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. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Matthew 1 : 20-24)
‘Tis the season of angels, it seems. Not only do angels figure prominently in the readings of Advent and Christmas and in every Christmas Nativity scene or play, but they may also be found in shops and as ornaments – from the tacky to the sublime. From the Annunciation, to the dreams of St. Joseph to the “tidings of great joy for all peoples” on Christmas night, angels figure prominently in God’s plan of salvation for humankind.
It is tempting to think of angels as almost incidental to the plan of salvation, interested observers, messengers of God who do his bidding with joy but are not really involved otherwise. Personally, I don’t remember ever giving a thought to what the angels may or may not feel about the salvation of humankind. But something I read once changed that.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, had some very interesting things to say about the angels that I had never heard before. Here are the two excerpts from his “Commentary on the Song of Songs” that caught my attention:
“(The saints and angels) each have their special care for you: the saints because they will not themselves be made perfect without you; the angels because without you their full number cannot be restored, for, as you all know, when Satan and his myrmidons fell from heaven, the number of the heavenly host was greatly diminished. Thus all things await their consummation from you, some the completion of their numbers, others the fulfillment of their desires.” (Sermon 77, #4)
“When he uses the ministry of angels for the salvation of the human race, is it not so that the angels may be loved by men? For it is clear that men are loved by the angels because they are not unaware that the losses in their ranks will be made up by men.” (Sermon 78, #1)
I had not heard of this idea of “filling in the ranks” before, but as I pondered these words from a Doctor of the Church, it began to dawn on me that the angels must be intensely interested in the salvation of the human race. St. Bernard tells us that all things are awaiting this “filling in the ranks”, that its consummation will mark a crucial point in the plan of God. No wonder the fallen angels are so intent on the destruction of human souls! What must they be willing to do to make sure we do not have sufficient numbers to fill the ranks? Are we getting close? Is that why the evil one seems to be raging harder than ever?
The seductive evil of contraception takes on an even more diabolical aspect in this light. Fewer souls are being born even to Christian parents. In this light, contraception may possibly be considered a greater evil than abortion because the souls of aborted babies, through the mercy of God, may still fill the ranks. Even those who procure abortions may be granted the grace of repentance. But if souls are prevented from ever being conceived they cannot fill up the ranks of the fallen angels. So many of us in this generation have been convinced that not only is artificial contraception not evil, but it is “responsible citizenship”, a great good. It is evil genius at its most cunning, and many of us have been duped.
Fortunately, Scripture tells us that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. And grace is what we have been given in the apparitions of the Blessed Mother, especially at Fatima, and in the Divine Mercy devotion of St. Faustina. Mercy is the not-so-secret weapon of God that will turn the tables on the evil one’s plan, and if we so desire, even we weak and sinful souls may be used as instruments of his mercy in this day. But we must make the effort.
For over a hundred years the Blessed Mother has been calling us to offer prayers and sacrifices for sinners. The Fatima Prayer that we pray at the end of every decade of the Rosary was given to us for a reason. It is no coincidence but a great grace that these devotions were given to us at this time in salvation history. Could this be so that the number of souls stolen from this generation by the consummate liar and thief, may be made up through the conversion of hearts? We can’t be sure.
What we do know is that by God’s grace we are called to offer prayers and sacrifices for souls. We are asked, especially during Advent to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths to hearts by offering reparations and praying for conversions. We may be confident that our meager offerings, linked to the sufferings of Christ and offered with love for the sake of souls will bear fruit. Pope Benedict seems to confirm this with his encyclical, Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope). In it he says: “As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: How can I save myself? We should also ask: What can I do in order that others may be saved?”
We should become humble servants of the Blessed Mother who is calling the world to conversion. Are we listening? The angels are praying for us, guiding us, protecting us and pulling for us. Let us join their ranks now. They are counting on us. Literally.
“Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, for all peoples…” Lord Jesus come in glory!