On Monday night, I accompanied the other members of the St. James 20s and 30s group down to Dixon for Theology on Tap. The speaker was a clergyman by the name of John Lyons, and his topic was angels and demons.
Our little group from Davis was immediately greeted by one of the organizers. The St. Peters group has clearly been together much longer than the Davis group, and is far more outgoing. They could probably give the Roaring 20s group a run for their money in friendliness. The other interesting quality of this youth group was their obvious and enthusiastic theological conservatism. The extraordinary form of Mass was an immediate topic of discussion, and the people in attendance seemed really fired up about stopping the spread of abortion in the area.
Promptly ten minutes late, the talk started. Father John started with a Hail Mary – more on this later – and dove right in to his discussion of angels. He laid out the rather reasonable and not-at-all unfamiliar argument that the existence of angels is entailed by the truth of scripture, and that if one accepts the existence of loyal angels from the authority of scripture, then one must also accept the existence of the rebellious spirits. Lyons explained some of what Aquinas taught about the angels as spiritual beings. This lead to the interesting (and irrelevant) claim that angels don’t have wings – despite the passage describing certain kinds of angels as in fact having six wings. It does bother me that this passage was effectively dismissed without an in-depth defense of that dismissal. I don’t give a damn whether or not angels have wings, but if the teachings of a famous doctor of the Church are to be held above the face-value reading of a passage, there had bloody well better be a good defense.
In any case, the lecture continued on into the realm of spiritual warfare, starting with a derivation of the probability of guardian angels. Pious speculation posits that each individual has a guardian angel to help them on their path and fight with them against the powers of darkness. The priest also touched on various levels of demonic influence: temptation, obsessions (oppression, in Protestant circles), and possessions. One interesting point he made was that it might be advisable to pray to one’s guardian angel. My Protestant-influenced mind immediately rebelled at this – I get the feeling that the Protestant view of prayer strongly includes worship, while the Catholic understanding leans more toward a simple request for aid. Having the benefit of some twenty-four hours to think on it, I am more comfortable with the idea – if I have such a spiritual guardian always fighting alongside me, it might be advisable to drop him a line once in a while.
This line of thinking brings me back to a concern I referenced earlier – intercessory prayer. I think I am in accord with Catholic doctrine on prayer directed to Mary and the other saints, but I have practical concerns. I see the obvious logic of asking the saints to intercede for us – which of us Christians would not ask one of our living brothers and sisters to pray for us in time of need? – but I worry that in practice, many Catholics may go to Mary first, and push Christ aside. Scripture clearly teaches that through Christ we can directly approach the Father – in fact, this is exactly how Christ teaches his disciples to pray. I see nothing wrong with calling on the Communion of Saints to pray for us, but I think we should emphasize the centrality of Christ and the Father in our prayer lives as Catholics.
In conclusion, the talk was great. There was a period of time for questions afterwards, and some general discussion among the Catholics there. It was a really great experience, and I look forward to next Monday. I also bought a pair of books on Marian theology – hopefully reading them can clear up any of my concerns that may be rooting in faulty understanding of doctrine.
Oh, and the beer was terrible. Maybe we need to work a little harder at bringing the Lutherans back into communion with Rome, or something.