One of the opportunities I have as Assistant Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.
Reflections on the Word | Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels | September 29, 2018
“You are an angel!” We have likely heard that expression uttered to us or have said it to others. Maybe we heard it from a friend to whom we have given a hand at a difficult time; from an office colleague, from friends we helped bring back together after some difficulty between them. Maybe we said it to those who cared for us at a vulnerable moment or when we were ill: “You are an angel.”
When I was growing up, there was a rather famous television series – Highway to Heaven – starring Michael Landon. It told the story of an angel – temporarily exiled to earth – who was given ‘assignments’ by God to assist people who needed help so that he could ‘earn his wings.’ Sometimes the people he helped were eager for it; other times they resisted. The angel, who called himself Jonathan and his companion, Mark, helped make people’s lives better and reminded them of spiritual truths they had neglected and forgotten.
While this pop culture presentation of angels – and the many others that have come since – are heart-warming and contain a good moral message – they also serve to remind us that angels are not just the spiritual beings of heaven which we celebrate today, but anyone in our lives who we know is there for a divine purpose. And that purpose is nothing more or less than mirroring the way in which God’s love comes to us.
The word angel – from the Greek work meaning “messenger” traces roots further back in Hebrew to the term malak, which referred to anyone who was ‘sent’ to do something for someone else. It is ironic that we have a feast to remember the archangels, in that the biblical malak, the biblical angel, was never meant to be noted for themselves. Rather, they represented God; they spoke for God; acted on God’s behalf, and mediated between God and people. The message was never about the messenger!
Angels were often also seen as defenders of God’s plan for the world or as those who fight against evil forces or demons. This image of angels is found in today’s first reading options from the Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation. The style of writing in both – called ‘apocalyptic’ – is reflective of a time in the history of the Jewish people – in the case of the Book of Daniel – and of the Christian Church – as in Revelation – where there was a fervent desire for God to intervene in a new way to restore justice and peace and harmony in a world that seemed desperately out of whack and careening towards chaos.
And the reading from Revelation says that John heard the loud voice from heaven and Michael leading a battle against the dragon, the symbol of evil. But the loud voice speaks about how believers in Christ defeated the accuser by the word of truth and testimony.
And the psalmist says something similar – ‘in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise.’ The psalmist will be like God’s messenger – God’s angel – to others.
There is an interesting interplay between the power of angels and the power of God in these readings.
In Christian art angels are seen as striking powerful figures – especially the three great archangels celebrated today – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
And yet, for all the authority and power of these messengers of God, the Gospel of John reminds us subtly that all that power is in service to the will of God: the angels of God will ascend and descend in service to Christ, the Son of Man.
And that brings me back to the phrase “You are an angel.” We are not these spiritual beings depicted in the Bible, or in art. But because we are Christians – sharers in the Spirit of power that Jesus has given to his People, the church, all of us are messengers of the divine presence in the world.
But not only us – all of God’s children can be God’s messengers to us, even unexpectedly or unintentionally. We may see God’s presence in the lives and in the love of our children. We may experience it in joyful family events or in special moments when all seems right with the world. We may also see it in those who walk with us through times of adversity and difficulty. We may experience angelic presence in those who challenge us to be better or feel the call of God as if from an angel when we encounter our brothers and sisters in need who are poor or neglected or persecuted.
Where have you felt the presence of an angel of God in your life?
Today is a day we can give thanks for the angels – the ones we can see and the ones we cannot – who bring the message and purpose of God to us and reflect God’s love and power into our lives. And, in turn, we can give thanks for the times we have been given the honor of being a messenger, ‘an angel’ to others.
God give you peace!