28th September 2014.
The Holy Archangels
John 1: 47-51
Tony van Vuuren
“St Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.”
The opening line of the ancient prayer to St Michael. This weekend we break away from the sequence of the Ordinary Sunday Cycle and celebrate the patronal feast of our parish St Michael’s; honouring our patron saint, Archangel Michael together with the other two Archangels; Gabriel and Raphael.
It is a belief of faith that angels exist. We say it in our profession of faith in the Nicene Creed; “I believe in God who created all things visible and invisible”; which of course includes the Angels. The theology of the Church teaches us that angels are spirits without bodies who have superior intelligence, power, and most of all, holiness. Each angel is a “saint” because he dwells perfectly in the presence of God. In all who they are, and in all that they do, angels provide a perfect example for us to follow as they dwell in intimate and affectionate relationship with God, praising Him, and loving Him both in heaven as well as wherever they are sent.
The functions of the three Archangels whom we venerate this weekend correspond to three major thrusts of Jesus’ ministry; announcing good news, healing the sick and delivering the oppressed. They are particularly important to us in the Christian life, both for the messages they have brought from God to mankind, as well as for the examples they provide us in what it means to be holy; a quality which we strive for in our Christian life.
Michael – meaning “Who is like God?” … serves as the leader of God’s holy angels; whose name is their war cry against Satan and his followers. As one of the chief princes of heaven, Saint Michael wields the strength of God to lead heaven’s powers in victory over the forces of hell. He is the defender of Holy Mother Church and stands ready to help us in both our personal and collective battles against the forces of the Satan. The reading from Revelation gives us a dramatic account of St Michael on his mission. Our parish is indeed honoured to have such a powerful patron and we should all make daily use of his patronage, saying at least the prayer to St Michael, instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.
Gabriel, whose name means “God is Mighty”, is God’s messenger. He announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Saviour. Raphael, whose name means “God Heals”, is associated with God’s healing power in the book of Tobit; helping Tobit and Sarah.
How often do you think about angels and the influence they have in your life? In some ways it is easier to accept the reality of Satan and his cohort of fallen angels, than it is to recognize the heavenly spiritual bodies who remain faithful to God. As we celebrate the archangels today, however, we should consider the role of all angels. Because they are called to help advance God’s kingdom, it’s not unthinkable that angels would have a role to play in the lives of God’s people—- you and me; so called, our guardian angel. St Jerome said that each one of us has an angel to help and guide us and inspire us with the greatness of God.
The Gospel gives the account of Jesus telling Nathanael, one of his newest disciples, that he will “see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus was telling Nathanael, and He is telling us, that heaven can be opened for us. Just as Nathanael will receive consolation from God and from his angels, so can we. What a compelling image! Jesus is the gateway to heaven, the focal point of the communion between heaven and earth.
We know from scripture that God’s angels played a significant part in the life of Jesus on earth. As messengers and ministers from heaven they gave comfort, strength, encouragement and guidance; and they are still at work today. You can be sure that they will do the same for the RCIA candidates presented to us this weekend, as they make their way to full acceptance to the Catholic Church. Angels communicate God’s wisdom to us. They protect us in times of danger, and they comfort us in times of trial. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in mass, the meeting place between heaven and earth.
Every time mass is celebrated, the heavens are opened in a special way. The Catholic Catechism says, “In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God.” At every consecration, angels descend to the altar, bringing heavenly grace and blessings.
True to their name, they act as messengers. They descend to testify to the miracle that is taking place in our midst. But the angels’ ministry is not just to descend on the altar and minister to us. They also ascend to heaven, bringing glory to God. They bring the songs, hymns and prayers that we offer to our heavenly father. They join us as we say “Holy, holy , holy “ to the Lord God of hosts. They join us as we sing or say “Glory to God in the highest.”
But it’s not just our prayers that bring glory to God. Everything that we bring to Him—instead of keeping to ourselves or seeking answers else-where—-gives God glory. The angels are here on the altar, ascending and descending. They are here, taking all of our offerings to the Father and bring His blessings and grace to us in return.
God has set forth as humanity’s ultimate destiny to be raised higher than the angels. The very reason why Lucifer, the fallen angel we know as Satan, refused to serve God. To use the words of St Paul, our future will far exceed that of the angels. The angels of heaven are God’s messengers sent to help us realize our ultimate goal of perfect communion with God in heaven.
We are not in this battle alone. Maybe we need Saint Michael’s superhuman strength to battle the evils of particular temptations or sins in our life, so let us call upon him for heavenly aid! If we need Saint Gabriel as a source of heavenly power to become a better person of God, then we need to ask him for help.
If we need God’s healing of deep wounds in our life, then we should seek Saint Raphael’s assistance. May their angelic holiness inspire us and their leadership direct us to embrace, in our minds and in our hearts, that holiness which manifests the perfectly loving essence of who God is and what God does, so that we might be transformed more fully — as individuals and as a Christian community — into God’s holy people and dwell forever in heaven with Him.