Since 1670, the Catholic Church has marked today by celebrating the guardian angels. And this past Thursday, we commemorated the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael -- angels in the big leagues! (Michael is the captain of the heavenly host; Gabriel foretold the coming of the Messiah; Raphael brings prayers before God.)
However, we have seen in recent years that angels are certainly not the sole possession of the Catholic Church. In fact, heavenly times for angels now seem to be over, as angels are being transformed into consumer products and advertising gimmicks.
People wear them as lapel pins; they cover our coffee mugs, greeting cards, T-shirts, wedding invitations, picture books, bus shelters (Touched by an Angel posters) 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. Is the theme of angels part of our new-age spirituality or a fad? Could this blitz of angels and the widespread interest in them be revealing a deep hunger and thirst for spirituality?
Angels are part of many different traditions, including Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. There are wide variances between each of these religions as to their conceptions of angelic hierarchy and form, and there is an intense debate on such controversial topics as corporeal nature, sexuality and even how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (In the 14th century, it was believed that there were 301,655,722 angels on staff in heaven. What a bureaucracy!)
To talk about angels today is not merely okay, it is also therapeutic. Angel stories, like the near-death tunnel of welcoming, white light, gain credence because of their similarities. In life-threatening experiences, many people report being helped or rescued by a total stranger who appears out of nowhere then disappears as mysteriously. Some speak of angels appearing as comforting visitations of brilliant light following the death of a loved one, giving the survivor needed assurance that the person is at peace.
Angels are very important because they provide people with the conviction that God is intimately involved in human life. They address the loss of the depth of being of a person.
As we become a more individualistic society, we often find ourselves becoming more isolated -- 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 in popular culture today may indeed be pure sentimentality -- devoid of any authentic spirituality. But some of it is not. Some it betrays our deep human longing for the divine, for whom our hearts are restless until they finally rest in God.
Perhaps angel mania is revealing our quest for spirituality, our burning need to probe the deeper questions of hope and faith. Perhaps the angels are speaking to us once again, and teaching us what it means to desire and live in God's presence. They are, after all, in a good position to do that!