29 September 2010. Feast of the Archangels Rafael, Michael and Gabriel
Daniel 7, 9-14 or Revelations 12, 7-12; Psalm 138; John 1, 47-51
Angels fascinate us. They enter into our lives in childhood and they never leave. Popular culture never wants angels to disappear from our consciousness. Well, no wonder because that’s what angels are: they are everywhere. We see them in the movies like the German film, Angels of Desire, and its American remake, City of Angels. We see them also on TV like the soap opera, Pilyang Kerubin (The Mischievous Cherubim) or Supernatural. We hear about them in songs like Carrie Underwood’s Angels Brought Me Here or the Christmas song, Angels We Have Heard on High. We see them in pictures, paintings, statues, cross-stitch patterns and refrigerator magnets. In the last few years until the present, we also see the rising popularity of guardian angels: it is claimed that we can know our guardian angels by birthdate.
Historically, the belief in angels appears in most, if not all religions. We have the kuribu of the Acadian culture, the angels of Assyria (an angel decorates the Assyrian palace, now displayed in the British Museum), Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar’s father believed that a cherub had been sent to make his work succeed) and Persia.
We have the Jewish angels in the Old Testament: the cherubs of Genesis who guard the entrance to Paradise, the angels of Lot who delivered him, the angels of Moses whom God promised to go before him, the cherubim of Ezekiel (angels of fire with the face of animals), the seraphs of Isaiah who sit on the throne of God, Rafael who cures Tobit.
In the New Testament, we hear of Gabriel at the Annunciation. And Michael in the book of Daniel, Revelations and the Catholic Epistle of St. Jude.
Finally, the individual guardian angels who appear during the Middle Ages. Moreover, there are many kinds of angels: the good angels and the evil angels like Lucifer. There are even hierarchies of angels: from the seraphs who sits on the throne of God to the cute little angels we all love in paintings and in Christmas trees.
However, the Church has never defined this belief that every individual soul has a guardian angel; thus, it is not an article of faith. In other words, you will not cease to be Catholic if you do not believe it. The belief has not been declared binding for all Christians or has not been definitively proposed for the assent of the whole Catholic Church. It is, nevertheless, in the mind and tradition of the Church as St. Jerome said, “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.”
As many as the kinds of angels, we have various meanings of angels. We see them as attendants to God’s throne. We see them as messengers of God. We see them as divine agents who protect the world. We also see them as our personal bodyguards.
However, the archaic concept or religious imagery of an angel is simple but profound: they are units of the presence of God in the world. Scripture tells us in its portrayal of angels that the world is more than it appears to be. It has a purpose; we’re part of it, and we’re not alone. Angels guide and protect human beings, not just because they’re nice heavenly creatures, but because they are cooperating with God’s will for our salvation. From the Psalms to Revelation, they give glory to God through their praise. They brought news of miraculous births to Sarah, Zechariah and Mary. Angels guided Joseph and the Magi. Angels ministered to Jesus in the desert. They met the women at the tomb and, as Jesus went to heaven, angels pointedly asked the apostles, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1, 11)
Today we honor the angels who have been named in Scripture; and all of whose names in Hebrew are centered on God (“El”): Michael (Who is like God), Gabriel (My power is God), and Raphael (God heals). All of them tell us what angels are basically: they help the Lord to bring to fulfillment His plan of salvation. They are part of what we say in the Nicene Creed, “Creater of the seen and unseen….” They interact with human beings, not manipulating us, but simply communicating God’s will.
It is good to note that praying to angels is not worshipping angels. Worship and adoration is rightfully the Trinity’s. St. Augustine wrote that angels “…do not desire us to sacrifice to themselves, but to Him whose sacrifice they know themselves to be in common with us. For we and they together are the one City of God….” We communicate to angels because we love them, as we love all of God’s creatures, and because, as Scripture tells us, they’re here to help.
For example, we know St. Michael because of Revelation 12: how he fought in the battle against Satan who was in the form of a dragon. The devotion to St. Michael become intense in the 19th century when Europe was in the midst of revolution and social change. A large part of it was the experience of violence and evil. There are forces that demean our humanity and go against God’s will. In the Philippines, we have many: the Maguindanao massacre, the hostage crisis, and the recent the fraternity-related violence after the bar exams on September 26. We know the struggles against jueteng or gambling lords, and the perpetual battle against graft and corruption. And thus, the battle imagery and the triumph of the angel Michael appeals to us. We experience this struggle between good and evil within ourselves and in the world in general.
And thus angels in the bible reveal to us certain truths: that the world belongs to God and He has a plan for it. He is working mysteriously to redeem this creation which He loves. He wants to carry this plan to fulfillment. Angels enter into human lives to assist us in discerning what that plan is, helping embrace this plan and assisting us in working with God to bring it to fulfillment.
Pop culture angels help us achieve our personal dreams. But the angels of the Judeo-Christian tradition, that which we find in the bible, tell us something that is more awesome and bigger: the whole world as God made it, and as God is re-creating it with our help.
It is simple: just as angels work for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. So should we.
Let us end with the prayer we learn in childhood:
Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side; to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.