into our sufferings, any more than they could enter into Christ’s on the Cross.

When we bear the Cross with the Lord, whether we take it upon ourselves, find it thrust upon us, or both, we meet Him in the power of His weakness, and the triumph of His humility.

I wouldn’t have thought about this so much, I don’t think, had I not been reading, this week, the testimony of a blogging acquaintance concerning the brief life of his daughter, Vivian, diagnosed in utero with anencephaly, born and received into Heaven this past week.

He writes,

Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio writes in her book, The Humility of God, “God’s tears glisten on the fragile human face, the flawed creature who stumbles through the world in search of goodness. God is with us and his glory radiates when we strive to love by bearing the wounds of love. The crucified Christ is risen and glorified. God’s tears are mixed with joy.”

My wife and I have felt and haven’t felt God’s presence in a way perhaps similar to the way Vivian has felt and hasn’t felt our presence. I don’t know how aware she was or to what extent her actions were more than involuntary reactions. Still, we have made ourselves present to her by suffering with her, and we have loved her by suffering with her. God has been present to us by suffering with us, and He has loved us by suffering with us. God’s tears glistened in Vivian’s fragile, bruised, beautiful baby face.

All of this is to be made, not an angel — whatever roads are open to them, this one isn’t — but a saint, a human saint. We call our Archangels saints: Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael. This is because they are holy, not because they have become so. That is, as they chose, so they were, and are. As we choose, so we become, in painful limping slow motion, with God’s help and theirs.

Kyle describes his baby daughter Vivian’s last moments as the end of a race, her breathing not pained, but labored as an athlete’s would be in the final few yards. Certainly the joy of the people who stand waiting at the finish line, as a beloved runner staggers home, is very great, but how much greater is the runner’s joy . . .

Still, today we commemorate those who cheer us, fight for us, and protect us as we run, as valiantly as we can, the race set before us.

Here we’re celebrating in a low-key way, with angel-hair pasta and angel-food cake.
(I thought that icon was pretty nifty, too)

More on: Art

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles