The Archangels (Botticini)

Anne Stricherz

Angels: Visible and Invisible

Since Advent 2011, Catholics in the United States have used a new Roman Missal— the prayers and instructions that make up the ritual "call and response" during Mass. Though many were unenthusiastic about the changes, I found that they served as an invitation to listen more intentionally to what we pray and profess. It gave me pause to consider what I truly believe. 

I realized that changes to the Missal extended beyond my need to use a prayer card throughout the Mass (for almost a year!) I noticed that— depending upon what I might be reading or teaching— I recited certain parts of the creed with more gusto or conviction. For example, when my seniors read “My Life with the Saints” by James Martin, I looked forward to praying the Apostles’ Creed as a church community. Learning more about so many different holy men and women and how their joys and struggles still speak to young people made me eager to impart my belief in the communion of saints.

But “communion of saints” wasn’t a new translation. While many people asked questions about the meaning of “consubstantial with the Father,” I was drawn to the opening of the prayer.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

Visible and invisible. Though we once said “things seen and unseen” “visible and invisible” was so much more clear to me. I truly prayed with these words. I discovered that my heart found joy in professing my belief in that which is visible and invisible. Faith is belief in things unseen—the invisible. Yet in Hebrews 11:1, Paul writes “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Visible and invisible. 

I came to understand even more about the visible and invisible through the 1989 Kevin Costner classic, "Field of Dreams." Matt Malone, SJ says “It's a fantastic film that nicely illustrates the themes of call and response and the mystery of man's relationship with the Creator. It offers an outstanding portrayal of the excitement and risks of faith.”

I decided to revisit “Field of Dreams” on the 4th of July last summer. I had heard it was the 25th anniversary of this now classic film and I found added incentive when I read “The Home Team” by the editor of America magazine, Kerry Weber.

She writes, “The thing about “Field of Dreams,” is that you don’t have to love baseball to find beauty in the film. You just have to want to be reminded of the power of faith in things unseen and the need to find courage to follow a path not yet trod. It offers stories of second chances and reminders of the beauty of reaching out when all seems lost, only to find that someone has been watching out for you all along.”

I read Weber’s words and immediately thought of the Nicene Creed and my profession of believing in things “visible and invisible.” To Ray Kinsella, all of the baseball players in his cornfield are visible—they are real. So real that he gave up a significant portion of his livelihood to build it. He longs to encounter the real—for the invisible to be made more visible.

I thought about the relief Ray found when he realized his daughter saw the baseball players emerging from and returning to the cornfield, too. I thought about the shared joy they held in watching these men play a beautiful game on the diamond he created. It reminded me that, it’s easy to believe in things that are visible. And faith comes from believing in things that are invisible….and encountering others that do too.

I started to take inventory of what I believe in that is invisible. I thought I would use the metaphor from “Field of Dreams” to serve as my starting point.  For some reason, the term “angels in the outfield” came to mind. And then I paused. Angels.

"Angels of God"

I believe in angels. I always have. After all, we call on them in the Litany of Saints when we pray to “all the angels and the saints.” And, as written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 335:

“In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy’s In Paradisum deducant te angeli... “May the angels lead you into Paradise...”]). Moreover, in the “Cherubic Hymn” of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).

We join angels in prayer and worship God together. We call on them for assistance, in particular when we invoke our guardian angel. We know three archangels by name. Scripture reveals that Saints Gabriel and Raphael were made visible.

The archangel Raphael was send by God to help Tobit, Tobias and Sarah. Gabriel appeared to Daniel, Zachariah—the father of John the Baptizer and of course Mary. Although she may have been frightened upon seeing an angel, St. Gabriel told her not to be afraid. He brought good news: she was chosen among all women to bear a son who would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Emmanuel. And she pronounced her “fiat,” her “yes” to this messenger of God. The history of our salvation is rooted in that encounter.

And the story of the Incarnation continues. We do not know the name of the angel mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, but we can be sure that the experience was real for St. Joseph. So real that he listened to the angel.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,* yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.20j Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord* appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  (Matthew 1: 19-20)

He too, said “yes.”

Reading about the angels in scripture, I have come to a better understanding of what the Catechism (331) has to say about angels

Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him....”191 They belong to him because they were created through and for him: “for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”192

And when I think about this profession of my belief, I realize that we are at the heart of that plan of creation and salvation. We were created through Him and for Him.

The Catholic Youth Bible offers a beautiful summary.

The subject of angels has always fascinated the media; especially filmmakers and television show producers. They often develop stories around the idea from The Letter to the Hebrews that people sometimes encounter angels and that angels are sent to rescue people caught in dire or tragic circumstances.

We know that God has created a category of beings that is made up of pure spirits without bodies. These beings act as God’s messengers and serve as spiritual guardians for humans. Their mission is to bring God’s word to those who are open to hear it and respond to it with faith and humility.

Will we ever be “touched by angel” or have the opportunity to entertain angels in human disguise? We may never know the answer to these questions, but we should entertain this truth in our hearts and minds: God guides the world and has sent messengers and guardian angels, whose mysterious presence offers support, protection and intercessions for those who believe in God and seek the face of God.

“Field of Dreams” is not a movie about angels. But I am grateful for a story that is about much more than baseball, set in America’s heartland. It offers a story of the human encounter of mystery, belief and faith. I found that it affirms that I believe what I say when we profess the Nicene Creed. I believe in things visible and invisible.

And I’m grateful that my deepened understanding of what the visible and invisible means. It includes angels—“pure spiritual creatures of God who have understanding and will. They have no bodies, cannot die, and are usually not visible. They live constantly in God’s presence and convey God’s will and God’s protection to men.” (YouCat)