The feasts and celebrations that surround us at this time in the liturgical year can do a soul some much-needed good. It’s hard to feel like a solitary seeker when we are basking in the glow of angels and saints on all sides. We Catholics keep good company, and the nice part is that we’re not outsiders waiting to be let into the club. We’re part of the communion, one of the gang, albeit on this side of the divide.
For me, there’s oh so much comfort in the celebration of angels in recent weeks — archangels in late September, guardian angels in early October. I’m a bit of an angel fan girl, what with my angel icons purchased wherever I spot them and my penchant for talking out loud to my guardian angel at the start of a long drive or flight. I’ve even been known to talk to the guardian angels of my kids, giving them assignments near and far.
When I was a child, the Prayer to My Guardian Angel had a regular spot in my bedtime ritual: prayers for family members, Hail Mary, Our Father, Guardian Angel. Sleep, repeat. “Angel of God, my guardian dear…” The words were like my inhale and exhale as I drifted off to sleep back then. As I grew older — a wise old teen or 20-something — angels seemed cliché, maybe even kitsch. Part of it was that they were suddenly popular, appearing on mugs and posters and key chains. I didn’t want chubby cherubim forced on me by retail America, so I packed my winged friends away for a while until the beautiful German film “Wings of Desire,” directed by Wim Wenders, showed us a different kind of angel, and parenthood gave me reason to call on those friends almost daily.
Mixed in with the angels earlier this month were fan favorites St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, add in St. Teresa of Avila, St. Isaac Jogues and St. John Paul II, among others, and you’ve got quite a full house, and a companion to suit every mood and need. And then, just when we think we can’t possibly find any greater riches in our spiritual treasure trove, we dive headlong into the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls, bringing us face to face with mortality and eternity all at once. A joyful celebration tinged with the sorrow of loss and grief, a time of year the ancients marked as the “thin veil,” when those on the other side seem so close it’s almost as if we can hear their spiritual breath.
This closeness and companionship is not limited to a day or a season but is ours for the taking any time we turn to a favorite saint in prayer. These are our spiritual friends and role models, the ones we can look to when we think we can’t take another step, when doubts creep in, when we hit the brick wall of spiritual dryness that was part and parcel of the spiritual journey for so many great saints.
“Pray for me pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus…,” wrote St. Teresa of Calcutta, as recounted in the book “Come Be My Light.” “I want to speak — yet nothing comes — I find no words to express the depths of the darkness.”
Most of us looked at Mother Teresa and saw a woman who seemed to glow with the light of joy found in prayer. And yet, after her death, we learned the reality was very different, very difficult.
As we each battle our own demons here on earth, those who have gone before us remind us that sainthood doesn’t mean an absence of doubt and darkness but a willingness to trust in the midst of it. And if we have trouble trusting just yet, we can always call on our always-close guardian angel to keep us company until we do.
This column originally appeared in the Oct. 19, 2019, issue of Catholic New York.