When my second grade teacher, an Irish nun named Sr. Anita, told us to leave a space for our guardian angels to sit next to us, I quickly complied. I wanted my angel to be comfortable and close to me.
As an adult, I realize that as purely spiritual beings, angels don’t have actual bodies. Still, I’m sure my angel and I were very close that day.
What we know about angels comes from the Bible as well as Sacred Tradition. They are personal–interacting in our earthly lives—and immortal, just as we are. Although they are pure spirits, angels can take on a physical body in order to interact with us on earth. We know from the battle between St. Michael the archangel and Lucifer, that they also have intellects and free will, just as we do.
The Bible tells us of God using his angels as protectors, guides and as messengers. Of course, there is also the angel of death that passed over Egypt during the last plague, but we understand that he was simply following God’s will and accomplishing a necessary task.
Make-believe characters such as Santa Clause and the tooth fairy are left behind with childhood. Angels, come with us into adulthood. They are so wonderful as to seem make believe but they are real. We are enchanted by stories of angels appearing in times of dire need and then mysteriously disappearing.
Saved by an Angel
I have a favorite angel story as told by Doris Fischer that was included in the Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart book called “Little Girl in White.”
It was World War II when Eldon Dahl, a school mate of my husband’s and a pilot in the United States Air Force was shot down over Italy. He was returning from a bombing raid near Foggia, Italy on August 25, 1943. Parachuting from his flaming B-17 bomber after being riddled with bullets from German fighter planes, he landed near a small Italian village. His parachute had landed him safely in a forest only to be captured by the Italians. After being in two prison camps, Eldon managed to escape with a group of other Allied prisoners in the mountainous area north of Rome.
Eldon became separated from the others and wandered alone on foot through mountains and villages. Scavenging around the woods one afternoon, his empty stomach detected the wonderful aroma of food cooking on an open fire. Following the scent, he discovered two women outside, preparing food near a farmstead.
Hoping they would be friendly and willing to feed him, Eldon made his way toward the women. All of a sudden, a little blonde-haired girl around 10-years old, wearing a bright white dress, appeared by his side. She motioned with a finger over her lips, to remain quiet. Then, taking him by the hand the little girl led him in the opposite direction to stand behind a thicket of bushes. It was at that point that two German soldiers appeared and began talking with the women. Eldon realized then that he had just narrowly avoided recapture. When he looked around the little girl had vanished. She was nowhere to be seen. Eldon was convinced the little girl in white was his guardian angel. Knowing that his guardian angel was with him, gave him faith that he would somehow get back home.
For two months Eldon traveled alone over two hundred miles on foot before his final breakthrough of the turbulent front lines to return to the American zone near Cassino on November 13, 1943. Two weeks later he returned to the United States.
The Popularity of Angels
The late theologian, Fr. John Harden once commented on the growing popularity of angels. “There was a time when angels were simply pictured winged creatures on Christmas cards….But things have changed; we may speak of angels having infiltrated our popular culture, as the expression goes, ‘big time.’ From traditional Christians to New Agers, people are looking for comfort from what they believe are heavenly helpers in the trials and sufferings of our chaotic world.”
Given our love of angels, it should be no surprise that the television series, Touched by an Angel was so popular in this country and around the world for nine years from 1994-2003. It was a weekly series in which a group of angels sent by God intervened in people’s lives during times of trouble. The show’s two main angels were played by Della Reese and Roma Downey.
During an interview for this article, Downey explained that “Touched by an Angel” actually did take some people in the TV industry by surprise. In an industry in which “God” is treated like a bad word, this nondenominational program about angels mentioned God in every show. “For that reason, in the beginning, people who had never seen it wrote us off as some religious show–too sentimental” said Downy. “A lot of jokes were made at our expense in the early days, but we found our audience.”
Downey said that the show had a grassroots momentum that began with the Bible-belt then spread from there. During it’s run, it was one of the highest rated shows on CBS. “At it’s peak, there were 25 million viewers,” stated Downy. “And when the show was cancelled, we still had 10 million viewers which is considered a lot by today’s standards.”
Downey played the sweet and beautiful, “Monica” Her Irish accent was real as she was raised in a Catholic family of six children in Derry, Ireland. Her siblings still live within a few miles of each and her oldest brother is a Roman Catholic priest.
“The programs were aired on Sundays which was in the spirit–so to speak–as a natural day for families to gather together. “It was something people could sit down with their entire family and trust the content. The shows were uplifting and touching and had the ability to teach.” Downey said. “We still get fan mail.”
“Touched by an Angel” filled a void in television that Downy said she thinks may still be left empty. It was quality, Christian entertainment about angels lifting humanity closer to God. It’s popularity attested to the fact that God and angels still have a way with people.
CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment have put together eight programs on two DVD discs for their Touched by an Angel’ s Inspiration Collection; Faith and Love Editions DVD debuted January 26 and will be available through a local retail store or by going to: http://atouchofencouragementstore.com/