Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Visit from a Friend of Dudley's from The Bishop's Wife

I’m not particularly fond of angel pictures, neither tv nor features. I never got into Touched by an Angel, or Highway to Heaven, and even Holly Hunter’s grittier Saving Grace doesn’t draw me in.

But there was an angel named Dudley who made an impression. I saw The Bishop’s Wife as a child, and I was entranced by Cary Grant, the most suave, engaging messenger of God there could ever be. A God who can make Cary Grant surely can do anything.

The Catholic Church recognizes these divine agents (angels that is, not actors). They are not people who have died--as Hollywood often depicts--but heavenly beings in a celestial hierarchy: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels, and angels.

“St. Thomas teaches us (Summa Theologica I:113:4) that only the lowest orders of angels are sent to men, and consequently that they alone are our guardians, though Scotus and Durandus would rather say that any of the members of the angelic host may be sent to execute the Divine commands.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

In The Bishop’s Wife, Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) prays for help in building a new cathedral. Dudley arrives in answer to that prayer, and becomes a part of the Bishop’s life, which includes his wife, Julia (Loretta Young) and daughter Debbie.

What the film captures so well is that moment of Henry in prayer, with Dudley entering in response, and then, his work done and guidance given, his leaving, with no trace of his being there. Except for Henry, who has a dull feeling about something he can’t quite remember. And yes, I had faith that this kind of story was theoretically possible and not a fairy tale.

An Angel at Her Elbow
The film was always a favorite of mine, but it took on more resonance about 15 years ago. My mother was trying to quit smoking, again. My niece had just been born, and my brother didn’t want any smoking near her. But my mother had been smoking for forty years, and they say that for some, the addiction to nicotine is harder to break than heroine.

One day my mother was shopping in the mall when she stopped to light up a cigarette outside of a fabric store. Out of nowhere there was a woman at her side, coming from her blind spot whom she only saw out of the corner of her eye. The woman touched her elbow, and said, “Please don’t smoke." My mother was completely startled. She turned to say something to her, and there was no one there—only a bunch of young mothers tending to children in strollers.

It’s such a cinematic moment, it would be so easy for me to film this story.

That was the last cigarette my mother smoked. She simply hasn’t had another since.

A little Divine intervention?

It could have been a woman who had lost someone to lung cancer, and was compelled to ask total strangers to stop smoking, and then was really good at running away, so as not to have a confrontation.

Yup. That’s possible.

It could have just been a coincidence that after that encounter, my mother was finally able to not light up again. Coincidences happen all the time.

Then again . . . it could have been an angel, visible for a moment, when that moment was most needed.