SEPTEMBER 29, 2011: SAINT MICHAEL, GABRIEL, AND RAPHAEL: JOHN 1:47-51
REPLETE WITH MYSTERY, the
world we live in displays fresh manifestations of its wondrous aspect as it
yields to the explorations of philosophers, the insights of poets, novelists
and painters, and, strikingly in recent times, the findings of the various
natural sciences. Repeatedly fashion changes as various expressions and
discoveries give rise to new ways of understanding our world; the cosmos,
society, and human nature itself exert influence on our ways of acting and even
of perceptions. Styles of dress are but a more obvious illustration of the
influence of changing fashion on people’s habits and taste; more subtle are the
changes in the concepts we form about the nature of our world, and the meaning
of life with its values and limits.
Today’s feast in which we celebrate the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael stimulate such reflections as we ask our self what significance does this commemoration have for each of us here at this liturgy. What role do angels have, in God’s Providential guidance of each of us persons as well as the operations of whole nations and the workings of the immense array of galaxies that we now know are subject to the same physical laws as our planet, the earth? For many persons living and educated in our Western secular society, the very existence of angels seems old-fashioned and more a feature of the primitive mentality and world view that has no place in our technological society. But then our times have seen multiplied the number of persons who have no belief in the reality of God, the immortality of the soul, the existence of the human spirit as a reality that constitute the human being. That so large a portion of our western society has become insensitive to the invisible world where, as revelation tells us, God is all in all, makes today’s feast in honor of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael all the more significant as a living testimony to our continuing firm belief in the existence and active roles of angels in the world, and, as the book of Revelation shows, in the whole of the cosmos.
The numerous references to angels and their activities found in the Bible are a feature of many books of the Bible, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. All four of the Gospels refer to their interventions in a variety of roles. Our Lord himself taught that each child has an angel who serves as a protector, and the Church has maintained the conviction that this guardian spirit accompanies us throughout life. It was not only in modern times that the existence of angels came to be questioned. In 1215 the IV Lateran Council saw the need to define as an article of Catholic faith the existence of angels. In recent times a number of capable authors have written entire book to witness to the continuing interventions of angels in diverse situations in the lives of persons of a variety of background. Some of these accounts are quite dramatic. I encountered some impressive instances of angelic interventions in the lives of two priest-monks in our Order who underwent striking conversions upon experiencing angelic action that profoundly altered their spiritual attitude. The one had written a publication on angels hardly a popular modern theme. When I asked him about his interest in the subject, he explained that he owed his life to his angel and that his realization of the ongoing importance of angels for us humans grew out of an experience he had when working on the construction of his monastery. The building is quite high being more than three stories and was nearing completion. He was laying brick on one of the walls, leaned over too far, and lost his balance. As he began to fall to what probably would have been his death, he suddenly felt a force exerted on each shoulder, from the front, over empty space that pushed him back on the structure so that he regained his balance. “I knew that it was my guardian angel who had saved me”, and he added that, reflecting on that experience he resolved to try to make angels better known and so wrote about them.
As the angel Raphael explained in the book of Tobias, he is one of seven who stands in God’s presence. Since God is present everywhere, angels are everywhere invisibly alert and active, behind the surface of our material world. Cardinal Newman expressed in his Apologia his sensitive awareness of their hidden and powerful actions in the workings of our world. He spoke of the angels as being so intricately implicated in their mission to this world that they were active even in the movement of the air, in the variations of light and of the human heart. He conceived that all the beauty of this world was a reflection of their presence behind the surface of things, and maintained that they who see the face God add splendor to the things of earth. That such a view of reality is more than poetical fancy is decidedly more plausible today when some of the best minds in science maintain that hidden worlds actively exert influence in the minute recesses of the subatomic matter of our cosmos.
As we celebrate this Eucharist today, then, may we join our heartfelt worship of the Father to that of the angels as we honor with them our Lord, Christ Jesus, who is the Angel of the Great Council, and who, as Paul tells us, is constituted “above all principality, power and dominion, and every name that can be named, not only in this world but also in the future.” (Eph 1:21) And may he bring us safely into that Divine Presence where God is all in all. Amen. Ω