Rumors of angels: Heavenly guardians ‘make a difference in your life,’ speaker says

Angels and demons are depicted in Alexey Vassilievich Tyranov's 19th century painting titled, "Angel Fighting for the Soul." Guardian angels are a well-established -- if misunderstood -- reality in the Church, said David Conrad, a lecturer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and pastoral associate at St. Aidan Parish in Livonia, in a Nov. 12 presentation at the parish. (Wikimedia Commons)

Presentation on angels and demons at St. Aidan focuses on realities, roles of spiritual beings

LIVONIA — Your guardian angel doesn’t know your secret thoughts. But you can still talk to him, says David Conrad. 

Conrad, a lecturer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and pastoral associate at St. Aidan Parish in Livonia, spoke Nov. 12 on the topic of angels and demons to about 240 individuals gathered at the parish’s social hall — half of whom were visible.

“Think about this,” Conrad said. “There are twice as many persons in this room right now than you can see.”

Guardian angels have long been the subject of fascination among Catholics and others, but their role as heavenly helpers and messengers is often misunderstood, Conrad said.

“Angels are not mind readers. They can’t force themselves into our minds any more than they can force our wills,” Conrad told the audience, who gathered on a snowy Monday night to listen to the talk. “But you can decide to reveal your thoughts and secrets to your guardian angel by talking to it, just as you would talk or pray to a human saint or a friend on earth.”

The Church has always accepted the existence of angels, Conrad said, even if they were not well-understood. In Old Testament times, angels were often depicted as messengers of God, sometimes appropriating matter to appear in human form.

It wasn’t until after the pagan age, when polytheism was no longer a serious threat to the Christian faith, that angels began to be more widely seen as intermediaries between man and God, whom man could rely upon for spiritual help and guidance.

“The only One who acts upon us directly is God, because He is our Creator who sustains us moment by moment. But an angel can act indirectly through imagination and on the senses,” Conrad said.

About 120 people attend a Nov. 12 talk on angels and demons given by David Conrad, a lecturer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and pastoral associate, at St. Aidan Parish in Livonia. Conrad also serves as an ecumenical and interfaith liaison for the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Spiritual dangers in popular culture

Conrad said his talk was inspired by the public emergence of the spiritual realm in popular entertainment and culture, citing shows such as FOX’s “Lucifer” as an example of how television and media can feed people’s “fascination” and curiosity with unseen forces of darkness and good.

“The premise is, Satan gets bored of running hell and comes to Los Angeles, the city of angels, in human form,” Conrad said. “It sounds funny. FOX presents him ‘charmingly charismatic and devilishly handsome.’ And what does he do? What would you expect? He lives a debauched lifestyle and on numerous occasions he blasphemes God. If there’s anything good that can be said about the show, it’s that it does not deny God’s existence. But it does set God up as a punching bag.”

Conrad added the prevalence of local “spiritualist shops” such as psychics and tarot card readers are further evidence that unseen intelligences can attract a dangerous curiosity.

“Even if you think this is all spiritual nonsense, disbelief in something doesn’t mean that something is not real. People are tapping inappropriately into the realm of the transcendent, and that’s asking for trouble in a big way. You’re freely opening the door of your soul to you-know-not-what.”

Because the spiritual realm, including angels and demons, is real — and Scripture backs up that fact — Conrad said it’s important for people to know the truth about such realities.

“Man is a spiritual animal, and nature abhors a vacuum,” Conrad said. “People keep having metaphysical experiences, and it’s only human to want to make sense out of them.”

The essential difference between angels and demons is that angels ultimately choose for God, while demons did not, Conrad said. Because angels are purely spiritual beings, their ultimate, fixed choice was made in the moment immediately following their creation, according to tradition.

Just like a guardian angel — whose ultimate job is to shepherd souls to heaven and to fight off evil — can act to persuade or suggest holy thoughts to a person, demons can do the same with sinful intentions.

“We call this temptation. Demons tempt us in the same way as guardian angels help us,” Conrad said. “Tempting is not forcing. A spiritual soul cannot be forced. Because spirits are free, spirits have free will by their very essence. Angels can influence our choices through the medium of imagination and emotion, but they can’t put choices in your will.”

Though every person is granted a guardian angel, there is no corresponding demon assigned to an individual, Conrad said, despite popular depictions of an “angel and a devil on your shoulder.”

Rather, demons are likened more to “wandering beasts” as depicted in Scripture, Conrad said, prowling the world in search of souls who would listen to them.

“So our guardian angel is always by our side to watch and guard, to rule and guide — and to rule means to influence,” Conrad said. “They’re servants and ministers of God.”

David Conrad takes questions from the audience during a Nov. 12 talk titled "Rumors of Angels (and Demons)" on Nov. 12 at St. Aidan Parish in Livonia. (Mike Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

An angel’s primary task: Messenger and guide

Though not a reveal dogma of faith, tradition holds that there are nine “choirs” of angels, Conrad said, or three sets of three whose role and purpose in creation is difference. The first three — Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones — see and adore God directly. The second three — Dominions, Virtues and Powers — fulfill God’s plan for the universe by overseeing the physical and spiritual realms. And the last three — Principalities, Archangels and Angels — directly order human affairs by serving as protectors of nations, carrying God’s messages and watching over each human soul.

The lowest choir, the Angels, are commonly referred to as “guardian angels” for their role as protectors of individuals, Conrad said.

“Prayers to God asking for angel help will be answered. They will make a difference in your life. Even though you can’t see or hear your guardian angel, he can see and hear you,” Conrad said.

The existence of angels is taught clearly in the Catechism, by Church fathers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and by Jesus himself, Conrad added.

Still, there are a number of misconceptions about angels that persist in modern culture, Conrad said. Some of these include the false notion that humans become angels after death, or that angels as spiritual beings can be male or female.

Angels also don’t have literal wings or halos, Conrad said, but rather, these are symbols of an angel’s role as holy, heavenly messengers.

“We love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and the idea that you can ‘earn your wings,’ but really this is a symbol that they have a job to do, and that is to be messengers,” Conrad said.

A healthy view of angels recognizes that God’s messengers are primarily concerned with man’s eternal happiness, even when the here and now suggests an angel might not be helping much, Conrad said.

“Sometimes we might ask ourselves, ‘Why didn’t someone’s guardian angel protect them from a disaster? Why this person was preserved and why not the other?’ We have to recall that our guardian angel’s chief goal is not to preserve our earthly life, but to lead us safely into the arms of Christ,” Conrad said.

“Keeping us alive is not their highest good, nor is being alive ours, for that matter. We’re not meant for this life only. We’re meant for the life of the world to come. So, our guardian angel’s greatest mission is to allow us to truly live; to win us for Christ and to fight on our behalf at the moment of death; to stand to thwart the dark power of the accuser.”