One of my favorite places in Rome is Ponte Sant’Angelo — the Bridge of Angels — where gorgeous winged creatures line the path as you make your way toward Castle Sant’Angelo and turn toward St. Peter’s Basilica. If you take the time to climb up Castle Sant’Angelo, which once served as an escape and fortress for popes under siege, you’ll find St. Michael the Archangel at the very top, looking out over the Eternal City with his sword at the ready should protection be necessary. This is a place where angels are everywhere — carved in marble, painted on ceilings, holding out holy water as you enter a church. Around every corner, there are visible reminders of the beings that exist unseen in our world and in our lives.
The last time I was in Rome, I happened into an icon shop not far from St. Peter’s and ended up bringing home two large wooden panels, one bearing the image of St. Michael and the other with St. Gabriel. (That’s them at the top of this post.) These angels hang in my living room, and every time I see them I smile. Not because they take me back to Rome (although they do) but because they wake me up to the angels moving through my days and the moments when I feel the presence of an angel and flush with gratitude and awe.
Although angels are never out of season, late September and early October is the time of the Church year when they take front and center. On September 29 we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels: St. Michael, who defends us in battle; Gabriel, who is God’s messenger at pivotal moments in salvation history; Raphael, who bears God’s healing. A few days later, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, those creatures who walk with us daily, our unsung heroes who don’t carry swords or stand atop dragons but who guide us through the mundane moments of a life fraught with its own peril.
When we recognize the reality of angels — when we see them not as saccharine cherubs that decorate coffee mugs but the ethereal, often-gritty messengers of God in Scripture — our world shifts a bit. We open ourselves up to possibility. Not just the possibility that we have unseen companions on this journey but to the possibility that God has given us a heavenly host just waiting to welcome us, walk with us, wing us to heaven when it’s our time.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14). We tend not to think of angels as “serving” us, and yet we see throughout Scripture and perhaps in the events of our lives that they do, in fact, serve us in ways big and small. From the angel Gabriel announcing the Incarnation and changing the course of history, to Michael and his army of angels defeating Satan and his dark forces, to the guardian angel we pray to as we get in the car before a long drive, God’s angels, our angels are there — always, everywhere.
As if on cue, I paused in my writing of this essay to get a coffee mug from my office cabinet, when something fell from my bookshelf: an icon of a guardian angel. Message received.
Mary DeTurris Poust, “Always and Everywhere . . . Angels,” from the September 2020 issue of Give Us This Day www.giveusthisday.org(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2020). Used with permission.