George Elliot, an English novelist, was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. In one of her books, she realistically writes, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”
I remember when I first travelled to Canada and United States in 1993, I was very surprised to realize that the angels are not out of fashion, on the contrary they are very popular, if one were to form an opinion on the amount of books and trinkets available for sale. Well, they deserve to be popular because they are just great friends of mankind.
The desert Fathers relate that once there was a novice who was suffering terribly because of his temptations of lust. The temptations were great and he felt he could not bear them anymore. So he went to his Abba – his spiritual director – and told him: “Abba, I reckon I had better go back home. The devil of lust is breaking me to pieces. He is ruining my life. I will never succeed in being a good hermit.” The Abba, an expert in the struggle against the devil, looked at him and said: “Come, let us go out for a walk.” The novice just followed him, even though he did not understand the reason for this walk.
Whilst they were walking, the Abba exposed to him in a dramatic way an important key to sensible living. He told him: “My son, look to the left”. The novice looked to the left… and he was terrorized. To the left he saw twenty vicious dogs, full of rage, foam coming out of their mouth, all set to attack him. “What are these?” stuttered the novice to the Abba. “My son,” replied the Abba, “those are the devils that God disposed to attack you, because, as Abba Anthony says, no one can be saved without temptations. It is the temptations that keep us awake and ready for the struggle.”
The novice, who used to think that he had only one devil – the devil of lust – was now petrified. If just one devil was giving him a hell of a time, what would twenty do?! The Abba, being a wise and holy man, immediately read his thoughts and so he told him: “My son, why are you so quickly disheartened? Look now to your right.” He looked to the right and his face lit up with joy, because to his right he saw twenty thousand fine-looking and physically powerful angels. He did not need to ask who those angels were. He realised that those angels were planned by God in his infinite mercy and great wisdom, to defend him. He realised that he was not alone in his struggle. Never.
So the novice could go back to his hut, strengthened by the new light he had received. He had the angels to defend him.
God said it. “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.” They are our friends, and as St Bernard says, “they keep their word, they are wise and strong.” So what do we have to be afraid of?
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.