The look on Sal’s face was absolutely priceless! It was a mix of shock and horror as the precious cargo he carried flew up in the air. The rest of us in line looked on with horror, while the older guys in the group laughed.
We were in our first year of seminary, and the date was September 29, the Feast of the Archangels: Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. The priest in charge of our spiritual formation called the first year seminarians (and I was one) together. We were to go to the upstairs chapel to retrieve the relic of the angels and process with it to the main chapel.
Fr. Joe selected Sal, the youngest of us, to be honored with transporting the reliquary while the rest of the first year students followed in solemn procession behind. As we approached the main chapel the upper classmen lined the hall leading to the chapel as they chanted “Ubi Caritas” in Latin while holding candles.
When we reached the doors of the chapel, Fr. Joe, dressed in white liturgical vestments appropriate to the day, opened the doors and greeted all of us. He lifted the cover of the reliquary, looked in it and sneezed!
Feathers flew everywhere! Sal nearly passed out as he dropped the vessel as he looked on with horror trying to grab the feathers, lest one fall to the ground. For a brief moment I stood in shock as the older seminarians and Fr. Joe burst out into laughter.
We’d been had.
Angels are spirit! There’s no such things as relics of angels!
I wanted to be mad, but I couldn’t. They had played us well. I wanted to be mad at myself, but I couldn’t do that either. In that moment, and today as I think about it, I realize that there was a great gift in that “celebration.”
The gift was this. I realized that in some ways, I was still innocent. No, I don’t mean I was innocent because I had forgotten that angels don’t have bodies and don’t leave physical reminders. I was innocent because I dared to trust in the goodness of another and saw the goodness in the prank itself.
It really was an encounter with God.
We so often focus on Original Sin and how creation got messed up with the pride of Adam and Eve, that we forget that we were not created bad or sinful. We were actually created by God, by love, for love.
As a teacher, I often get the opportunity to have encounters of innocence with my students. Those moments come most often when they ask questions. They ask questions like:
- How do I know if I really love someone?
- Someone did (fill in the blank) to me. How should I respond?
- Someone died that I love. Is it really wrong to be mad at God right now?
- I’m struggling with school, and I need help. What can I do?
- My boyfriend/girlfriend is asking for sex, and I know it’s not right. What should I do?
It’s in those encounters that I come to acknowledge God’s presence. But there’s something more. It’s in those moments that I realize that God is asking me to be one of his angels.
No, I don’t have wings, a halo, or a harp. The word angel means “messenger.” In those moments when I’m with my students, He’s asking me to be his messenger, to help him safeguard their innocence.
My response is first is to pray silently and quickly. I know in those moments they also must see innocence in me. “Dear God, what would you have me say?” Most often simply acknowledging that they are asking good questions is enough for them, they already know the answer but they want to be assured that this is what God would have them do.
It is interesting that these kids are just as much angels from God to me in these moments as I am their angel from God at the same time.
On this feast of the Archangels and with the coming of the feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2, I pray that you be open to your call to be an angel in someone’s life. Even more I pray that you be aware when you greet others because as it says in the letter to the Hebrews, “for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.“
Some thoughts for this week:
- Do you confuse innocence with ignorance?
- How does innocence in light of experience make you a strong person?
- How do you respond to innocence when you encounter it?
Remember: God is asking you to be His angel for someone today.