View all Posts |
Welcoming the Word: Conference
Five Common Angels
- God Sends “Messengers”
- A First Common Angel: Mental Prayer
- A Second Common Angel: God’s Will
- A Third Common Angel: Beauty in Nature and Art
- A Fourth Common Angel: Inspirations of the Holy Spirit
- A Fifth Common Angel: The Goodness of Other People
- Conclusion & Personal Questionnaire
- The Angelus
God Sends “Messengers”
The English word “angel” comes from a Greek word that means “messenger.” In Mary’s case, at the Annunciation, the messenger that God sent was a literal angel, a purely spiritual being of great power and beauty that lives perpetually in God’s presence. But those aren’t the only kind of messengers that God uses to send his saving, redeeming, creative words into our lives.
He speaks to us in many ways, and the more familiar we are with them, the better chance we will have of welcoming the Word.
In this conference, I would like to identify and reflect briefly on five common angels, five messengers that God uses on a regular basis to speak his good and life-giving words to our hearts. These five are certainly not the only ones, but they are common, everyday ones, so it’s good for us to keep them in mind.
A First Common Angel: Mental Prayer
The first common angel is Mental Prayer, also known
as Christian meditation. Mental prayer is a type of prayer in which we aren’t simply saying prayers, reciting someone else’s words. That’s vocal prayer, and it has an important place in the spiritual life. But mental prayer is different.
It involves active listening, reflecting on the truths of
our faith, and conversing with God about them in the silence of our hearts, using our own words. This is what Mary did during the Annunciation when St. Luke tells us that she “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29).
If we take time every day to ponder in our hearts the words of God in the Bible, or the truths of our faith as explained in solid spiritual books, then we will become people who learn to recognize the voice of God better, and better, and better.
Mental prayer is not easy, because it depends on faith, and for most of us, our faith is still far from mature. A simple method that may help you get started is the Three-R method: Read, Reflect, Respond.
First, read: Take the Bible or a good spiritual book, and read a section or a paragraph slowly and thoughtfully, maybe reading it over a second time. Let it resound in your heart, echo there, and sink in.
Second, reflect: Stop reading, and think about what you have read; mull it over. What words or phrases struck you the most? What do they mean? What do they tell me about God, the Church, myself, or the world around me? How do they apply to my life?… Think deeply and peacefully about what you have read — that’s the second R, reflect.
Third, respond: While you are reflecting, God will move your heart, and you will find yourself wanting to say something to him in response to what you have read: You may want to ask him for a grace, or thank him for a blessing, or simply praise him. This is the third R: respond.
Mental Prayer is an ancient practice in the Church, and one of the most common messengers God uses to speak to our souls.
A Second Common Angel: God’s Will
The second common angel that God uses to send us messages is his will. God’s will is always an expression of his love, and his love is the essence of his Word; so, to consciously obey God’s will is to welcome his Word.
We see Mary recognize this when she gives her yes to God and says, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
When God asks us to do things, as he asked Mary to be the mother of Jesus, and we obey, we are welcoming his saving Word. And he actually asks us to do a lot of things.
He asks us to follow the Ten Commandments, to love and forgive our neighbors, to follow the teachings of the Church, to put our talents at the service of others and of Christ’s Kingdom, to fulfill responsibly the duties of our state in life.
These are all manifestations of God’s will; these are all ways we can move forward in our journey of faith and build up the Church.
When we obey God’s will, and embrace it, we put into action what we pray for every time we say the Our Father: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
God’s will also comes to us in other ways — in circumstances that are outside of our control, things that God permits to happen, even when we don’t fully understand why.
In those moments, we are called to embrace God’s will even as Mary did later on, while she watched her Son dying on the Cross.
When we obey and embrace the will of God, we are welcoming the Word.
A Third Common Angel: Beauty in Nature and Art
The third common messenger God uses to send us his Word is the beauty that we find in nature and in art. Beauty, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote, is God’s goodness made visible.
When God allows us to enjoy the beauty of a sunset or an ocean breeze, he is reminding us of his love for us. When we glimpse the grandeur of a star-filled night sky, he is whispering to our hearts about the infinite expanse of his mercy.
When music inspires us, or stories delight us, or sculptures and paintings intrigue us, God is the one stirring up our souls and feeding the good desires that he has planted there.
Here too, in the beauty of nature and art, we should open wide the doors of our hearts, to let them welcome the refreshing, renewing Word of our God.
Finding opportunities to explore and appreciate and enjoy this beauty is not a waste of time; it’s a way to welcome the Word.
A Fourth Common Angel: Inspirations of the Holy Spirit
The fourth angel that God often uses to send us his messages is those inspirations that seem to come out of the blue, but really come from the Holy Spirit, who acts from within our own minds and hearts.
These are the good ideas that come to you, and seem to impel you into action: sometimes they are small ideas, like the inspiration to call a friend or family member,
to sign up for that Bible study at the parish, to invite a colleague to come to Mass…
Other times, they are bigger ideas, like following a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, or starting a new apostolate, or going on a mission trip, or choosing a particular career path, or sponsoring a worthy work of Christian evangelization or charity.
God has made us his partners in the great work of building up his Kingdom, his Church. And so he gives each one of us tasks along the way; he inspires us with good ideas that will bring joy to our hearts and to other hearts, if we generously carry them out.
Sometimes these inspirations come like a flash, and we just know they are from God. Other times they grow gradually, slowly, unfolding inside of us as a dream begins to take shape.
It’s not always easy to identify which ideas come from God and which ones don’t, but prayer, reflection, good advice, and a heart sincerely seeking the Lord are usually enough to do the trick.
A Fifth Common Angel: The Goodness of Other People
The fifth way that God often sends us his messages is through the goodness of those around us.
At the end of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel tells Mary about her cousin Elizabeth, an old woman whom God graced with an unexpected pregnancy — she was preparing to give birth to John the Baptist. And Mary responds to this message by going to visit Elizabeth, to accompany her and help her in her pregnancy.
This simple, thoughtful act of goodness brings much more than human comfort to Elizabeth. When Mary enters Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth finds herself filled with the Holy Spirit. By welcoming Mary’s kindness, Elizabeth welcomes the Word.
We too should welcome the kindness and attention
of others, when they come to us. They too are a reflection of God’s care for us, a message of his love. We don’t need to hold ourselves aloof from these gestures; we should accept them graciously. We shouldn’t demand that others treat us kindly and generously, but we can certainly welcome it when they do.
Conclusion & Personal Questionnaire
These, then, are five common angels, five common messengers that God uses to send us his Word: Mental Prayer, God’s Will, the Beauty of Nature and Art, Inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and the Goodness of Other People.
If we increase our awareness of them, and consciously seek God’s messages in them, we will become better welcomers of the Word.
And when that happens, the drama of salvation that took place in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be repeated in our lives, and Jesus can continue coming into this needy world, through us, just as he came the first time through the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There is an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church that can help us stay in tune with that drama; it is called the Angelus.
The Angelus is a vocal prayer that recalls and, in a sense, replays the Annunciation. For centuries, it was customary for Catholics to pray this prayer three times a day: around sunrise, around noon, and around sunset.
In the villages and cities of medieval Europe, the church bells would ring at these times, and all the inhabitants of the area would stop what they were doing, turn their attention to God, and pray the Angelus, reliving the experience of the Blessed Virgin Mary welcoming God’s Word and becoming a partner in the history of salvation.
You may want to take up that tradition yourself, as you seek to welcome God’s Word more fully each day. We have reproduced the words of the Angelus at the end of this Retreat Guide.
But now, take a few minutes to reflect prayerfully on the ten questions of the personal questionnaire, questions designed to help you become more attentive to the five common angels we talked about in this conference.
1. Do I engage in mental prayer on a daily basis? Why or why not?
2. How satisfied am I with my prayer life? What specific thing could I do this week that might help me improve or revitalize it?
3. How deeply do I care about following and embracing God’s will? How sincerely do I seek out God’s will on a daily basis?
4. When have I experienced God’s presence most powerfully in the beauty of nature? Remember, savor, and thank God for those moments.
5. When have I experienced God’s presence most powerfully through the beauty of art, music, and story? Remember, savor, and thank God for those moments.
6. How can I take better advantage of the God-given power of beauty of nature and art?
7. How open am I to receiving the inspirations of the Holy Spirit throughout the day? Is there any specific inspiration that I may have been resisting recently?
8. How do I respond to the kindness and goodness of people around me? How firmly do I believe that God has a message for me in those gestures of kindness and goodness?
9. Where and when do I find it easiest to hear and welcome God’s Word?
10. What circumstances or activities tend to make it harder for me to welcome God’s Word?
V. The angel of The Lord declared unto Mary. R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
V. Behold the handmaid of The Lord.
R. May it be done to me according to thy word. Hail Mary, full of grace…
V. And the Word became flesh. R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Pour forth we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Glory be… (3x)
Prayer to the Guardian Angel
Angel sent by God to guide me, be my light and walk beside me, be my guardian and protect me, on the paths of life direct me. Amen.