What humans can do that angels can’t

Hint: Our very vulnerability gives us something angels can only admire but never achieve

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," said Alexander Pope, thereby proving that he understood more about men than he did about angels. Angels cannot fear anything because they cannot be harmed by anything. They are not vulnerable; that is to say, angels are not woundable—unlike human persons. We can do what angels cannot—we can be afraid because we can be wounded; but because we can be afraid, we can be brave. Because we can fear, we can exercise the virtue of bravery by not allowing ourselves to be overcome by our fears. This is a Christian paradox: the pain of our losses and humiliation of our fears can become the roots of a noble bravery that angels can only admire but never achieve.

Humans can suffer wounds and losses. Our bodies can be injured, our fortunes seized, our reputations destroyed. The brave Christian is able to surrender these very real but lesser goods by refusing to yield the greatest good, which is fidelity to God. The brave Christian is willing to suffer pain, loss and even death because of Who God is and because of who we are to God. The truth about God and about us, as well as the meaning of pain and the merits of bravery, is revealed by Jesus. Thomas Merton, in his “No Man Is an Island," notes: “Suffering is consecrated to God by faith — not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God… Suffering has no power and no value of its own… The effect of suffering upon us depends on what we love. If we love only ourselves, suffering is merely hateful… If we love God and love others in him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that his glory may come out clean in everything we do."

Merton makes clear that for the love of God and for the love of neighbor commanded by God, we must act courageously against sin and evil, starting with the sin that resides in our own heart. I will begin my campaign against sin by first looking in the mirror. I suggest that you do the same. Such active courage is a holy defiance, a disposition to resist evil.

Courage also requires endurance, which is a stubborn and patient unwillingness to relinquish a greater good for a lesser good. Hildegard of Bingen said that “patience is the pillar that nothing can soften." I add that endurance is the willingness to remain steadfast even in the face of what is dreadful. How different courage is from the illusion of fearlessness! The fearless are either the foolhardy or the fooled. The foolhardy do not understand the risks and plunge ahead thoughtlessly, courting danger unnecessarily. The fooled trust in their own strength—right up to the moment of the time of trial, when their unjustified trust fails them.

How shall we seek after holiness, and to become strong in the strength of the Lord so as to fight actively against evil, and, if need be, resist evil to our last breath and drop of blood? Let’s keep it simple.

As one wit once asked, “Do you think Our Lady came to Fatima just to be a tourist?" At Fatima, Our Lady urged upon us penance and the Rosary. We would do well to start there. We pray the Rosary not because it’s a talisman and its prayers a magic formula. We pray the Rosary because it unites us with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary—two wounded hearts triumphant over evil!

At the same time, we must unite ourselves with our Eucharistic Lord, both inside and outside of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Pope Benedict XVI said: “Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of freedom: those who bow to Jesus cannot and must not prostrate themselves before any earthly authority…" My gloss on Benedict is this: If we stand at the altar of the Lord with incense, we are less likely to offer a pinch of incense on the altar of Caesar—the idol of tyranny. Or the altar of Mammon—the idol of riches. Or the altar of Baal—the idol demanding the blood of children. Or the altar of public opinion—the idol that makes promises it cannot keep.

Prayer, Penance, Eucharist: taken together they are the foundation upon which the virtue of a truly Christian bravery can grow. They will allow us to answer the summons of Sacred Scripture: “Let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior’!" (Joel 3:10)

When I write next, I will speak of the link between beauty and worship. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.


By Fr Robert McTeigue

Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and is a member of the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. His book on preaching, “I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel" is now available at Amazon in both paperback and electronic form.













wpsd_autopost:
1

15 comments

  1. Peter Aiello Reply

    A primary difference between angels and humans is that salvation is not available to rebellious angels.

    1. Tom Rafferty Reply

      Peter, how do you know there ARE angels? How would you test for them?

      1. Peter Aiello Reply

        Science hasn’t found a way to do this yet. I actually think that it might be possible in the future because there is this weird energy thing that people experience at times.

        1. Tom Rafferty Reply

          You said, “Science hasn’t found a way to do this yet. I actually think that it might be possible in the future because there is this weird energy thing that people experience at times.”

          In two short sentences, you opened up a can of worms. You are correct, science hasn’t found a way to do this yet. Anything is “possible” in the future, but is it plausible?

          What do you mean by this weird energy thing that people experience at times? Science has advances a great deal in the last 100 years and we now know ALL of the forces that can interact with us. Because of this, ANY forces outside of what we know are implausible at best.

          I have commented in several posts that the brain is easily deceived. Also, you are talking about a personal experience that cannot be analyzed by science. When such happens, a science-based thinker like me can only say, “I don’t know, and neither do you.”

          BTW, thanks for the respectful interaction. Peace.

  2. Tom Rafferty Reply

    Ah, yes, that “Redemptive Suffering” thingy. It explains the “why” of suffering, doesn’t it. Brilliant!! For people who are not indoctrinated into Christianity, it is clear that this dogma is a “Get out of jail free” card: it can never be falsified!!

    1. Peter Aiello Reply

      Science keeps discovering new things that it can’t adequately explain. Dark matter and dark energy come to mind. Something is attracting and repelling, but they don’t see anything; so I don’t think that science knows or can explain all of the forces that can interact with us. The universe is too vast for that.
      The “weird energy thing” can happen at religious gatherings. Some attribute it to angelic activity. It’s something I don’t understand, but I have felt it myself. The falling over isn’t always fake.

        1. Peter Aiello Reply

          I checked out the video. Most of us don’t have enough knowledge of physics to evaluate the contents of the video. All I am confident about is that we don’t know everything. This allows us to perform our own personal experiments as to what is important for us. We may not be able to convince others of their validity; but that’s life. Science is only a part of the whole of human experience. If it is unable to explain our experiences at the present time, it may in the future. If it can’t; so be it. Science does not have the last word in my life.
          Why does a physicist talk about what heaven might be like if it is beyond science? He should stick to his field. I believe that happiness is more than just the changing circumstances that give us an emotional lift. It can be a state of being which is unchanging for the most part. The speaker was not aware of this because he said that if it’s not that interesting and never changing, it won’t make you happy. The peace that passes all understanding is beyond what we find interesting because it is beyond our understanding. This gives it a permanence that would otherwise not be there. Heaven won’t be so boring after all.

          1. Tom Rafferty

            Thanks for taking the time to watch the video. From your comments about it, I perceive a lack of real understanding about science and what it does.
            “Most of us don’t have enough knowledge of physics to evaluate the contents of the video.” True, and that is why reasonable people accept what the scientific experts say in every field of science. After all, who would know more about the scientific topics than them. Oh, ya, Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, et al. I forgot.
            “All I am confident about is that we don’t know everything. This allows us to perform our own personal experiments as to what is important for us.” The first statement is true. The second statement shows what I am talking about: accepting personal (“experiments”) experiences as truth is not knowledge, but an unsupported action in an attempt to feel better.
            “Science does not have the last word in my life.” In one respect, I agree with this: science alone doesn’t give you meaning, goals,etc. What it DOES give you is the best knowledge about what is real. If you disagree, then my points above didn’t hit home.
            “Why does a physicist talk about what heaven might be like if it is beyond science?” What Sean is talking about is what we presently know about our universe, and there is no evidence for heaven (or hell, for that matter). Christian dogma clearly states that entities interact with people in our reality. Since we know through science ALL of the forces that can interact with our reality, religious claims of unseen entities doing so is unsupported by evidence and is improbable and implausible. Thus, a science based thinker like me has no basis for accepting these claims. Keep in mind that science never “disproves” claims, it only reject claims on the grounds of insufficient evidence, probability and plausibility. When this is the case, the null hypothesis (the default position) is accepted.
            Everything you said after this is only your beliefs and a rejection of science. I have my own wishes, goals and opinions. However, if I reject what science has to say on any topic pertinent to such, I am not accepting reality and, instead, using the God of the Gaps argument for my comfort.
            Peace.

        2. Peter Aiello Reply

          Scientists are also human, and subject to human frailty. They also differ among themselves. They can also give out false information if it is to their advantage. If they want to accept the null hypothesis, they are entitled to do that. Others are entitled to reject it. There may be another field of knowledge that may provide answers that are beyond the scope of science. The possibilities are endless.

          I believe that religion and spirituality exist because there are a lot of unexplained things that happen out there and within people that have no current explanation provided by science, and may never have one. You’re not going to convince a person who has seen a ghost, that the ghost doesn’t exist. The idea that religion will eventually be passé is wishful thinking.

          1. Tom Rafferty

            “Scientists are also human, and subject to human frailty. They also differ among themselves. They can also give out false information if it is to their advantage. If they want to accept the null hypothesis, they are entitled to do that. Others are entitled to reject it. There may be another field of knowledge that may provide answers that are beyond the scope of science. The possibilities are endless.” All of this totally exposes you to ignorance of science. If you really want to understand science, I invite you to peruse my blog: https://understandrealitythroughscience.blogspot.com/

            “I believe that religion and spirituality exist because there are a lot of unexplained things that happen out there and within people that have no current explanation provided by science, and may never have one. You’re not going to convince a person who has seen a ghost, that the ghost doesn’t exist. The idea that religion will eventually be passé is wishful thinking.” You continue to make an Argument from Ignorance, or the God of the Gaps argument. Again, I urge you to Google these terms for understanding.

          2. Peter Aiello

            Peace.

  3. Patrick Gannon Reply

    “Angels cannot fear anything because they cannot be harmed by anything.” So Satan did not fear Yahweh, and cannot be hurt by him?

    1. Peter Aiello Reply

      “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19)

  4. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Actually science has a very complete understanding of the particles that make up our natural world, and if there were immaterial forces like souls, gods, devils, consciousness, etc. acting on them – as would be required for miracles – then we’d know about it by now. “The Big Picture” Sean Carroll.

Leave a Reply

  1. most read post
  2. Most Commented
  3. Choose Categories
Share
Additional Info