Angels. We find them everywhere: Christmas trees, Christmas cards, in gift shops, on necklaces, in stained glass windows, as statues, standing guard near the crib of an infant child, and we see them on television. Remember the show, Touched by an Angel? We hear of them in song and poetry, in paintings, and this Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael Archangels. They are among the mighty angels who constantly stand guard before God but who we hear of in the scriptures. I have a special admiration for St. Michael since the grade school I and my siblings attended was St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School back in the Chicago suburbs.
These angels are no pushovers. They are not relegated to standing atop a Christmas tree or looking cute in the window of a Hallmark gift shop. The Book of Revelation for today’s Mass creates quite a scene:
War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night.
They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death.
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them." – Revelation 12: 7 – 12.
While Revelation writes in symbolic language, the truth remains. God created angels, so the scriptures tell us, essentially as messengers, as ones who deliver his will and stand as servants of God.
Michael is the defender; the one in battle against the enemies of God – both those against ancient Israel and as a defense against the fallen angels, principally Satan himself.
Gabriel is familiar to us as the angel who came to a young Jewish maiden named Mary, in Nazareth more than 2, 000 years ago and requested she accept God’s will for her and for all humanity as the mother of the Son of God. Or, as a first grader recently told me, "He wanted Mary to get God."
Raphael is found in the Old Testament story of Tobit. He guides Tobit’s son through a series of adventures which lead to a happy ending. Raphael is recognized as the one who heals. So Michael protects; Gabriel announces; and Raphael guides.
Is this belief in angels just a pious projection of the qualities of God? Why can’t God do all this on his own? Why would he need “angels” to carry out these tasks? Well, the scriptures and Jesus himself in today’s Gospel make multiple references to angels. This belief has remained in the conscious memory of our Christian Catholic faith and it certainly seems to make sense for God to employ such spiritual beings to carry out his work in creation.
For me, angels bring comfort and assurance that God wishes to communicate with us by the use of a host of messengers. We are not alone.
As Psalm 138 sings in today’s Responsorial verse:
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord!