Mother Mary Joseph’s collection of angel figurines should have made the Guinness Book of World Records! Once word got out that she loved angels, well, that was the go ahead for gifts of angels of all sorts, sizes and thematic representations of the heavenly beings. What else could you give a nun clad in the traditional habit who was up to her bonnet in hand creams, handkerchiefs (remember them?), black stockings, and black shoe polish? Over many years, her collection came to a guesstimate of 1,000 or more angels which were brought out of storage for the Bethlehem Christmas display open to the public. Literally, hundreds at a time and thousands of people over the years, always with children in tow, came to see the display and get a whiff of Advent childlikeness. There were more angels in this display than in heaven! Seraphim and Cherubim were skiing down Bethlehem hills. Thrones and Principalities were peeking out of the town’s windows. Musician angels blew little horns and played harps on the turrets of the inns. Dominions were leading the singing choirs of angels and a merry-go-round of angels chimed, “Love makes the world go round.” There were Black angels, Asian angels, Latino angels, farmer angels, peasant angels, teacher angels and even athlete angels. This last mentioned category is not unrealistic considering the Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball Team!
Research tells us that at least 20 per cent of Americans attest to a personal experience with an angel. Some writers say that the failure of rationalism and materialism has helped surface an exploration of the reality of angels. I think they are right. During a recent women’s prayer group meeting, four women shared extraordinary stories of what appears to have been angelic intervention in their lives or a loved one’s life. The theology of angels is extensive, deep, and a bit ephemeral but still inspirational like angels themselves. Simply put, they are a manifestation of God’s immense love for the cosmic creation we have not even begun to discover. They are messengers, healers, protectors. They love us because they love God. Guardian Angels take a particular interest in us even though some have to work harder than others at this job!
This coming week, we will celebrate the feasts of angels on September 29. This is also traditionally called Michaelmas Day in English folklore, a time when we celebrate the gift of harvest. I suggest we read Biblical stories of Michael, the warrior, from Genesis; Raphael, the healer, from the Book of Tobit; Gabriel, the messenger, from Lk 1:26. Each angel’s name ends in el which in Hebrew means of God. We refer to Michael as Strength of God; Raphael as Healer of God; Gabriel as Messenger of God.
Is it time for me to revisit my belief, or non-belief, in angels? Read the biblical stories of them and ask for the grace to take your belief to a new level of the power of angels in our human existence.
It might even be helpful to ask for the grace to harvest childhood awe and reverence about angels.
Mother Joseph’s collection of angels is permanently housed at Light of Hearts Villa, a retirement center in Bedford, Ohio where it takes an entire wall in a glass-protected display.