04 October 2010

Of Animals & Angels

HUMAN NATURE is the only essence which shares commonality with all other beings. With the inanimate, we share physical existence; with plants, the abilities of propagation and vegetation; with animals, the capacities of appetites and emotions as well as the ability to sense and to move; and with Divine and angelic beings, the powers to think with our intellect and to act with our will.

Those lower parts of our nature, which we have in common with living creatures on earth, are directed to the natural good of man, and each has its own particular end or goal being striven after. But the higher parts of our soul, which we have in common with God and make us into His image and likeness, yield a supernatural capacity and activity.

Our reason and volition give us the abilities to participate in the life of God. If used incorrectly, the intellect will become darkened and the will weakened, and the emotions and passions will usurp the authority of the higher powers. If used correctly, however, the superior powers dominate what is beneath them, and, consequently, command the life of man to a life of virtue.

Thus, the natural life of man is ordered to the furtherance of the supernatural life of the soul, and this is also called placing our life under right reason. Only with God’s continual assistance are we able to make proper use of the intellect and will, and under His inspiration and guidance, our everyday finite actions are transformed into that which has an infinite value and merit.

So important are the intellect and will that without them, man would not be a rational being. He would be reduced to the level of animals which do not have the capacity of reasoning but act according to instinct. We implicitly understand this when a man does not think before acting and just does what he feels like. Such a man is oftentimes called an “animal” or a “beast,” for he acts in the likeness of an animal instead of the likeness of God.

Yet, by using the intellect and will wisely and according to the dictates of their Creator, a human person can be likened to the angels who continually see the face of God and perpetually do His will. Being made a little lower than the angels who do not have a body, we have the potential of being likened to them by placing the lower nature under right reason. The effect is that we then rise up above the natural level of our existence, closer to the level of the angels and apart from the level of the animals.

The abilities of the human soul are more clearly seen in light of what we know about the angels, as they have an intellect and will and are not burdened by the body or the lower powers of the soul. Created out of nothing, the angels were endowed with sanctifying grace, immortality, a brilliant intellect, and great strength and power.

The general teaching of theologians holds that an angel is assigned to every person at his birth for the protection of the person and care for his salvation. As it is also generally believed that an angel is not reassigned to another individual after the death of the person, we begin to understand that there must exist billions of angels since billions of persons have been born into this world. And guardian angels are but the lowest of the nine choirs of angels.

We wonder how it is possible that some angels, endowed with such a powerful intellect and a memory which does not forget, turned away from God. Yet, as there is for us, there was a testing period for them before they could merit the beatific vision of God. Since angels do not have a body and temptations of the lower passions, they fell into a sin of pride. But from their fall, we begin to see just how horrible one sin is, as they were forever cast away from blissfulness and into eternal damnation, there to “be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Apoc. 20:10).

In their fallen state, angels have waged a battle for souls. Having initially been beings created with an intellect and will, they “envy” the opportunity which every human being has of reaching eternal life with God. Thus, since angels are the only other creatures endowed with an intellect and will, these fallen ones, now with a corrupted will, desire to lure mankind away from God and into the same abyss that they must inhabit forever.

Yet, we learn from Eve that the devil cannot force a person to sin, but merely tempt. There is great importance, then, in using our intellect and will for what God intended. This requires our remaining in the state of grace so that the inspirations of God can then instruct, counsel, and strengthen us in our pilgrimage on earth.

From the fall of Adam, an enmity has resulted between the enemy’s seed and the Seed of the woman (Our Lady), and the earth has been a battlefield ever since. As we commemorate the Feast of our Guardian Angel in early October, we join in the battle, not alone, but with the myriad of angels who have already fought the good fight before us and continue to fight it with us.

In Christ,

Fr. Eric Flood, F.S.S.P.
North American District Superior

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