ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE DEFEND US
Brothers and Sisters,
If you ask me, the best story written by Shakespeare is not Romeo and Juliet – though, of course, that tends to be the most famous of his works. Romeo and Juliet, at least for me, always came off as a muddled story since it tries to pass itself off as a romance, but the entire story revolves around the fact that things beyond our own control drive our actions and abilities. Setting aside the question of whether or not that is true, it does not play as a romantic idea at least to me.
From my viewpoint, the best Shakespeare story is Hamlet. It is rightly categorized as a tragedy but that is not to say that the story is a downer. Like Romeo and Juliet, the story focuses on things beyond our control that force the hands of the characters – forcing them to take action in a way that they otherwise would not have wanted to. The titular character, for example, is entirely driven by events that happen before the play even begins – the play itself opens with the revelation that Hamlet’s father, recently deceased, was in fact murdered by Hamlet’s uncle (his father’s brother). All of Hamlet’s actions throughout the rest of the play are responding to this revelation. He never becomes his own person – directing the course of his life – because he simply cannot escape the impact of the past and of other people in his life (similar to Juliet, Romero, and a number of other Shakespearean characters).
Without giving away the plot of the story, there is a moment when Hamlet, albeit briefly, realizes that he is not in control of the action surrounding his life. He says this famous line: “angels and ministers of grace, defend us [. . .] what is this, what shall we do (Act I Scene IV)?”
I am not one to think that Shakespeare was the best of writers or most clever, poignant, or insightful. I do think that we could learn from his practical insights. Most of the time, we will find that our lives are not so much self directed as merely responding to various emergencies and the needs of the people around us. This is the very reason that Hamlet cries out for “angels and ministers of grace” to be his defense. This is our big need as well, because we – like Hamlet, Juliet, and Romeo – are so often being thrown about by the needs of others and the stormy waters of the world.
You may remember that the main area of the Church where most of us sit is called the “nave” – it’s from the same Latin word from-which we get the word navy. The Church is the safe ship that sails us through the stormy tides and dangerous seas of Earthly chaos. The grace we get from the Sacraments and the rejuvenation we receive at Mass give us the ability to be actors in the world and not merely reactionaries to stormy weather.
God be near,