Nearly everyone is fascinated by angels, whether they are into religion or not. You may recall the popular TV series Touched by an Angel,starring Della Reese, Roma Downey, Toby Keith that ran from 1994- 2003.
Angels have a big role in the Bible and in our history. They are a part of our dogmatic Catholic tradition. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith.”
The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. For Jews, it is impossible to not believe in the literal beings known as the angels. The Old Testament makes numerous references to them. For them it’s an article of faith that cannot be ignored if you want to be a sincere and devout Jew. Witness the angel that led Israel’s camp and protected them from Pharaoh.
The same is especially true of Christians. In addition to what is given to us in the Old Testament, almost every book of the New Testament shows us that the angels are a real and active force in our lives. And since in the life of Jesus as man and his eternal existence as God consists of numerous encounters with the angels, you cannot believe in Jesus as Christ without encountering angels.
So what are angels?
St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'” With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”.
IAs purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. (330)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in Paragraphs 329-330:
Christian doctrine thus teaches that the angels are spiritual beings who were created by God to serve him. Some say they can appear in human form and interact with us, but those bodies are only temporary illusions and pass away when their interaction with certain humans ends. As purely spiritual beings, angels thus do not have DNA and those bodies may feel tangible but are not part of the angelic nature and thus vanish after the encounter because they have no use for physical bodies as we do.
What is the purpose of the angels?
The purpose of all of the angels is to serve, and praise God, worship, and pray to God. In the process of serving God, they also protect us, pray for us, inspire us, encourage us, and guide us during our journey on Earth. Some early Christian traditions indicate that even after our death, the angels continue to guide us in our journey to our final place, whether it is to Heaven or to Hell. It is speculative that those who have to go through the final state of purification on the way to Heaven known as Purgatory might also have their guardian angels (Psalm 91:9-12; Matthew 18:1-4,10) with them during their time of purification of sin.
And yes, everyone has a guardian angel.
Our Guardian Angels love us and do everything within God’s Will to protect us from harm. Sometimes though we reject God’s protection, and by consequence their protection too, we have to deal with the consequences of our sins when we do not repent. (From Paragraph 336 of the Church’s Catechism .)
Angels also pray for us. We see in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 that the angels continue to sing and pray to God, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!” We also see in Tobit 12:12 and Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 that along with the Saints who are in Heaven, the angels serve as intercessors for us in prayer to God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:10 not to despise or bring harm to children, “for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Cf. Catholic 365.com for the above information.
St. Gregory the Great notes that angels do not have names unless and until they are given a mission from God to announce a message. There are untold millions of angels in heaven, all created as pure spirits, in continual praise and adoration of our God. Scripture also makes clear that at great events of salvation history, God sends an “archangel” to proclaim a message.
The three Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are three of the seven archangels named in Sacred Scripture and all three have important roles in the history of salvation.
Saint Michael is the “Prince of the Heavenly Host,” the leader of all the angels. His name is Hebrew for “Who is like God?” and was the battle cry of the good angels against Lucifer and his followers when they rebelled against God. He is mentioned four times in the Bible, in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, and in Revelation.
Michael, whose forces cast down Lucifer and the evil spirits into Hell, is invoked for protection against Satan and all evil. Pope Leo XIII, in 1899, having had a prophetic vision of the evil that would be inflicted upon the Church and the world in the 20th century, instituted a prayer asking for Saint Michael’s protection to be said at the end of every Mass. (I’ll include that prayer at the bottom of this blog, though it was suppressed with the Vatican II changes in the liturgy.)
Christian tradition recognizes four offices of Saint Michael: (i) to fight against Satan (ii) to guard or rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. (iii) to be the champion of God’s people, (iv) to call us away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment.
Gabriel is, he who stand before God.” (Luke 1, 19)
Saint Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” is mentioned four times in the Bible. Most significant are Gabriel’s two appearances in the New Testament: to announce the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and at Incarnation of the Word when he announces to Mary that she will be the Mother of the Most High . He again appeared to Joseph in a dream and guided them on their way to Egypt to flee from Herod’s clutches.
Christian tradition suggests that it is he who appeared to the shepherds, and also that it was he who “strengthened” Jesus during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
“I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tobit 12:15)
Saint Raphael, whose name means “God has healed” because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is the only book in which he is mentioned. His office is generally accepted by tradition to be that of healing and acts of mercy.
Raphael is also identified with the angel in John 5:1-4 who descended upon the pond and bestowed healing powers upon it so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity he was suffering.
And let’s not forget our unnamed guardian angels. I’ve dubbed my own guardian angel Claretia— after the famous guardian angel Clarence—in the old movie with Jimmy Stewart it’s a Wonderful Life. All I know is she’s gotten me out of a helluva a lot of scrapes—near car accidents and falls and all. That’s what guardian angels do for us, ya know. They just watch over us Their Feast Day for our guardian angels is October 2nd. Do you remember the prayer your mother taught you?(I don’t know whether young parents still teach their children this little prayer or not.) But you can teach it to them now.
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here;
ever this day be at my side; to light, to guard, to rule, to guide. Amen
And here’s Psalm 91 that speaks of the protection of the angels . . . .
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
I have always recommended this psalm to people who were experiencing any kind of trauma, no matter what the kind, for them to pray often. It reflects what soldiers on the battlefield have often known: bullets whizzing by them and not harming them. Their angel protecting them!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
And here’s the old prayer to St. Michael.
Saint Michael 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 power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ~ September 14, 2021
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John12:24.)
Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because we’re celebrating a favorite feast day of mine because I have had a along association with the Cistercian (Trappist) Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville, Virginia, nestled on the Western side of the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shore of the Shenandoah River. I’m also thinking of the issue of Dying to Self these September days as I prepare to return to my Diocese of Orlando and do more priestly work again.
Before the pandemic many of us would have shuddered and quaked in our sneakers at the thought of Dying to Self, but then it was forced on us, wasn’t it?
It goes against everything our American culture tells us we should do—Look Out For No. 1. A psychologist some time ago did a study that showed that there has been a distinct rise in more individualistic words such as “choose,” “get,” “feel,” “unique,” “individual” and “self” and a decrease in community-focused words such as “obliged,” “give,” “act,” “obedience,” “authority,” “pray” and “belong.” No sign of Dying to Self here, it seems. Let alone the Cross.
If you name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years or just over the duration of this pandemic. . . how did you deal with them? How did they affect you? What about Dying to Self? Can you ~ do you ~ do that?
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John12:24.)
In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . .
If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)
Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions. A priest-friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:
My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).Can you get it?
Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:
I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.
II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. I
II / When I am powerless, then I am strong.
What is a koan, you might ask? A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices: “To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution is supposed to come suddenly.”
So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world, why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idle waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I somehow receive the gift of some in wisdom, as I have from time to time when I have been attentive to my prayer-life.
Jesus, of course, shows us the way. Let’s look at the famous “Kenosis” passage of Philippians Chapter 2:6-11 “Kenosis”—meaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
There it is, dear friends! Jesus gave his life for us. The movement was downward. Earthward. Earth-bound. Into the muck. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning muck.So, that’s what Dying to Self involves—getting down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and those of our loved ones and those we are called to serve. Being obedient to what life demands of us. And beckons us to, whether we might like it not. Real Life elicits from our inner depths our best resources. Then . . .
Then . . . God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And so, too, with us! We will be lifted up! I have experienced this several times. My longtime readers know that I’ve struggled with manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, and other issues with it, and later Parkinson’s disease, from which I received some sort of a miraculous release, according to my neurologist and very often financial struggles,like many of you.
But Jesus is faithful! Dying and rising is a continual process in nature and in our lives as well. We are taken down in some burden or crisis but, through faith, we are lifted up again! This is the Paschal Mystery. The Pasch ~ Passover ~ Passage ~Transition ~Transformation ~ Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives is celebrated for us Catholics throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.
Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery ~ this dying and rising ~ in your own life. And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross. I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!
Lift high the cross The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world Adore His sacred name
Led on their way By this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God In conquering ranks combine. Refrain:
Each newborn servant Of the Crucified
Bears on the brow The seal of Him who died. Refrain
O Lord, once lifted On the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.
So shall our song Of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified For victory. Refrain:
Now here is the hymn for your listening pleasure. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.