He was a parish priest exiled to the edge of the Archdiocese, to a solitary ministry in a lowly village where the sparse population fluctuated only with the arrival of summer residents. Some said he was ghostly with that tuft of white on his crown, that pallid complexion and the black cassock worn to threadbare. He was elderly; time had twisted his fingers and stolen his gait, but his mind was sharp and his eyesight acute. It was as if he could see inside souls and he brooked no judgment in so doing. In short, he was humble man, honest and realistic about the work and the mission, caring and compassionate to the congregation. He knew what it was to be human, and he lived the suffering that meant. It also meant welcoming every single person with a jovial simplicity. After just one conversation, he captured names and faces, tones and nuances, details and auras. And it all would resurface later, sometimes years later, in a casual conversation at the market or within the confines of the confessional. The astonished listener invariably realized here was an extraordinary man in the most ordinary of circumstances. And when age finally forced his retirement, he remained in the rectory under the auspices of a younger and more energetic pastor. On Memorial Day that year, he requested permission from that pastor to march in the annual parade from the baseball field to the center of the town as he always had before. Permission was granted. He marched the whole way, and at the end, he collapsed. Heart attack. And so the community gathered together in his tiny church, in the pews he dusted, amid the candles he trimmed, and they wept together for the angel that had existed among them.
Angels find bearing in so many ways, impact lives with a Tinkerbell touch of joy, and provide some reassurance that even in the worst of times, there is good in the world. Invisible and indomitable, angels rescue the unsuspecting from the exisential dangers that life presents. It might be the anchor of a word or a warning. It might be the pause, the smile, the extra mile that makes a difference in someone’s life. it is the kind word, the gentle approach. Angels are reminders that no matter who we are or where we are, life is something special to be explored and treasured and people, individuals, are what really matters. Traditional definitions offer the explanation that angels are messengers of God, but the term is tied to people, too, of uncommon conduct or virtue. The second reading for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time points to that, to kindness and compassion, living in love. Angels do exactly that: in the first reading, Elijah is the beneficiary of an angel’s promptings. And in the Gospel, there is Jesus, the messenger, the guide, more than the angels.
Angels without halos and wings live all around us, prompt us to the next step, the new perspective, the possibilities for life. They are the unsung heroes who assure compassion, comfort and love. Theirs are the hearts that see beyond judgment, that perceive goodness in the worst of us and weaknesses in the best of us. Theirs are the humble hearts that perceive sincerity, remain steadfast in uncertainty and draw the best from the challenges to be handled in life. Angels are the friends, the acquaintances, the family and the strangers who cross our paths. They are quietly dedicated, and often quite invisible. But they are there, waking and urging and helping us become more than who we are as we struggle through the increments of time.