And The Guardian Angels, October 2
CONFESS that I chose St. Cleopatra because it seemed to mc such fun that a Saint should be called by that name: and then, of course, I came back to what I often remember-that such names were the ordinary names of the time and that the Saints were ordinary people.
That is one reason why I wish that our English martyrs were better known; it is good to remember that they were called Jim and Bob; and that Saints John Fisher and Thomas More were certainly called Jack and Tommie by their friends. So it is only to me that a St. Cleopatra or a St. Bacchus seem amusing: it was not at all amusing for them to be Saints, whatever their names were.
We are told that a soldier Varus looked after seven monks who were in prison, and, when one of them died, offered himself as substitute for him, and so, was cruelly martyred. A Christian woman, Cleopatra, got hold of Varus's mangled corpse, hid it in a bale of wool, and smuggled it across to Dera'a, the other side of Lake Tiberias, where she lived. There she buried it. Later on, her son John was about to become a soldier in the imperial army : so she resolved to build a church in honour of the martyr Varus, carry his relics into it, and entrust her son and his future to the martyr's intercession. She in fact sold part of her property, built the church, and with the help of her son transported the relics thither.
But alas, that very night John was suddenly taken ill and died in her arms. She had his body taken before the altar of the new church, gave way altogether, bitterly reproached the Saint, and remaining clinging to the altar till the next night when she fell asleep through sheer exhaustion. She then dreamt that she saw St. Varus leading John by the hand. She seized' their feet and remained dumb for very sorrow. Then Varus said: " Have I forgotten all the devotion you showed me? Did I not pray God that He would give health and advancement to your son? Well, He has. He has given him health for eternity, and raised him to be in the Army of the Lamb."
Cleopatra gave in, but prayed that she too might be taken. No." said the Saint, " leave your son with me, and at the proper time we will come and fetch you." She awoke; had John buried beside Varus, and lived holily for seven years, after which she too died, and was buried beside them.
Whether or no this story be wholly or in part historical, it is a lovely one; the people concerned must be real; and the story tells one the kind of thoughts that moved in the minds of men so long ago, and the spirituality of their judgments.
Easy to Cope With
St. Michael is, if I may say so, a fairly easy personage to cope with; we can picture him dressed in armour and fighting with a dragon-in fact, but for his wings, he might almost be St. George. And plenty of Catholic boys are called Michael, which shows that he stands for something definite in our imagination. But an enormous amount has faded out of his cultus even though traces of it subsist in the liturgyfor example, the rOle he was held to play in escorting souls through their judgmenthour.
St. Gabriel is associated, for us, with the Annunciation but he cannot be represented in any special way; and the legend of St. Raphael, the " healing " archangel, has also faded almost altogether; and as for the remaining four archangels (for, of course, a group of seven was constituted) their very names have grown quite unfamiliar to us, nor do I know of anyone who invokes, for instance, St. Uriel. And in practice, and despite the Preface to the Mass, I doubt whether any of us devote any attention to those mighty spirits to whom St. Paul attaches lofty and vague appellations, like Principalities and Thrones and Powers.
Are We the Hub ?
In a sense, we cannot regret this Oyermuch. You cannot force " devotions " on people. But there are two points to which we certainly should attend. The first is a general one. We men, more and more accustomed to regard ourselves as the hub of everything, are but on the fringe of in
telligent existence. Critics of the Middle Ages used to laugh at Catholics for thinking that the earth was the middle of everything and that the sun went round it. Well, they did: but they never thought that Man was the middle of everything. They always saw him as transcended by an immeasurable world of Spirits, some of them so great as practically to outstrip our imagination altogether. Nowadays people often cut out that spiritual world altogether; which does make Man a sort of apex or climax of all our consciousness. On the other hand, the spiritual world altogether refuses to be kept out: the result is that people relapse into the intolerable vulgarities of Spiritualism when it has been possible for them to enter into a world of angels.
As for us Catholics, the existence of that spiritual world has not been defined in any detail, but its existence enters into many a d Inition of the Church, as when ancient councils used to call God " creator of both natures " or worlds, i.e., that into which spirit enters, either as it does into us, as a soul mysteriously united with a living body, or where spirits are " dis-carnate," be they angels or loftier than what is strictly " angelic " as we shall say in a moment. All this is summed up in the phrase that we sing in the Nicene Creed " Creator of all things, visible and invisible."
But we as men are chiefly concerned with that class of spirits who are called "angels," a word meaning simply "messengers." C' I will send My Angel before My face " refers primarily to St. John the Baptist; and so forth.) God infuses spiritual influences, not abstract ones but substantial ones, personal ones, into our mixed world. He sends " messengers," angels, into it; we do not hear their words, any more than we do those of sun and moon (Ps. viii. " Day unto day fountaineth forth its message; night unto night whispereth what it knoweth: they have no word nor sentences : no voice of theirs is hcard: yet into all the world gocth forth their message, and to the ends of the earth their saying ").
But even as sun, moon and stars are sufficient to lead men to know and praise their Creator, so are the invisible angels of good able to bring to our hearts, if we are in the least willing to listen for them, the announcements of the Will of God and of the ways He wishes us to take for the fulfilling of it.
Ever at Our Side But we have not to think of the angels simply like rare lightning-flashes from the Throne of God. It is undoubtedly the meaning of scripture that special angels stand " ever at our side "-you would say (see the Prophet Daniel) that there are angels deputed to watch over whole states and countries-and would that be wonderful? After all, men live in real social units: a "nation " is not merely the sum-total of its citizens.
In mediaeval Spain, angel-guardians of cities and provinces were in fact thus honoured. At least from 800 and indeed earlier, there had been in England a Mass " for the imploring the intercession of the Angels," and it is at least possible that this practice originated amongst us.
So definitely was this Mass regarded as important, that it was usually allocated to Mondays: but in the Westminster Missal (about 1375) it belonged to Tuesdays: though the day of the week might differ, it seemed customary to keep a day, each week, in their honour.
Not for Children Only We can but trust that the devotion to Guardian Angels will not be confined to little children, and to narrow associations operating within parish churches and schools. It is certain that grown men and women, and assuredly those whose years are but approaching those of adult life will often remember the constant presence of their Angel at their side, anxious to prevent evil from approaching them-which it can do successfully only if we invite it to do so: anxious, too, to inspire us with good thoughts, wishes and endeavours which else would not have occurred to us; and anxious perhaps above all to encourage our " wavering wills " to carry out what we have listened to and recognised as good.
"Angel of God. who art my Guardian, it is by the Divine Love that I am entrusted to Thee. During this day guard me, con0-4 me, enlighten me, and govern me!"