A Talking Donkey & Our Angel on the Road

The book of Numbers introduces us to a strange and controversial character named Balaam, a fortune-teller from the region of Moab (see Numbers 22 and 23). Right after the episode with the bronze serpent, Moses and his people, who were in exodus in the desert, were going to meet Balaam. King Balak commanded him to curse Israel in order to halt its progression, for this is how influential Balaam was: “He whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

Balaam was living in Pethor in Mesopotamia while he listened to the Word of God. This was a region where people worshipped Belphegor (Baal Peor). Balaam let the king of Moab shower him with gifts, which real prophets did not accept.

God authorized Balaam to leave with the king’s messengers. But Balaam disobeyed Him by leaving in a hurry. He rode on a donkey behind Moab’s princes. Suddenly, on the way, the donkey found itself face-to-face with the angel of the Lord, who was ready to kill Balaam, with his sword in hand. The donkey turned away from the path three times in order to save her master. Balaam got angry each time, until the animal started talking on the third time:

“What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”

“Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you!”

At that moment, Balaam’s eyes were opened, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road in front of him. The angel was ready to strike him with his sword. Balaam immediately bowed down, falling on his face.

“And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me.’ ”

Balaam offered to return home.

“Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.”

Balaam ended up blessing the chosen people three times rather than cursing them. This angered King Balak.

The Path of Life

Life is like a road. We take it one day at a time. It is perhaps because there is a purity or renewal in each dawn — as if every possibil­ity were within easy reach. I love to run before breakfast. On some mornings, there is a feeling of conquest in nature when the prickly wind bends the wheat or the frost sparkles on the branches. Each bird song seems to include a promise and each flower a new hope.

Then the path rises and crosses others and bristles with pointed stones that wound us and brambles that hold us back. Jesus warned us. The path is not a long, straight line at the edge of a canal! The road and life make us suffer and cry. But the angels, our faithful fellow travelers, accompany us. They are near us in our joys and trials. Neither our indifference nor our ingratitude discourages them from offering their support and comfort. “I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared” (Exod. 23:20).

Nonetheless, if we gave them free rein, their field of action would really be enlarged! Our angel, like Benoîte Rencurel’s angel, who removed the brambles from her path, could send us more signs of his presence. Our heart needs to be attentive to interpret these messages, but how accurate and pertinent they are!

Agnes of Langeac attended Mass in a church that was far from where she lived. If she came back late, her father beat her. So, when she left the church, she saw “a little lamb that was very gentle and beautiful” that brought her back home. Sometimes the angel was shaped like a white butterfly or a little bird.

I recall, when we were decorating our backpacks, that we recopied this quote from Jacques Higelin:

To all those who stretched out their hand

To my soul that was lost on the paths of doubt I send you friendship and deep respect

From the angel with clenched fists that watches over my route.

Our road is winding, and it is rarely very clear where it is lead­ing us. Sometimes the descent is rough, and everything seems to be going too fast. At times, the slope is so steep that we have to make decisions on the spot. A famous soccer coach has given us “Five tips for a winning mindset”:

Arsène Wenger, “Cinq conseils pour avoir un mental de gagnant” [Five tips for a winning mindset].
  1. Eliminate negative thoughts: “I can’t do it, I’m not up to it, I fear . . .” Do not hesitate or doubt. Commit
  2. Do not worry about what others think. The truth is found within us. Others cannot live our lives for us.
  3. Never give up trying. Set a goal for yourself, and do everything to attain it. Do not give up.
  4. Do not think too much. Learn to master your fears by removing doubt and moving forward. Keep concen­trating. Remain in the present moment.
  5. Draw energy from your defeats. Failure is disappoint­ing, and it hurts. But we must maintain an adult and mature attitude and not blame our failures on others or on external events. We have to be honest in evalu­ating ourselves and discerning what we were lacking and come back stronger by drawing energy from our failures.

We can conclude from this that talent without effort does not lead to anything. To paraphrase a simple prayer, we could say: “For it is in falling down that we get back up. It is in getting lost that we find our way again. It is after exhausting our strength that we rest. It is in forgetting ourselves that we find ourselves. It is when we are at peace with ourselves that we experience the most beautiful encounters.”

The Right to Doubt

Doubt is not a sin in itself. We see that many saints first experi­enced a period of doubt before accepting their missions. Let us recall the prophet Elijah. He was ready to die, but an angel came to feed and help him. This crisis al­lowed Elijah to be confirmed in his mission.

Doubt lets us pass through a faith that we received to an adult faith that we take upon ourselves. This is what the residents of the village explained to the Samaritan woman who talked to them about Jesus: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

As one cartoon expresses it: “God created everything! He even created the one who tries to prove that He does not exist. . . . This is to tell you that He is sure of Himself.” God wants us to look for Him because He wants us to find Him. He is always giving us discreet signs of His love and His presence. They are so discreet that we go by without seeing them.

Angels sometimes attract our attention with a friendly nudge. You walk with your eyes fixed on your feet or on the screen on your phone, but look! See the magnificent universe that the Lord created through love and that He gave you! See the broth­ers whom He put on your path to love and be loved by them! See that you are never alone, under the sun as well as under the storm, because He walks by your side.

“May the Lord give us all the grace to understand the mystery of the angel’s protection,” prays Pope Francis, “and of his com­panionship on the road and contemplation of God the Father.”

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in the book, Encounters with Angels: The Invisible Companions of Our Spiritual Life. It is available from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

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Odile Haumonté is the mother of five children. She works as a Catholic publisher and is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Patapon, which is designed to enable people to grow as a family with Jesus. She is the author of about fifty books, including biographies and novels. Her book on angels has been translated into English as Encounters with Angels: The Invisible Companions of Our Spiritual Life.

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