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NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church and our Holy Father. This "little work" is purely a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter


Monday, December 25, 2017

Saints who encountered Angels...


"For He will command His angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways."

~ Psalm 91:11


Merry, Blessed Christmas!  This sacred time of the year never fails to instill in me a sense of awe and wonder, especially while reflecting on the many miraculous circumstances that surrounded the conception and birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  This year, in particular, I am also feeling especially inspired about angels since they figure prominently in the Gospel narrative of the very first Christmas.  As a result, I decided to dip into my mental reservoir of saint-stories to recall accounts of angelic visitations in the lives of mystic Saints/Blesseds.  

My hope is that in reading this special Christmas Day blog, one might also be inspired to develop a deeper respect; greater appreciation; a healthy devotion to the Holy Angels, especially towards one's own guardian angel, whom God has generously gifted to each individual from the moment of his/her birth.  Read on... enjoy... and, like me, allow yourself to be awed by the wonder of angels.

+ + + Angels as Spiritual Mentors + + +

St. Frances of Rome and her angel,
depicted in art.
The collected biographies of our Saints/Blesseds are replete with stories of how the holy angels have acted as extraordinary advisers to certain privileged souls on their personal faith-journeys.  Two phenomenal saints stand out for me - first off, St. Frances of Rome (d. 1440).  This Italian matriarch was a wealthy, but deeply pious soul, who used her inheritance towards charitable works in, and around, Rome.  After losing one of her three children (a saint of a child named, Evangelista) God rewarded her resignation and consoled her by granting her a singular grace - the constant visible sight of her guardian angel, who she described as a beautiful, luminous child with blond wavy hair.

In fact, the radiance that emanated from her angel was so bright and tangible to the saint, she was able to read in the dark of the night without the use of candles or lamps.  Of course, the angel's role wasn't to be a walking night light for Frances... but, really, his duty was to help his charge to grow in holiness, which she clearly did.

Frances reported that her angel often counseled her on how to best please God.  When she fulfilled an action that was virtuous and good, her angel would look at her with an expression of ineffable joy and pleasure.  However, if she committed even the least fault, the angel's expression would become serious or he would turn his gaze from her and be silent; sometimes not looking and speaking to her for days at a time.  On those occasions when she failed in virtue, it pained Frances to see her angel upset and she strove even harder for spiritual perfection.  Thus, guided in this manner by her angel, she ascended the heights of holiness to eventually become a founder of a congregation and a saint of our Catholic Faith.

It's also interesting to note that when St. Frances started her foundation of oblates in 1425 - a branch of the Olivetan Benedictines - her angel took leave of her only to be immediately replaced by another guardian angel of a higher rank.  Apparently, in her new role as founder and superior of a congregation, the Lord saw fit to send his faithful servant a more powerful angel to be her spiritual companion and protector.

The stigmatization of St. Gemma Galgani.
St. Gemma Galgani (d. 1903), a stigmatic-mystic of Lucca, Italy, also had frequent visible interactions with her guardian angel that were very similar in nature to St. Frances.  Like her Roman counterpart, the angel encouraged and mentored Gemma in her progress of virtue, while also reprimanding her when she gave in to the slightest fault.  For example, on one occasion, while she was in the company of certain people, the conversation turned to gossip concerning a lady-acquaintance who wasn't present.  Our youthful saint was about to chime in when she suddenly beheld her angel gazing at her with a stern look.  The angel's silent rebuke was enough to put Gemma back on track and she immediately clammed up.

Incidentally, St. Gemma's guardian angel was also present, along with the Blessed Virgin, on the memorable day the saint received the Sacred Stigmata from Jesus. After the painful wounds were miraculously imprinted on her hands and feet, it was her angel who lovingly supported the young mystic when she awoke from her ecstatic state and needed help getting to her bed.

+ + + Angels as Protectors + + +

Another capacity angels have played in the lives of our Saints/Blesseds is the comforting role of extraordinary defenders against evil and dangers of all sorts.  This angelic aspect is clearly illustrated in the life of the great modern apostle of the youth - St. John Bosco (d. 1888).  It is a well-documented fact that this Saint, in his lifetime, enjoyed the special protection of Heaven, via the agency of an angel.  The angel in his notable case took the appearance of man's best friend - a dog!

Often during the exercise of his priestly ministry throughout Turin, Italy, a certain group of heretical anarchists whom St. John had antagonized would sometimes lay in wait for him, attempting to ambush the saint and murder him.  On each occasion, a mysterious large gray dog suddenly appeared to defend the priest from his attackers. Vicious with his enemies, the animal was friendly with the priest and his acquaintances, and was widely witnessed on multiple occasions happily trotting beside St. John during his errands of mercy.  It would always run off and vanish once the task was over.  Although its appearance was always unexpected to him, the saint became so fond of his furry bodyguard that he gave it a nickname - "Grigio" ("gray one" in the local Italian dialect).

Grigio protecting St. John Bosco from a would-be assasin.
On at least one occasion, Grigio suddenly appeared inside a home the priest was ministering in, despite the doors being closed... and it laid in front of the door so as to prevent the priest from leaving; growling ferociously when approached, which was uncharacteristic of its normally tame disposition.  After a time, the dog finally moved and allowed St. John to leave the home.  He would later learn that had he left at the time he intended, he would have come across another attempt on his life!

The last time St. John Bosco reported a sighting of Grigio was a long thirty years after his first encounter with the heavenly canine (more than the normal life expectancy of any dog!) - the saint was lost and the animal reappeared to lead him to his destination. The saint noted that even with the passage of time, Grigio's appearance was exactly the same; the dog had not aged!  It was his opinion, as well as others, that the enigmatic animal was, in reality, an angel in disguise, undoubtedly sent by God to aid and protect one of his most effective apostles of the time.

Another example of angelic protection involves the great penitent, St. Margaret of Cortona (d. 1888), who also profited from the protection afforded by her guardian angel.  Once, while she was in prayer, shortly after committing herself to her complete spiritual conversion and a regimen of strict penance, a demon showed itself to her in visible form in an effort to frighten the saint.  Almost immediately, Margaret's guardian angel also appeared, speaking the following words to her, "Fear not, daughter, and do not lose courage... I am with you.  I, the guardian angel of your soul, which is an exalted abode of God."  It goes without saying that it was the demon who fled in fear that day and not the saint.

+ + + Angels as Temporal Helpers + + +

Often, when some of our Saints/Blesseds encountered difficult challenges in their day to day efforts to fulfill the Lord's will in their lives, their guardian angels sometimes came to their assistance in often remarkable ways.  Here are just a few examples:

St. Isidore the Laborer
St. Isidore the Laborer (d. 1130) of Madrid, Spain, was a peasant worker all his life. In spite of his busy schedule of hard manual labor, the saint made it a point to faithfully attend Mass every morning before reporting to work.  His employer, a wealthy landowner, held him in high regard, so much so, that the other farmhands resented Isidore and they plotted to discredit him with the landowner.  They complained to the farm owner that their devout coworker was spending too much time in church and neglecting his duties. When the employer went to investigate the matter, he was astonished to witness an angelic being plowing a field on behalf of Isidore while the latter was away at Mass.

Another example of angelic aid can be found in the life of St. Germaine Cousin (d. 1601), a sickly shepherdess from Pibrac, France, who often took her sheep to pasture on lush fields near a forest infested by wolves.  Daily, when it was almost time for Mass, she would plant her staff into the ground, commend her sheep to her angel's watch, then set off for the parish church.  Upon returning to the field after the Mass, it never failed that Germaine would find her flock unscattered and safe, while others who brought their sheep to the same grazing area did not fare so well with the wolves.

In addition to the help provided by her guardian angel out in the fields, Germaine's neighbors were sometimes privy to the enchanting sound of angelic voices singing, that inexplicably came from the Cousin barn in the middle of the night (the little saint was forced to sleep there with the livestock).  In fact, when Germaine died unexpectedly in the same barn, witnesses saw her soul rising gloriously to Heaven accompanied by angels and other blessed souls.

The "violet of humility", as Bl. Marie-Celine of the Presentation (d. 1897) was called, had a curious incident happen to her on the day she entered the Poor Clare Convent of Talence, France, in June 1896.  One of the nuns showed the girl to her cell where she deposited her luggage, but before the postulant could begin unpacking her belongings, she was summoned by the superiors.  On returning to her cell just a few moments later, Marie-Celine was surprised to find that her personal articles had been unpacked and neatly put away, and the room had been put in order for her.  She thanked the sisters for their service, but to all their bewilderment, the nuns declared that absolutely no one had entered Marie-Celine's cell.  It was the first hint for the community that there was something more to their new member than meets the eye and they suspected that she must have been assisted by the unseen hands of angels.  Marie-Celine went on to receive additional favors from Heaven before dying at the young age of 19.

St. Joan of Arc received frequent visits from St.
Michael & two female martyrs - St. Catherine of
Alexandria & St. Margaret of Antioch.
Bl. Aniela Salawa (d. 1922) of Poland was a domestic worker all her adult life.  She often experienced the supernatural help of her guardian angel in her devotional practices.  On one particular instance, she arrived late to church for her customary prayer vigil before the Eucharist and was told by the caretaker that she'd soon have to leave because the church was about to close.  After the caretaker made his rounds, he returned to Aniela but did not find her so he assumed that she had left and proceeded to lock up.  The next morning, after he opened the church for the day, the same caretaker was surprised to find the young woman kneeling where he had last seen her.  The saintly servant later admitted to her confessor that she would sometimes ask her angel to see to it that she remained undisturbed during her prayer time and, in response, the angel would render her invisible.

Lastly, I recall the French heroine, St. Joan of Arc (d. 1431), who from the age of fourteen was regularly visited by the archangel, St. Michael, and two female saints - St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch.  The trio encouraged the teen to rescue France, which was in the midst of a war with England. Joan resisted for three years before leaving her village of Domremy.  She went on to lead France to eventual victory, guided in her brief military career not just by French generals... but more effectively, by the voice of the warrior archangel.

+ + + Angels as Healers + + +

Angels are also agents of God's healing power, as exemplified in the lives of many of our spiritual heroes. Two interesting cases are recounted below:

Image result for Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich
Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich,
Mystic & Stigmatist
Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich (d. 1824), the famous German stigmatic, once relayed that she while she was laid out in bed by a severe illness, her guardian angel appeared to her holding a most beautiful and fragrant flower in his hand.  The angel explained that he had been directed by Christ to pick the bloom from the garden of Eden and to bring it to Anne Catherine to relieve her suffering.  The angel directed the patient to submerge the stem of the flower in a vase filled with water for a short time then to drink the water.  The nun did as she was told and was completely healed.  The mysterious blossom from Paradise continued to remain fresh in its vase and Anne Catherine made use of the water it was steeped in to heal other sick nuns in her convent.  This medicinal method continued until one day the flower vanished, retrieved by her angel guardian, after it had served God's purpose.

In the fascinating biography of St. Lydwina of Schiedam (d. 1433), there are many examples of her guardian angel frequently visiting her to provide consolation and holy companionship.  The saint was left completely bedridden by a freak accident and offered herself as a victim-soul for the church.  God allowed her the grace of having her angel's visible company, and like St. Frances and St. Gemma, he appeared to her in the form of a youth ablaze with light.

Once, when a large fire erupted in Schiedam, the resulting clouds of noxious smoke and fumes infiltrated Lydwina's home and began accumulating under the heavy curtains that surrounded her bed (her eyes were highly sensitive to sunlight).  Because of limited physical mobility, the poor invalid was unable to reach the fabric drapes to let the smoke out... and she began to slowly suffocate.  When all seemed lost, Lydwina's angel suddenly appeared and, curiously, placed a rough branch upon her chest, which she was able to use to part the curtains.  Thus, allowing the fresher air to dispel the smoke.

After the immediate danger passed, Lydwina examined the wooden rod and noted the aromatic scent it gave off.  At his next visit, the guardian angel informed her that the branch had been cut from an actual tree in Paradise and that it had the power to heal, especially those afflicted by demonic influence.  Hence, the saint passed on the branch to her parish priest who had the branch hewn into a fine staff that he used many times to successfully heal the sick and to cast out demons from possessed individuals.

+ + + Angels as Eucharistic Ministers + + +

In the lives of many mystical saints in our Catholic Faith, there can be found accounts of the Blessed Sacrament being administered as Holy Communion by the hands of angels.  Among those who were privileged to experience this grace are Bl. Emilia Bicchieri (d. 1314); St. Agnes of Montepulciano (d. 1317); St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380); St. Paschal Baylon (d. 1513); the youthful St. Stanislaus Kostka (d. 1568); St. Gerard Majella (d. 1755); St. Maria Francesca of the Five Wounds (d. 1791); and the stigmatized English Servant of God, Teresa Helena Higginson (d. 1905).

Still, much closer to our times, we have the miraculous communion received by the three famous seers of Fatima - Sr. Lucia and Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto.  It happened in 1916 when the children were visited on three occasions by an angel - the "Angel of Peace" - who prepared them for Our Lady's momentous apparitions in 1917.  During the third appearance of the angel, he brought with him a Host that dripped blood into a chalice.  The angel left the Sacred Species suspended in midair while he prostrated himself in adoration before it, teaching the young seers to do the same.  He then arose and gave the Eucharist to Lucia while offering the Precious Blood to both Francisco and Jacinta to drink before he departed.

    
From Left to Right:  The miraculous, angelic Holy Communions of St. Stanislaus Kostka,
Bl. Emilie Bicchieri, and the three child-seers of the Fatima apparitions.

+ + + Angels as Otherworldly Travel Guides + + +

In this last segment, I will discuss visits that a few exceptional mystics have made to Heaven and Purgatory… and even to the frightful abyss of Hell, all so they could, in accordance with God's divine will, enlighten the world to the truth of the afterlife; the final fate that awaits each and every one of us depending on how we live on earth.

As previously described, St. Frances of Rome, St. Lydwina of Schiedam, and Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich had rare familiarity with their angelic companions.  In addition to guiding these holy women in their spiritual progress, their angels were sometimes directed by the Lord to take them on “voyages” to the different realms of Eternity or to complete certain ministries on Earth.  For example, St. Lydwina was frequently taken in spirit by her angel to visit and pray at various sacred places - pilgrimages she dearly wished to undertake but couldn’t because of being permanently confined to a sickbed.  I recall reading in her biography that on the very first mystical trip she went on, she was overcome by anxiety and feelings of suffocation because of the great speed by which her angel ascended into the air with her in tow; her friends noted the symptoms of distress that manifested externally on her entranced physical body until the saint eventually got used to the sensation of traveling in this unusual manner.

A postcard depicting the different mystical voyages of St. Lydwina with her guardian angel.

Still, on other occasions, Lydwina’s angel would lead her into Purgatory where she was witness to the diverse sufferings that certain souls underwent as part of their purification process.  The mystic was moved to pity during these journeys and would pray and sacrifice for the individuals she saw… and what’s also revealing is how Lydwina often met the respective guardian angels of the suffering souls; confirmation that our angels faithfully stick with us until they finally have the joy of escorting us into Heaven.

St. Faustina Kowalska
Bl. Anne Catherine’s mystical trips read like Lydwina’s - she referred to her guardian angel as her “guide” whenever she relayed how he took her in spirit or bilocation to various famous shrines; or obscure little churches; or to the Garden of Eden (she claimed it still exists on earth but hidden from mankind by God's power); or even into the afterlife.  If there was a task for her to complete, the angel would direct her and assist her before returning her to her cell.

And then we can add the notable St. Faustina Kowalska (d. 1938) of the Divine Mercy devotion to this elite group of women.  Her angel once also took her to Purgatory, as well as to Heaven, where she beheld the saints and an incomprehensible Light… and he even led her to see the excruciating suffering of the damned in Hell.  Again, these experiences were allowed by God in order so that Faustina could bear witness, via her diary, to the reality of the hereafter to a world that is becoming increasingly faithless.  And last, but not least, she was one of those privileged souls who was reported to have received the Eucharist from angelic hands, specifically a Seraph.

+ + + Cautionary Advice About Angels + + +

There were more saint and angel stories that I could've included in this post, but as it is, this article is already longer than I originally intended.  I have to admit that I got a bit carried away due to sheer excitement over the topic so I'll end the stories here... but before closing this special blog on angels, please allow me a cautionary reminder - all the Saints/Blesseds recounted here were faithful adherents to the teachings of Christ and the Church; their contact with angels was never effected through any occult means, but rather, it was an exceptional grace granted by God to aid them in their extraordinary vocations as mystic-souls and special cooperators in His salvation plan.

Please be weary of angel stories and teachings that wreak of new age influences.  There are a lot out there and these esoteric philosophies distort the biblical truth of angels by putting these sublime heavenly beings into the same category as fanciful nature spirits such as "fairies" and "elves"; channeled "ascended masters"; or other dubious "spirit guides" that can be consulted at whim, via rituals or other superstitious means (e.g. "angel cards").  In all instances of occult/new age practices, the "angels" being summoned, in my strong opinion, are not from Heaven... but rather, they are the deceptions of fallen angels, otherwise known as demons.  The Bible specifically forbids the deliberate act of conjuring the dead (divination), which includes trying to contact otherworldly beings... plus Scriptures warn of the devil's ability to masquerade as an "angel of light" to lead people astray from God's truth (2 Corinthians 11:14).

So let us have confidence and devotion to the Holy Angels, but exercise prayerful discernment before subscribing to questionable teachings or practices that claim to put us in direct "communication" with them.  It suffices that we follow the Church's lead and the faith exemplified by our Saints/Blesseds.  Whether we ever have the privilege of catching a glimpse of an angel in our lifetime, or not, we can be 100% certain that they're always close by and protectively watching over us.  Thanks be to God and thanks be to all the Holy Angels!

A Prayer to Our Guardian Angels

Angel of God, my guardian dear;
to whom God's Love entrusts me here.
Ever this day, be at mys side;
to light and guard; to rule and guide.
Amen.

St. Michael, defend us!
St. Gabriel, enlighten us!
St. Raphael, heal us!

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