Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel & Raphael
3 October 2010
The readings prescribed for this feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are not all obviously appropriate and one has to delve a little deeper to find their relevance and significance to us today. Only the second reading specifically mentions the Archangel Michael.
So who and what are angels and what role do they play in our lives?
The question becomes both more intriguing and meaningful when we consider angels and demons (the fallen angels).
In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, angels feature as key players as messengers of God performing a variety of tasks: warning, protecting, guiding, announcing, foretelling, consoling, threatening, fighting, killing, praising, liberating; attendants at God’s throne; intermediates between God and mankind. The importance of angels in God’s plan is reflected in the over 270 references to their intervention in scripture; and the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are mentioned by name.
The readings all point to the ultimate victory of good over evil.
The first reading tells of a vision that Daniel had in which he saw one who came like the son of man being welcomed into heaven before the throne of God. The son of man in the context of his vision refers to the holy people who have been victorious over evil; the saints which one day hopefully will include each one of us.
The second reading tells the story of the war amongst the angels in heaven and of the role played by the Archangel Michael in defeating the one called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world and his angels; the demons who were all banished to earth.
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells Nathanael that he is the unifying force between heaven and earth. Like the angels in Jacob’s ladder, Jesus is the gateway to eternal life in heaven; through Jesus we can overcome the powerful forces of evil that would keep us out of heaven.
Evil is a reality and we are at war.
God created all things and all things created were good.
All the angels were created good but amongst them were those who challenged the authority of God; those who envied God and craved to be like God – and war arose in heaven. But they were defeated by the good angels under the leadership of Michael and Satan and his followers were expelled from heaven forever. The name Michael means “Who is like God?” – the war cry of the archangel as he overpowered the dragon who is Satan and St Michael is honoured as the great protector of our faith and the Church.
We, humanity, experienced a similar fate. We were created good but were seduced into believing that we too could be like God – and we too were expelled. This I suppose logically should make us allies of Satan and while that is unfortunately often the case it is fortunately not inevitable.
We have the gift of free will and can choose between heaven and hell; Satan and his evil angels have made a final choice and are forever excluded from heaven.
The war that started amongst the angels in heaven now rages with great ferocity on earth. It’s a war being fought for our souls. God wants us in heaven and Satan wants to keep us out.
It’s so easy for us to dismiss the whole notion of evil, angels and demons as myth or fantasy – and that’s exactly the state of affairs that Satan prefers and exactly why it was necessary for God to come personally as Jesus to save us from eternal damnation. And of course the intervention of Jesus intensified the battle making things a lot rougher for us.
If we are not aware of being strongly challenged by Satan in our daily lives we have a problem – it means Satan no longer has to fight for our votes. (Speaking personally, I weary of the relentless battle and find that it gets no easier with age).
Probably the greatest quote in the Bible concerning Spiritual Warfare is from St. Paul in Ephesians (6:10-17). He wrote:
“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the evil spirits in the heavens. ….. Hold faith as a shield to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The conflict in our lives is that between what God wants for us and what which those who reject God want for us. We have a lot of ammunition at our disposal including prayer and our Guardian angels but nothing is more powerful than the grace received through the sacraments. Evil cannot overcome the grace of Christ. However receiving the sacraments doesn’t necessarily make us holy or invincible. The sacraments give us the grace and the strength for the battle but we have to shoulder the fight for ourselves.
Let me finish with four quotations from people who are a lot more knowledgeable and holier than I will ever be:
A quote from Pope JP II:
“‘Spiritual combat’ is another element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which we engage every day against the temptations, the evil suggestions that the demon tries to plant in our hearts.”
And then from Fr Gabrielle Amorth, who until 2000 was the chief exorcist in Rome:
“When I am asked how many demons there are, I answer with the words that the demon himself spoke through a demonic: ‘We are so many that, if we were visible, we would darken the sun.”
A quote from Pope Benedict XVI
“Whatever the less discerning theologians may say, the devil, as far as Christian belief is concerned, is a puzzling but real, personal and not merely symbolical presence. He is a powerful reality (the ‘prince of this world,’ as he is called by the New Testament, which continually reminds us of his existence), a baneful superhuman freedom directed against God’s freedom. This is evident if we look realistically at history, with its abyss of ever-new atrocities which cannot be explained by reference to man alone. On his own, man has not the power to oppose Satan, but the devil is not second to God, and united with Jesus we can be certain of vanquishing him. Christ is ‘God Who is near to us,’ willing and able to liberate us: that is why the Gospel really is ‘Good News.’
And final Pope JPII again:
“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians. The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel. Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.