ANGELS: The Angels, a Homily, by Karl Rahner

guardian angel

It is a truth of faith that God’s infinite power of creation has created besides us other persons of a spiritual nature.  This is a startling idea: here, this earth of the unending cosmos with all its stars, their uncountable courses; here this earth with natural evolution and natural catastrophes, with its humankind and its history replete with greatness and averageness, victories and defeats, laughter and crying, pleasure and suffering — and in the midst of all this, faith speaks: all this, the stars, the earth, and humankind in its entirety is only a small part of that creation which God’s almighty word has called into existence, so that it might reveal his eternal power and wisdom.

Besides this there is an unsurveyable world of spirits with a life, in comparison with which, all earthly events are like a shadow; spirits with a life filled with thunderous victories and unlimited happiness, but also with a life leading into the destroying judgment of the wrath of the infinitely holy one.  And from all these luminous worlds of roaring life and blinding light not a glimmer penetrates down into the depths of our material poverty; only faith informs us, only God’s word impinges on our ears so that we know that the spirit, the moral deed, our relationship with God, is the ultimate and most important reality; that every care for body and life, for bread and earthly welfare, is finally only provisional, so much so that God could create his entire world of spirits where all these things are lacking that so easily seem to make up life for us, and where only issue is at stake: God and his honor.

We are related to these remote spirits by reason of our spiritual, personal souls that are immediate to God; we are related in this essential and decisive factor: just as they, so we are also created to know God, to serve him, and so to bring about our salvation.  And their affinity to us has increased by the fact that God’s wisdom has willed that the content of their life also extends into our earthly days in prayer and help, that they are our guardian angels and so are, as it were, caught into the everydayness of our pilgrimage in the dust of this earth.  And for this reason, they are also a model for us, given to us for imitation.  Two passages in the scriptures tell us how they are supposed to be examples for us.

The first passage is the statement of Jesus: “Their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”  Certainly, this is a statement that announces the victory after the battle or the reward for persevering, and not the battle itself.  The good angels are with God; they have entered into the land of the eternal peace, of eternal rest and security.  Their life is exultant now with the eternal surge of the divine life in an eternal today.  Their spirits are immersed in the infinity of God, their hearts are filled with the unspeakable jubilation of those who have discovered their eternal goal.

But we are still distant, pilgrims still on the way of the cross of this earth, far from the Lord.  However, this still means that for us our journey is in heaven, and if we are commanded to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect, then the command to be as perfect as his angels is not an exaggeration anymore.  And so it is also true of us that we are supposed always to look upon the face of the Father.  We do this when our journey is before his face, when we, joined with him by grace, temples of the triune God, are his children in whose hearts the Spirit of God dwells and prays.  We look upon his face when we accomplish all things for his honor, if we eat or drink or do anything else, if we live or die, if all we do is done in grace as an expression of our love for him; if we take upon ourselves our entire daily labor with its pettiness and cares and sufferings as the will of God, as his disposing, and as proof that we seek only him in all things.

When a person makes his way through life in this way, then two are always moving along the same street: the guardian angel and the human person, and both look on their own toward God, toward the one who is the content of eternal life for both.  And soon enough, there comes then for human beings too the hour when their looking toward the face of the Father is no longer struggle and perseverance, but victory and eternal reward.

Yet another statement do we read in the scriptures about the angels: “They are ministering spirits, sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.”  They are servants for human beings, messengers of whom it is said that they bear the prayers of the just as in golden vessels before the throne of God, join their prayer to ours, and protect us on our way.  In this way every person should be a guardian angel for the other.  We are all one mysterious body of Christ, members of one another, who have joys and sorrows to share.  If one member becomes better, it is a blessing for all, and each evil deed is also an injustice to each member.

How much more then every person has the office of guardian angel to those whom God has specially entrusted to them, to those who go together with us along the path of life.  Their service, to which we are sent forth, is a service unto eternal salvation.  Because we are not just supposed to help others in regard to earthly welfare, but for the inheritance of eternal salvation, then everything we do for our neighbor has a special responsibility and a particular consecratedness and dignity.

And this can be anything direct or indirect done in a good attitude and genuine love of neighbor, whether it be only a drink of water or a friendly word.  Everything like this can become guardian angel service.  But if it is guardian angel service, then it is service of God; then, when seen and done from a this-worldly viewpoint, even the most external activity becomes divine service or worship.  The more even our external activity is penetrated by these thoughts, the more the often painfully perceived tension between the multiplicity and the fragmented character of external obligations and the quest for God alone is overcome.  The more we become like the angels who are always in the service of those for whose sake they should inherit salvation, and who, even so, never stop looking upon the face of the Father in heaven.

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