Angels are a common part of our faith but how much do we really know about them? Our belief in angels is rooted in the Bible. According to a search on www.biblegateway.com, the word “angel” appears in the New American Bible: Revised Edition 295 times. Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield points us to the Catechism, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” (328)” (Angels: Our Guardians in Spiritual Battle. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor. 2022).
In his introduction to his book, Msgr. Bransfield tells us that neither the good angels or the bad angels want a book written about them but for very different reasons. The good angels are humble and do not want the attention for themselves. Good angels want everything they do to point us to God. The bad angels do not want a book written about them because they want to hide their identity from us (13. cf. page 39 where Msgr. Bransfield discusses the invisibility of angels). They do not want us to know they exist. That way we do not guard ourselves against them. (In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the evil angels actually talk about the importance of remaining hiding for this very reason.)
Here I am going to provide some introduction to angels from Msgr. Bransfield book but it is not my goal to talk about everything he writes. You can read the book for yourself. My focus is the help the good angels give us and how the devil attacks us.
Msgr. Bransfield describes the role of angels, “The angels uncover for us the deep mysteries of God. As natural light makes things known in our physical world, the angels make known the supernatural light of God’s glory in which they were created” (21). They can reveal much to our souls but we can’t understand it all at once. As such, they do not reveal the entire mysteries of God to us all at once (Bransfield, 22). They lead us in steps.
Msgr. Bransfield then presents three common mistakes about angels. The first is to “see angels as fairy tale creatures” who are now seen as “old-fashioned, powerful presences” that “modern science has explained away” (22-23). Angels do really exist. We need them.
The second mistake about angels presented by Msgr. Bransfield is “to treat them as a lyrical or poetic expression of internal psychological inspirations” (23). He goes on to say New Age spiritualty “recasts the angels as celestial personality coaches who help us find the “divine spark” hidden within us” (23). The good angels are far more than mere muses for our thoughts.
The third mistake about angels that Msgr. Bransfield writes about is our expectation that they will sweep in from nowhere to save us whenever we are in danger (23). This is not to say they don’t at times. Sometimes they do. However, it is not the sum total of who they are. Such an expectation can actually be harmful for us in that we setup false expectations (Bransfield, 24). When the expectations are not fulfilled, we are disappointed and some even lose faith from this. What the angels do is help us untangle such expectations “and help to realign them to the providence of God” (Bransfield, 25).
Of course, one of the key roles of angels is that of messenger. Msgr. Bransfield dedicates all of chapter 2 to this topic. We need messages from God. In a world today full of many different messages, we need the angels to help us know what God is saying to us.
The angels have a lot of work to do. Knowing this may lead us to the question, “how many angels are there”. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus says that everyone has an angel watching over them (hence our belief in guardian angels, cf. Bransfield, 53). This tells us that there is at least as many angels as there are people in the world. Msgr. Bransfield points us to Hebrews 12:22 where it speaks of “countless angels” and how St. Thomas Aquinas says the number of angels is “far beyond material multitude” (50).
I’ve already mentioned there are good angels and bad angels. God created them all. They have free will and full knowledge of all the mysteries of God. It is unfortunate that they, with the full knowledge of God, some have chosen to reject God. Their rejection is the beginning of evil (see chapter 4). Since they have full knowledge of God when they choose evil, they do not have the opportunity to repent (65). Lacking that full knowledge, we can repent.
Msgr. Bransfield writes, “The devil wants to smuggle the things of the world into our souls so that there is no room anymore for God” (84). How does he do this? Msgr. Bransfield continues, “The devil must therefore design and disguise his temptations to make sin look like we are having the time of our lives” (84). Here, I can’t help but wonder how many people claim there is no god just so they don’t have to listen to him. Then, they can have the time of their lives.
Why does the devil tempt us rather than possess us and force us to do evil? Because for it to be sin, we must freely choose to do it. If the devil was to literally force us to do something, we are not guilty of it (Bransfield, 85). The devil disguises himself so we do not know it is him. If we knew it was him, we would do everything we can to resist (Bransfield, 85).
One might think the battle against temptation should get easier as we advance in the spiritual life. Here, Msgr. Bransfield writes, “A sign of advancement in the spiritual life is that the attacks of evil grow more prominent. As the believer advances in the spiritual life, the devil relies less on disguises. The sign that one is growing in the spiritual life is not necessarily long periods of uninterrupted mystical prayer, continuous pious thoughts, or feeling like life is all working out. It can be quite the opposite. It is when he sees us sticking with the Christian commitment over time and growing close to Christ through thick and thin, come what may, that the devil begins to attack more directly” (86-87).
Msgr. Bransfield goes on to speak of ways the devil seeks to break us. “The devil induces us into brooding over little things for a long time. He points us how life is not working out for us, how people are not seeing things our way, how everything seems a struggle…He gets us all fueled up with thinking about what we lack, and then spurs us on to chase it with the most uncharitable methods” (89). I think Msgr. Bransfield really hits the nail on the head here. I see in my own life ways in which I think the devil gets me stuck on the little things and the things that don’t go the way I want so that I can’t move forward. Here is when I beg God to set me straight. The devil seems powerful to us but he is no much for God.
Msgr. Bransfield reminds us “that the devil’s power is not infinite, he cannot directly act on our intellect or will Though they can make suggestions to us, St. Thomas notes that the evil angels cannot place thoughts in our minds” (90). When you have an evil thought sometimes the best thing to do is to simply let it go.
Temptation is real. In any particular moment, we may be very much aware of a temptation present to us. However, to resist the temptation, Msgr. Bransfield tells us that temptation often involves more than a mere moment (91). He leads down a slippery slope in such a way so that we don’t even realize when we cross the line into sin. Thus, we must avoid what ever leads us to sin.
In continuing to speak of how the devil seeks to deceive us, Msgr. Bransfield writes about how the devil seeks to convince us that we are all alone (100). I find it harder to continue the battle against temptation when I feel I am all alone. We might feel like we can never win. Maybe we can’t, but nothing is impossible for God. Further, the devil knows that when we are alone, he can more readily tempt us in some ways (Bransfield, 101). He strikes us when we are most vulnerable, already feeling rejected and full of resentment (Bransfield, 101).
Msgr. Bransfield goes on to speak of how the devil seeks to make us concerned with what others think of us and how we don’t really fit in (104-105). We want to “fit in.” We want to be liked by other people but we must remember that we are called to be first concerned with what God thinks of us. (See the example of Susanna in chapter 13 of the Book of the Prophet Daniel, most especially verse 13.) We live in this world but we are not called to conform to this world. Our faith must come first.
The battle against evil is real. If you like to read more about it, I point you to Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020). Here are links to three articles I wrote on Fr. Longenecker’s book – “Does Evil Exist?”, “The People of the Life”, and “Our Weapons Against Evil”.
I suggest taking a moment now to pray the Prayer of St. Michael:
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
The devil is real. It is true that we fall to his temptations. The devil may use our repeated failings against us, trying to convince that we are no good. Do not give up! No matter how many times we fall, if we return to the Lord with a repentant and contrite heart, He will forgive us. We are still fighting the battle but Jesus has already won the war against sin through his death on the Cross.