Bread of Angels
Consoling families who have lost a loved one presents many challenges. To give a hopeful perspective, some will say the beloved dead are now winged angels in Heaven. Without trying to sound cynical, this description of the deceased person can actually cause spiritual confusion, rather than consolation.
|Angel at the base of the Stations of the Cross, Lourdes, France. I would actually find it difficult – even a little funny to see my deceased relatives with wings.|
The term “angel” comes from the Greek word angelos, which means “bearer of news.” There are angels that bring good news and some that bring bad. Angels, as celestial non-corporeal beings created by God, do not have a body. Popular pictures show them as winged cherubs, which makes it a bit difficult to consider for some people who have died. As angels, beings without a body, they have limitations. One of the greatest “limits” of an angel is that an angel cannot receive the Eucharist. They can’t actually participate in the Eternal banquet, simply because they can’t eat the Eucharist. Remember, they don’t have a corporeal body.
Ironically, despite our sinful humanity, we can eat something that only the angels can adore: “The Bread of Angels.”
In order to clarify what happens to people who die, and who we hope are in Heaven, the better word to describe them is a “saint” in Heaven. They aren’t angels. They get a halo, not wings. To become a saint, isn’t simply wishful thinking though. Becoming a saint requires us to live saintly lives. And, not to confuse the distinction I’m trying to make, to become a saint we must still act like angels. That is, we must also bring God’s Good News.
|The Angel Gabriel announces Good News to Mary – She will become the Mother of Jesus, who is Lord and God.|
Recently, I listened to the homily of Fr. Wells, a former student at the seminary where I use to teach. He led a packed church in prayers for his mother Judy’s funeral Mass. During these sacred rights, Fr. Wells preached a magnificent homily about God’s merciful love. His brother Kevin, who delivered the family’s prayerful eulogy, provided an equally inspiring perspective on their mother.
|Fr. Wells preaching at Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, Maryland|
According to the Wells’ family, Judy insisted that no one try to “canonize” her, i.e., say she was a “saint.” Spiritual compliments, she declared, were “dangerous,” because we can start to believe that we’re actually better than we really are. We aren’t saints until we get to Heaven! Judy knew that. In her humility, she wanted to be known as a “sinner” who simply tried to rely on God. Her priest son, with a smile on his face, publicly preached that his mother was a “sinner!”
|The funeral procession.|
The irony caused the crowd to roar with laughter. Her insistence on being known as a sinner is not due to her lack of virtue, but is in fact due to her humility. Through God’s mercy, Judy, with very little doubt, is participating in the heavenly banquet, because her life on Earth was very angelic. She preached and lived God’s Good News.
She, along with her husband for 49 years, gave God’s Good News to her family, her neighbors, her friends, and her fellow parishioners. Her life reminded me that if I want to be a Saint in Heaven, I need to start being more “angelic” on Earth!
|Trying to be an “angel” as I preached a Eucharistic Holy Hour at Sts. Philip and James Catholic Church’s outreach to a young adult gathering.|
I couldn’t help but recognize the Grace Before Meals message during the funeral homily and eulogies. Fr. Wells mentioned that over her lifetime she packed more than 20,000 lunches, which would rival Jesus’ record of feeding more than 5,000! Again, more laughs.
Unfortunately, in her last few months, her sickness and the medical treatments made food tasteless – and worse – made all food taste like rusty metal. How humbling to remember that earthly food, even prepared by Iron Chefs, cannot satisfy a hurting soul. The only food she craved was the Eucharist – the Bread of Angels!
|Jesus, in the Breaking of the Bread.|
A solemn and joyful funeral celebration of a lovely and faithful person like Judy Wells reminds me to call upon the assistance and protection of the angels. One day, when we will be called to the loving judgment of Our Father in Heaven, we may hopefully have the Grace to participate in the banquet that angels can only adore. Remember, they can’t eat it, simply because they don’t have bodies. But we can. And in God’s mercy, for the repentant “sinners,” people like Judy Wells (and all the holy souls who we know lived good and holy lives), are now fully feasting – not as angels – but as saints!
|During an “altar call” for men considering priesthood, at the Steubenville Conference in Denver, Colorado. Fr. Chrisman and Archbishop Aquilla giving them a blessing.|
Let us pray: Father, when people we love die, we seek heavenly blessings to help console us. Yet, in the time of our grief, please clarify our words so that the emotional pain we feel doesn’t confuse our Faith. Give us strength to express our sorrows well, but also to express thanks for the lives You have given to us through our beloved dead. Keep us in Your care, protected by our Guardian Angels, and prepare in us a hunger for the Eternal Feast of the Lord of Hosts – the Bread of Angels – the banquet of Heaven. Amen.
|Pray with the angels and like an angel.|
More Food for Thought
- How do you try and console someone who just lost a loved one?
- Is there a Scripture passage or prayer that helps you get through some of your mourning for someone you love?
- Do you have any good angel stories you’d like to share?
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