“Every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel.” — St. Augustine, (354-430)
“How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.”— St. Jerome, (347-420)
In my view, we humans live in two different worlds, the visible, empirical, phenomenal, material world and the invisible, transcendent, and spiritual or supernatural world inhabited by spirits, devils, and God or Transcendent Force. I believe in angels since, for me, there are too many references in the Bible about the world of spirit, particularly in the Gospels and in the writings of St. Paul. For some mystics and saints like St. John Henry Newman, the spiritual world is more real than the visible world.
Some of you may know that my wife, Nancy, was a significant player in bringing the first standalone hospice facility to the state of Alabama through East Alabama Medical Center. What you may not know is that one day she had a dream in which she saw her guardian angel. She asked this angel “What is your name?” And the angel responded “Ralph.” Nancy thought to herself that this was a funny name for an angel but did not say this explicitly to the angel. But the angel then said of his own accord, “I’m also known as Raphael.”
Nancy then realized she was speaking to St. Raphael, the Archangel. That day, Nancy went to work at hospice and put on a red dress with matching red shoes and a red purse. She told her staff about her dream and one of them looked up the article on St. Raphael in a book on angels. It stated that St. Raphael’s favorite color was red. Her staff couldn’t believe that Nancy, without knowing about Raphael, dressed in a red outfit that day.
Nancy was also surprised that she seemed to have an experience that went way beyond our everyday visible world. And it was not accidental that Nancy’s guardian angel was Raphael, since he’s the archangel who possesses healing powers and Nancy at the time was the Director of Hospice at EAMC.
All three Abrahamic or desert religions — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — speak of Raphael the Archangel, similar to Michael the Archangel and Archangel Gabriel. Concerning Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud tells us that Raphael the Archangel appeared to Abraham in the region of Hebron. Raphael had as his mission or purpose to heal Abraham from his recent circumcision and save Lot. Raphael has healing powers and is mentioned in the Book of Tobit and the Book of Enoch. Raphael told Tobit that he was sent by the Lord to heal Tobit’s blindness.
Muslims call Raphael “Israfil” and state that at the end of time he will blow the trumpet from a holy rock in Jerusalem to announce the Day of Resurrection, when the dead shall rise from the grave. Some reports say that Israfil visited the prophet and messenger of God, Muhammad, prior to the coming of Gabriel the archangel, but this is disputed by some Muslims.
The New Testament tells us that in the birth, passion, and resurrection of Christ, angels play a significant role. Angels surprised the shepherds who kept watch over their flock of sheep on that first day of Christmas. “An angel of the Lord stood before them (the shepherds) ... and the angel said to them to you is born this day … a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord….” A child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 8-12).
Both the Eastern and Western churches regard Raphael as a saint. Both churches stress the healing powers of St. Raphael for both physical illnesses and mental illnesses. Angels become known or manifest to us through their ministry. In angelic spirituality, angels mediate between God and us. They are guides or spirits to us and heralds of peace. Angels help the prophet or visionary in discerning God’s will for us. They are a sign to the presence of God, “a womb for the birth of God in the soul.” (See Angelic Spirituality: Medieval Perspectives On The Ways Of Angels, Trans. & Introd. By S. Chase, N.Y.: Paulist Press, 2002).
Unlike my wife, I have never met my guardian angel in a dream. I feel comforted by the thought that someone I know quite well has had an experience with an angel. I hope to speak in a future article how angels help us in our journey to God.
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.