Writing about angels might seem to be a displacement activity, given the world’s myriad problems and the Church’s own internal difficulties.
But as Fr John Horgan’s highly readable and persuasive His Angels at Our Side shows, angels are both at the heart of the Church’s mission and perfect examples of the providence of God.
The author, a Harvard graduate and a priest in British Columbia, has a lifelong interest in angels and saints – as he shows, unsurprisingly they often go together.
His book is scripturally knowledgeable, theologically erudite and pastoral at its heart, reminding readers that enlisting the help of one’s guardian angel is a sure way to find help, guidance and inspiration.
If the goal of the Christian life is to “enter into communion with Christ”, friendship with one’s guardian angel is to come to know a “unique friendship, a marvellous relationship”.
Fr Horgan reminds us that angels are mentioned in Scripture more than 230 times – when you start to appreciate this, you discover their ministry everywhere in the Old and New Testaments.
For those interested in angelology, he lists the nine choirs of angels and their particular functions: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, Angels and Principalities.
Such distinctions remind us of the glory surrounding God – and why we need to be perfected before we can enter his presence.
Indeed, the angels’ particular task is to help us “undergo the spiritual transformations that bring us from this world to the next”.
The archangel Michael is singled out as “the angel who presents the souls of the dead to God”.
The cosmic battle he undertook against Lucifer and those who refused to serve God, described in the Apocalypse of St John, was final and decisive.
Given their superior intelligence to us mortals, the angels do not receive a second chance as we do.
The author quotes the saintly US Jesuit Fr John Hardon: “We can become holier than we could humanly have done had we not sinned … the privilege of becoming holier because we have sinned”.
In one respect, human beings share in a privilege denied the angels: the Incarnation, when God became man and Christ entered the world, like us “in all things but sin”.
That’s something these purely spiritual beings cannot share.
We are reminded that the saints are often associated with the angels – men and women like Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas and Frances of Rome, whose guardian angel was “visibly present for more than 24 years”, and Francis of Assisi, of whom Fr Horgan comments: “Every age needs to rediscover Francis because [his] ‘seraphic love’ is a mysteriously attractive and fascinating proof of God’s presence among us.”
I have barely touched on all the themes in this profound book, one of those rare volumes that will truly enlarge one’s consciousness and understanding.
His Angels at our Side, by Fr John Horgan, EWTN/Gracewing, 304pp