That Cardinal In Your Garden

Oh yes, they’re beautiful. Who could see that flash of red against a field of snow and not be struck by their beauty? Cardinals are one of those bird species that you never hear anyone complaining about. Seven states claim them as their official birds. They don’t migrate, so they’re around us most of the year. Both the males and females sing a variety of glorious melodies. They’re beautiful backyard companions. And some people, even some Christians, think that they’re messengers from God.  

There’s certainly nothing Christian about this belief. If you do a little research you’ll quickly see that it’s promoted by folks with decidedly un-Christian beliefs—folks like psychics and New Agers of all varieties. And yet some Christians seem to believe that seeing a cardinal means seeing God’s messenger, almost as if it’s written in Holy Scripture. Many folks go a little bit further in their cardinal “gospel” and believe that this bird is actually the spirit of a dead relative who is visiting them. Where these beliefs originated is hard to say. It seems to have just appeared in our not-quite-orthodox quasi-Christianity and grown more popular due to social media. No particular author or source is ever cited.  

Now, can God use a cardinal as a messenger? We Catholics certainly believe so. But I’m speaking here of the Cardinals of the Church and not the bird, of course. It’s these men whose red robes gave the bird its name. They wear red as the symbol of the blood they’re willing to shed in defense of our faith. But certainly God could use a simple bird as HIs messenger. He’s God, so He can do anything, with anything, for any purpose He chooses. And He’s already told us about His messengers.  

Scriptures tells us quite a bit about angels. The word means “messenger of God.” The Bible describes how the Lord sends HIs angels to communicate with us. To begin with, angels terrify us. When they visit, the first thing they say are words to comfort and reassure us. These aren’t your chubby Hallmark cherubs. Angels are big warriors, armed and fit for defeating the “powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) that St. Paul writes about. The Book of Revelation leaves no doubt about their strength and power. God has countless angels at HIs command and He gives them watch over us, to protect us and guide us. Catholics believe that each one of us is protected by a specific guardian angel and that we can ask for that protection and guidance whenever we need it. They watch over us during our lives and serve as our companions when we leave this world. Many of us can tell stories of those times in our lives when we felt the presence of our angel helping us through an especially difficult time. We know that angels are real and are sent to help us and remind us of God’s love for us. Why? Because He has told us so.  

So why would we put more faith in a pretty red bird than in the mighty angels who serve at the Lord’s command? I think many folks don’t foster a relationship with the angels, but they still crave a deep connection with God. And so they see a pretty bird and they want it to be more than just a pretty bird. They want it to be His messenger. They’re forgetting that we’re all surrounded by His messengers every moment of our lives. They don’t see the clouds of angels walking among us, waiting for us to ask them for their help. As Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane, He called on an angel to be with Him. “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him”(Luke 22:43). If Jesus calls forth angels, shouldn’t we? I love the pretty cardinals in my garden and when I see one, it reminds me of the great gift of God’s messengers and my need for the comfort, strength, and guidance of His angels.  

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” 

              —Psalm 91:11


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brian H. Gill
    Jun 26, 2017 @ 00:31:43

    I’ve run into some – – – odd – – – beliefs, including the surprisingly-durable one about burying a statue of [specific saint] to boost property value. But the ‘cardinals are angels’ one is new to me. But like the fellow said: there’s one born every minute. 😉

    Thanks for sharing this. And that ‘cardinal’ photo.


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