“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Luke 22:43)
The Gospel of Luke reports that after Jesus submitted to the Father’s will to accept the cup of his passion, God sent him an angel to strengthen him to endure all that he would be facing.
Our human suffering, however severe, may never equal Jesus’ “agony in the garden.” Yet, how often have we seen people endure incredible suffering from a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one with determined faith, while still maintaining an unusual peace and joy that can only come from God?
Sometimes God uses one of his special angelic messengers to bring strength and consolation. Sometimes he uses family or friends to perform this role.
This brings to mind an experience I had when I was 15 years old following surgery to correct a defective sternum bone that I was born with. The lower part of my sternum was bent inward that had the effect of crowding the heart and lungs as I started growing in my teen years. This apparently caused an enlarged heart, severely impacting my future health and long term survival.
We were living in Mason City, Iowa, about 120 miles north of Des Moines. A thoracic surgeon in Des Moines had developed a corrective repair that involved splitting the sternum from the rib cage, inserting a bone strut from one side of the rib cage to the other and laying the sternum back down and wiring everything back together.
This was considered experimental surgery in the mid-1950s, when they were not quite as good at pain management as they are today. As a result, I was in a lot of pain from the surgery and discomfort with all of the tubes continuously pumping fluids from my chest cavity. I remember telling my parents, to their consternation, that I would not have done this if I knew it was going to be so bad.
On the fourth day, Father John from our parish in Mason City visited me. We had become very close friends during the course of his weekly instructions for me to join the Catholic Church a couple of years earlier. To make this visit, he had to drive two hours after Sunday morning masses from Mason City to Des Moines, and then two hours back in time to say a Sunday evening mass.
He talked with me, encouraged me and said a prayer with me. He was like the visitation of an angel lifting my spirits. I didn’t complain any more to my parents about the surgery, and spent the rest of the summer recuperating. I have always remembered how his visit turned things around for me, along with the sacrifice it took for him to make it happen.
Like Father John, may we be inspired to serve as angels to others in their time of need.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12)