By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 21, 2013)
Last January, one of our readers, a woman named Allie, sent me this remarkable story, which I have been eager to share with everyone. It was entitled "Last Words":
I was in this horrible car wreck seven years ago with my mother and 18-year-old son in the vehicle. We all survived, thank God, but I was knocked unconscious and had a traumatic brain injury. My life was changed, my personality was changed, I was VERY sick for over a year. I went to rehab to relearn how to think and process information, but lots of it will never be the same again. The moment of collision stopped one life, and I had to begin a new one. I was lucky enough to be able to begin again, but something interesting happened at the moment of impact.
I don't remember anything about the collision. ... My Mom, sitting in the back, wasn't knocked out, and she heard me say, "Jesus, Mercy," in the split second before the wreck. Apparently, I saw the other car as it was about to hit us and uttered that small prayer. Actually, having been a nurse in the big city, I knew lots of colorful words, and I was convinced my mother just preferred to think that her daughter's last words were, "Jesus, Mercy" as opposed to #!%$&%*! But no, my mom was firm that I said, "Jesus, Mercy."
I switched parishes during my recovery, and our new pastor has a special devotion to The Divine Mercy. ... A year and a half after my accident, I went to confession for the first time with my new pastor, and he gave me absolution, the penance being, "My Jesus, Mercy." I responded to him by saying, "I'm supposed to say, 'My Jesus, Mercy?' I have never been given that before for absolution. I don't understand." He said, "Well, it's the universal absolution. If you say it on your deathbed, you're given absolution. So I give it as a practice for people to get in the habit to ask Jesus for mercy." "But ... but ..." I stammered. Father was getting anxious because Mass was going to start in 10 minutes, so he said, "Well, go out there and say 20 Hail Marys if it makes you feel better, but you are absolved by saying 'My Jesus, Mercy.'" I told him that I wasn't objecting to the short penance, but that I had apparently spontaneously uttered it right before the impact in my car wreck. "Jesus, Mercy" were my last words as the person I was for 46 years. I said that I was always puzzled by my mother's report that those were my last words. I couldn't imagine why I had said those words because they weren't reflexive for me. #!%$&X! would have made more sense!
Father said that, in fact, those words were going to be my last words and that my guardian angel intervened to have me utter them. The guardian angels don't know what is going to happen to us, so mine saw this head-on collision coming and presumed it might be a fatality and was there for me. My guardian angel had me say, "Jesus, Mercy." It suddenly made sense, and I felt ashamed that I had never considered that my personal protector, my angel of God, my guardian dear, who had been sent to be near me by God's love all those years, had stepped in to save my eternal life just when it seemed clear that my physical life was about to end!
Thank God for that! Thank God for my guardian angel, and thank God for Jesus' mercy!
Allie is reminding us here of something we often take for granted: the existence of the holy angels and their role in the life of the Church as servants and messengers of Divine Mercy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) assures us that "the existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of the faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition" (CCC, 328). Their existence was solemnly defined as a matter of faith at the Fourth Lateran Council (in 1215 A.D.), but Christians never had any doubts on this subject.
The New Testament shows us angels acting as messengers of God's merciful love, for example, when an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, telling him that his foster son, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, would one day "save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21), or when the angels promised the shepherds watching their flocks on Christmas night that in Bethlehem had just been born a "Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11), or when an angel from God comforted Jesus in the midst of His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:43-44).
Jesus Himself taught us that from childhood each one of us has a guardian angel: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Even human reason can see that it is fitting for such creatures to be included in God's created order. At the lowest realm of creation there are inanimate objects, then above them living things such as plants and animals, then higher still human beings, who are actually a unity of physical bodies and immortal, rational souls. It stands to reason that to complete the hierarchy God would have created what the Catechism calls "purely spiritual creatures [having] intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness" (330).
Those who lean on the mercy of God can be sure that our Savior sends His angels to surround and protect them, even as He did for St. Faustina. When she was dangerously ill, a radiant seraph brought her Holy Communion for 13 days (see Diary of St. Faustina, 1676). She saw them defending a dying man for whom she was praying (see 1565), and giving glory to God in heaven (see 1604). She also recorded how her guardian angel defended her from an assault by evil spirits (see 419) and accompanied her on a visionary journey to purgatory and to hell (see 20 and 741). In general, St. Faustina was constantly comforted by the thought — and sometimes given supernatural assurance — that we are not alone in our struggles for faith and love, but are surrounded (whether we know it or not) by a "great crowd of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). She wrote:
One day, when I was at adoration, and my spirit seemed to be dying for Him, and I could no longer hold back my tears, I saw a spirit of great beauty who spoke these words to me: "Don't cry — says the lord." After a moment I asked, "Who are you?" He answered me, "I am one of the seven spirits who stand before the throne of God day and night and give Him ceaseless praise." Yet this spirit did not soothe my yearning, but roused me to even greater longing for God. This spirit is very beautiful, and his beauty comes from close union with God. This spirit does not leave me for a single moment, but accompanies me everywhere (Diary, 471).
May the Lord be praised for the unseen mercy of the ministry of His holy angels to us! Let us never forget to thank God for them and to ask for their prayers and help so that nothing in our hearts may block them from their task of leading us to heaven.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.