September 29, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Angels glorify God and serve as messengers

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Exult with him, you heavens; glorify him, all you angels of God”
(Dt 32:43).

The publication date for this column is on Sept. 29, 2017, the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, archangels. These are three angels who are mentioned by name in the Bible, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the mission and ministry of God’s holy angels.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#328-336) tells us what the Church teaches about angels. First of all, they exist. Not in the romanticized images we’re used to seeing, because they are, after all, “non-corporeal” beings and therefore generally invisible, but angels really do exist as servants and messengers of God.

As purely spiritual creatures, the catechism tells us, 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).

Secondly, these spiritual beings interact with us as God’s messengers and as guardians or protectors of those who seek to do God’s will. “From infancy to death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care,” the catechism teaches. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (#336).

The book of Revelation tells us that at the dawn of time “war broke out in heaven,” and that the Archangel Michael and his angels battled against “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, and who deceived the whole world” (Rev 12:7, 9). Satan was defeated and was cast down to Earth along with his evil followers.

Satan and his devils exist among us today, but we believe that they were defeated ultimately by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The angels give witness to Christ’s victory over evil, and they continually praise God for his goodness and mercy! This gives us hope and encouragement as we struggle to remain faithful to God’s will for each of us.

The Archangel Raphael appears in the Old Testament’s Book of Tobit where he reveals that he was sent to heal Tobit’s blindness and deliver Sarah, the future wife of Tobiah, Tobit’s son, from the demon Asmodeus “who kills every man she marries on their wedding night before the marriage can be consummated” (Tb 3:8).

In the New Testament, only the archangels Gabriel and Michael are mentioned by name, but a verse added to St. John’s Gospel (Jn 5:1–4) in the second century A.D. refers to the pool of Bethesda, where the multitude of the infirm lay awaiting the moving of the water by an angel of the Lord who descended at certain times into the pond and stirred the water. It was said that whoever entered the pond after the stirring of the water was healed of all infirmities. Because of the healing role assigned to Raphael, whose name means “God’s healing,” this particular messenger of mercy is generally associated with the Archangel Raphael.

The Archangel Gabriel is familiar to us because of his role in the Nativity narrative in the Gospel of Luke. It is Gabriel who announces the births of John the Baptist to Zechariah and of our Savior to Mary. Christian art throughout the past 2,000 years has depicted Gabriel in a variety of images, but none of these can quite capture this amazing figure who proclaimed the birth of the Savior and his precursor, John the Baptist.

We don’t usually see the angels of God, but if we pay close attention we can recognize their presence. In moments of fear or temptation, but also when we rejoice in the goodness of God in the liturgy, the spiritual companionship of angels can make a significant difference in our daily lives. Especially when we need help battling evil and injustice; when we need healing for ourselves or others; and when we need the spiritual companionship of guiding and protecting angels, the Church tells us that “from infancy to death” we are surrounded by their watchful care.

It would be easy to dismiss all this talk of angels as wishful thinking or the stuff of childhood, but the Scriptures and Church teaching are quite serious about both the existence and the ministry of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael and all the holy angels of God.

And so, we pray in the collect for today’s Mass: “O God, who disposes in marvelous order ministries both angelic and human, graciously grant that our life on Earth may be defended by those who watch over us as they minister perpetually to you in heaven.”

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, pray for us. Now and in life’s most challenging moments, be our protectors and our guides! †

Local site Links: