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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Angel Girl Talk

I think I may have mentioned that my mother, who is about to turn 88, has a huge collection of angels. As a child she was deprived of ever having a doll, so she always had a fascination with pretty dolls. She still can't abide 'ugly' toys, so it's just as well she doesn't get out so much to see what's on the market these days. At any rate, my theory is that she really couldn't get away with having dolls as an adult, so she went into the angel collection thing. Her home is dripping with angels. She still has two rules about what angels make the cut:

1. They have to be pretty.
2. If they are not pretty, they have to be very unusual. She has, for example, a little wooden one made of carved spools.

Even that one is obviously a girl. I never really thought about it before, but I believe they are all girls, those angels. I didn't think about it at all until I got this question a few days ago:

I have a question for you. I once had someone tell me that it is against church theology to portray angels as female because there are no instances of angels appearing to man as female, only male. Like God, he said, they are to be referred in the masculine. Is this true? And if so...why? What's the big deal? Angels are spirits with no gender, so does it really matter if they are male or female?

We've heard lots of things about angels. Most of those things are speculative. We know there are angels. We know they work for God and live in heaven and interact with us here on earth. Here's what the Catholic Church officially says about angels.

You may notice not word one about gender or portrayal, so whoever told you that was...speculating. If it is against the Church theology to portray angels as female, then the Catholic cemeteries have a lot of unpleasant work ahead of them asking families to remove these things.

I'll bet the angel on top of your tree is a girl angel.

... because there are no instances of angels appearing to man as female, only male.

Except in Zachariah 5:9 where two winged women come out of the sky and haul off some evil in a box. Unless there is yet another type of being in heaven heretofore unmentioned, they had to have been angels. Otherwise we'll have to believe that there are all male angels in heaven and, inexplicably, two winged women.

I'll be more than happy to pile on the angel gender speculation. Do angels have a gender? The ones listed by name do, unless someone misspelled Gabriel's name and left off two "l's" and and "e". Are there female angels? At least two.
Aren't angels supposed to be genderless because Jesus mentioned that we won't have sex in heaven because we'll all be like the angels? No, that just means we won't have sex in heaven. (Which is why when people ask me, "Isn't it difficult to be celibate?", I reply, "No, it is just like being in heaven.")

Perhaps it just seems as though the angels are all male because we always use masculine pronouns to describe them. That could be simply because it used to be proper and excepted grammar, and understood as such, that when talking in a general way about any group, we would use only masculine pronouns, as in "if your child isn't eating his dinner, don't offer him french fries instead." These days we laboriously say, " his or her dinner, don't offer him or her french fries instead."

We also offer french fries instead.

Oh! and lest I forget yet another 'nuns make things up' chestnut, the old nuns used to tell us that everyone's guardian angel was of the opposite gender. Girls had boy angels and boys had girl angels. They didn't just pipe up with that one because they felt like it. The old nuns liked the idea that with a guardian angel of the opposite sex watching you all the time, you would be less likely to sin in private, if you catch my drift. You have to hand it to the old nuns for staying on top of things that way.

Speaking of things that should not be depicted in art
.....I noticed this over there on my google adsense thing. I have no control over what they put on there, except to be very careful about what I put in there for 'tags'. Sometimes something catches my eye. Virgin Mary checks. I had to look.
Maybe if you only use the Mary checks to give money to the Catholic Charities. I'm not sure I can stand to see Mary going to the Gap.

Nice artwork, though.


Claudia said...

Maybe the sex of the angel depends on your situation.
Many years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I got a flat tire on the way home from work. The hosptial where I worked was in an economically depressed area. I hit an abandoned trolly track and ripped the tire. This was precell phone. It was not the sort of place where one would choose to stop. I got out all my tire changing things when a van full of creepy looking, scary guys pulled up and asked if I needed help. I told them no. They left but 5 nanosecond after they left this young man came by, stopped and changed the tire. Not a work was spoken. I followed him around the bend and thru a small railroad tunnel. HE HAD DISSAPEARED. I could see straight ahead a good distance and up the only road that went right and he was not their either. His car was bright yellow, you could not have missed it. I am sure it was an angel sent to keep me out of harms way. It was one of the oddest things that had happened in my life and that was 28 years ago.

Granny Annie said...

It has just dawned on me that I have never seen the figure of a male angel. If they make them, I believe I shall begin a collection to be less discriminating. Where would a person find one?

About the Virgin Mary checks, I'm betting some people have checks with Jesus on them.

Baron Korf said...

As humans we understand the nature for the sexes best by physical appearance and anatomical functionality. However, since we know that we are truly a body and a soul, not a soul inhabiting a meat-machine, there is an aspect of a human's sex that transcends these physical and natural aspects. Fr. Groschel often comments that we have no reference point to explain the supernatural because we are entirely saturated by the natural. Angels are each unique creatures, and it would not surprise me in the least if some were supernaturally feminine and some were supernaturally masculine. Since we have no real way to express that, we depict them as men and women.

I have to disagree with you on the checks. I think it is a wonderful and subtle way to evangelize. All it would take is for someone to be curious about the image and the story behind it. Think if a person had never heard of the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, sees it on a check with a title, thinks its pretty or interesting and then looks it up. I could see it going to far, but on the whole I think it couldn't hurt.

Just my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SMM, for posting the first picture of the children crossing over the abyss with their guardian angel protecting them. My Mom hung that exact print in our bedroom when I was a tyke. It's good to see it again.

We learn so much from our parents--Mom also would set up a May Altar for us every May, and we would all kneel and say the Rosary. Happy to report that that habit--saying a daily Rosary or two--is still with me.

Jennifer said...

For most of us, thinking twice about where we write our checks would be a good thing! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hello Sister,
I love your blog! I have a question related to this angel thing. You know how in the movie "Ghost", the Patrick Swayze character died, but stayed on earth to accomplish a task? I'm pretty sure the Catholic church teaches that that is not possible, right? People that have died don't come back to earth and influence or protect or do things.

I ask this because of an angel experience that we had in our family -- my son was seriously injured, and before the paramedics came, he said that he saw a crowd of people surrounding him, but in reality there was no one there. I think he was being surrounded by angels, protecting him. Part of me would like to think that my father-in-law, who was a crusty old Marine who passed away years before, was one of those beings, protecting his grandson until help came. What does the Catholic church teach on this? And do they address the whole 'believing in ghosts' thing?

Thanks sister!

Feisty Irish Wench said...

I agree with Baron Korf, in that the checks could be an instrument in which we can share the beautiful knowledge and history of our faith. I have a bracelet with a variety of small saints medals all around it. It is a conversation starter and when asked where I got it, I can send them to the shop of a single mother in my M.O.M.S. group that could certainly use their business. I give a brief overview of the saints on the medals and offer to share the stories with them.

Anonymous said...

Granny Annie said...

It has just dawned on me that I have never seen the figure of a male angel. If they make them, I believe I shall begin a collection to be less discriminating. Where would a person find one?

Surely you must have seen the St. Michael Statues with St. Michael drawing his sword and stepping on Satan??

Anonymous said...

Speaking of angels, my best friend asked me a question and I still don't fully understand the answer. We know that God protects us, right? So then why do we need guardian angels if we have Him?

Unknown said...

If Blessed Mary ever goes to The Gap I want to be right behind her. Perhaps I could piggyback onto that miracle and find a pair of jeans that actually fit.
Onto your topic of guardian angels, once in a patient's room who was very close to death, I definitely felt the presence of someone/something that I sensed to be some spirit of Death--if there is such a thing. It was Christmas Day, the woman was young and had small children, and I spoke out loud to the patient and the "spirit" and told her she was not going to die on this day, and not on my shift. Not happening. I felt the room empty, she rallied and I've never sensed anything like that in the years since. Do you think there is a Spirit of Death like on Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol &/or what do you think that was? Perhaps it was a good spiritual presence and not one to have been frightened of.

Sparki said...

The angel on my tree is a boy angel. It was formed from fiberglass screening material around a Ken doll (remember Barbie's boyfriend, before Mattell showed him the door?). The screening was pressed around Ken's face and then trimmed off at the back of his head, and then more was formed around the torso. Billowy arms were cut trimmed out of the excess around the torso and shaped. The doll was removed and a wire was used to form the waste. The screening was shaped and cut to look like a robe, and then more screening was cut "wing shaped" and wired to the back. Then the whole thing was spray-painted gold and a gold wire halo was wired to the head. It's kind of hard to describe, but it looks very cool.

I make a different angel ornament every year to give to family and friends, and while I have made some girl-looking ones and some boy-looking ones, they are mostly genderless (and faceless, actually).

Anonymous said...

God does not "need" to provide us with ANYTHING. He provides us with Guardian Angels because He wants to. As to why He prefers to do things that way ... well, that's a matter for interesting theological and intellectual speculation.

My tendency is to answer the "why" questions is "Doing it that way probably leads to greater love."

Maggie said...

Sts Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are usually depicted as male angels, but I think other than that angels are usually female (or fat little babies) in artwork.

Angels are a beautiful gift we have in our Church... I think we've neglected appreciating them in modern times because we don't want to appear superstitious or backward. However, in the day-to-day spiritual battles we deal with, why not ask for heavenly assistance?

DaveW said...

I think the checks are great no matter where you write them. You never know when something like that will show up as a sign from God to someone else.

When I was coming to believe these little messages seemed to come at me from everywhere. No matter where I looked God was encouraging me to get off the dime and come. The cross around the lady's neck at the dry cleaners. The sign outside the post office for the parish Fish Fry. Go ahead and write that Blessed Virgin Mary check at the GAP, maybe the clerk will be staring at it in wonder when you leave the store.

As far as angels, I tend to think we get caught up in the gender question too easily when it comes to God and angels, and risk missing the real message. Male, female...angels may be neither at least as we perceive gender.

bam-bam said...

Dear SMM:
Happy new year, and thank you for all of your comments and guidance. I had to giggle at the question that prompted your commentary on the sex of angels, as it reminded me of the title of a short story by Jamaican Author, Olive Senior called "Do Angels Wear Brassieres?" The answer of course is "...Only the lady angels need to".

Jade Dunlop said...

Most angels tend to look feminine - I've never seen one that didn't have pretty long hair and girly faces. Even the old paintings of Sts. Michael, Raphael and Gabriel portrayed them with somewhat feminine features. Also, the angelic, flowing robes tend to cover up any "telltale" signs of gender body-wise. So, maybe some of your mom's angels are are guys - just really feminine-looking ones.

Anonymous said...

I believe Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are archangels...not just any angels!

Katherine said...

Dear Sister,

I wonder if you could point me towards some saint's writing on the purpose of Lent. We (all two of us) have recently revived the public recitation of the rosary and so far during a three month period only one other person has shown up. This is fine, really, as the main point is to give people the opportunity to come and stay constant without pouting that we're the only ones there. However, we are hoping to recruit some others during Lent. There is something of a liturgical guilt trip and we'd like to use it to good end.
I'm trying to put together a short article for the parish newsletter for February but I'd like to find something substantive to back me up about the purposes of Lent: prayer, good works and such. Please help!

Anonymous said...

When I was about 4 years old... this would have been in the early 1950's... my Mom and Pop took us to a local creek for the afternoon. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Buddy came along with us. I was the youngest child, and was playing by myself near the edge of the creek, but only about 20 feet away from my parents and my Aunt and Uncle, who were all sitting around a small campfire talking. I took a notion to walk out into the creek and did so, and promptly stepped off into a deeper part of the creek and sank out of sight. I still remember the silence and beauty of that strange underwater world as I sank down to the bottom of the stream. The very next thing that happened was a large hand reached down and grabbed me, and pulled me out, and I began to wail and cry. It was my Uncle Buddy who had saved me, and after that he often told what had happened. They had all been sitting around the campfire talking when he heard a voice say "LOOK!" and he looked up just in time to see me go under. No one else heard anything. Had an Angel not warned him and had he not seen me, and acted, I would surely have drowned.

Ida said...

Thank you for answering my question, sister! ^_^

Anonymous said...

When people ask me, "Isn't it difficult to be celibate?", I reply, "No, it is just like being in heaven."

There's another line of yours that I'm stealing. Thanks, Sister.

Lola said...

I decided that after years of being an angel collector, that now that I have little darlings who create lots of macaroni art and other such stuff for christmas decorations, that I would "release" my Christmas Angels that didn't actually fit on the tree. They all happen to be 'female' and I just passed my favorite one on this eveing to a neighbor who is moving.

I do belive that angels probably help us out often and we just don't recognize them because they're wearing "Red Sox" or "Cubs" shirts. (For certain my angel if he or she would ever appear would be wearing one of those shirts just because I'm a Cardinals fan!)

It's true Sr. too many things to list of things that should NOT have our lady's image let alone, angels, saints or our sweet Jesus' face.

God Bless you Sr. Mary Martha!

Michelle (mkc photography) said...

My favorite images to photograph are angels in cemeteries (yes, I know, my mother finds it odd as well) - almost every one I've encountered has been female, until I came upon a statue of Michael the Arcangel in a tumbledown little cemetery in Camden, NJ. I wonder if the female form is seen to be more sympathetic for those in mourning? I was surprised to see him standing atop a grave, skewering a stone serpent...a lovely piece of artwork, but really quite rare. Great post, Sister - I enjoyed reading!