We celebrate the feast of three archangels today, September 29th. St. Gregory the Great says of the angels: “There are many spirits in heaven, but only the spirits who deliver a message are called angels.” Archangels like Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, “are those who proclaim messages of supreme importance…
“And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.”
Their names, Gregory says, tell the service they perform. “Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.
“Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power…
“So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.
“Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”
St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first foundation on Monte Argentario in Italy to St. Michael and he said the archangel preserved his community from harm. Paul was a Lombard. Historians say the Lombards believed the Saracens were stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century by Michael, which fostered devotion to the archangel afterwards.
In a world so convinced that human power is the only power, it’s comforting to have another level of power to look towards.
Two angels and the Lord Jesus Christ asked the same question in a garden. The scene recalls the first garden at the moment of exile: two angels, a fiery revolving sword guarding the way to the tree of life, and a weeping Eve (Genesis 3:24). In the garden of the tomb, Mary Magdalene is found weeping before two angels sitting at the head and foot of the space made vacant by the risen Christ—the Word of God who is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In the garden of Eden, God looked for Adam and Eve who went into hiding. In the garden of the resurrection, the hidden God is sought after by the heartbroken daughter of Eve.
Jesus’ body must have been stolen, Mary thought. Perhaps the gardener took it.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
At the sound of her name, Mary’s eyes were opened and she recognized Jesus, the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Overwhelmed and astonished with joy, she proceeded to resume her earthly relationship with Jesus, not realizing that the risen Christ had entered into a new condition and manner of relating to humankind.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
The work of the local Christ would soon give way to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The mission of the Son does not terminate in himself, but in the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Jesus had said during his earthly ministry, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). On this first apostolic assignment, Mary Magdalene is sent forth to gather Jesus’ family together in his Father’s name. By Pentecost, the band of frightened and doubting disciples will finally receive a fiery infusion of the Spirit to spread the good news from the empty tomb to the ends of the earth.
Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)
Hebrews 1:1-6; Psalm 97
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being,and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
From words to the Word, and from prophets to the very Son of God, the anonymous author of Hebrews sweeps us into the “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” that the Nicene Creed epitomized in the maturing Christian consciousness of the fourth century.
Christ is the radiance, brightness, or refulgence (apaugasma, ἀπαύγασμα) of the Father’s glory. The Father is identified in this passage as simply “God” (theos, θεός). “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” Jesus told Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). God is not a vague, impersonal being, but a Father from whom the Son is eternally begotten, and from whom the Spirit eternally proceeds.
The Father never speaks alone, but always through the Son and in the Spirit. The indivisible Trinity was present in the theophany of the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:1-22). “Before Abraham came to be, I AM,” Jesus told the Jews, identifying himself with God (John 8:58). The Son speaks and acts only in union with the Father (John 5:19; 12:49).
In the third century, Origen reflected at length on the first sentence of Hebrews in his work, In Principiis (On the First Principles) during heated controversies concerning the humanity and divinity of Christ, and the Trinity of persons. The inadequacy of words challenged the Fathers as they sought to grasp realities exceeding the concepts received from pagan philosophy.
Hebrews declares that Christ is “the very imprint,” seal, stamp, impression, or image (charakter, χαρακτήρ) of the Father’s hupostasis (ὑπόστασις), which has been variously translated as being, nature, essence, substance, or person. Greek philosophy had no conception of person, and thus the original word in this context vaguely denotes the transcendent being or nature of God.
Concepts evolve as understanding grows. Neither the Old Testament nor Greek philosophy ever conceived God as simultaneously One and Three. Thus no word or thought existed to express the revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit given by Christ. The meaning of “person” is far from clear, writes Origen in his perplexity:
“But since He is called by the apostle not only the brightness of His glory, but also the express figure of His person or subsistence, it does not seem idle to inquire how there can be said to be another figure of that person besides the person of God Himself, whatever be the meaning of person and subsistence.”1
In a work battling the Arian heresy that denied the divinity of Christ, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Origen’s contemporary, writes: “For He is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His Father’s person.”2
The wrestlings of Origen and St. Gregory Thaumaturgus would have been novel to the author of Hebrews, but the same could be said of David’s Psalms and most of the Old Testament when they were first interpreted in the light of Christ.3
The Son is truly God from God, according to Hebrews, but the text does not go so far as to disentangle the theological distinctions between the nature (being) and persons of the Trinity. In fact, the statements of Origen and St. Gregory Thaumaturgus actually conflate nature and person. For if the Son is the imprint of the “Father’s person,” the absolute distinction of Father and Son seems to be compromised. However, the effort of these Fathers to go beyond the limitations of words to the heart of who God is, represents a step forward in Christian reflection. Another way to express their thought is that the Son is the image of God the Father who is personal.
Material experience causes the human mind to reify or delineate realities that are uncircumscribed. Thus changing “person” to “personal,” or noun to adjective, softens the hard lines drawn by the mind between nouns. However, these grammatical subtleties only suggest and point to what is beyond linguistic expression.
The concept of perichoresis or circumincession (mutual indwelling) was developed over time to overcome the barriers and borders set up by the intellect between the three divine persons and the two natures of Christ. Concepts divide the indivisible reality, but in truth, One (divine nature) and Three (persons) interpenetrate without division. The divine and human natures of Christ also interpenetrate without mixture or confusion. Thus, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said, offering no explanation of how he and the Father are both one and distinct (John 14:9). Over the centuries, the Holy Spirit guided the Church to deepen her contemplation of the Most Holy Trinity who is “divided indivisibly.”
When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
In Hebrew cosmology, myriads upon myriads of angels served as mediators between humanity and a distant God. Thus it became necessary to demonstrate the absolute superiority of the Son over the angels, the “mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24).
For to which of the angels did God ever say: “You are my son; this day I have begotten you”? Or again: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”? And again, when he leads the first-born into the world, he says: “Let all the angels of God worship him.”
Angelic worship of a human being was unthinkable until Mary said, “Yes!” to the invitation of the angel Gabriel.
The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory. Let all his angels worship him.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).
With eyes that penetrated beyond our frailty, Jesus saw incredible beauty and dignity in every human person. From the moment of conception, a radiant child of the Father created for communion in the heavenly courts is born in the womb of its mother.
Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:6; Hebrew).
Persons are stamped with the royal insignia—a divine origin that calls for great humility and responsibility. Our words and actions are not dispatched before humans alone, but before God and his angels.
Confession of the crucified and risen Christ brought ridicule and persecution since the first Easter, but it clothed the ragged confessors in the shining light of Trinitarian glory.
No one has the courage and strength to confess the risen Lord without divine inspiration. And no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:3).
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit” (1864).
God in himself exceeds all of our theological formulas and explanations. If God is God, his mercy and justice must exceed all of our categories. Childlike trust in divine goodness and love, which are immutable, are our anchor in darkness.
“When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12).
The first martyr, St. Stephen, spoke with shining visage before rulers and authorities. All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). His words flowed from the Spirit of God rather than from natural intelligence and eloquence.
But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).
St. Stephen stood simultaneously before men and angels when he acknowledged Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. He was crowned with glory and honor as stones rained upon his head.
Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 12:7-12a; Psalm 138
As I watched: Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.
As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14).
The unseen world is full of mysteries too deep for words, mysteries radiating from the all-holy Trinity—“a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” (St. Augustine).
“Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 331).
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
As the angels surround and interpenetrate Christ, they surround and interpenetrate St. Paul and every child of the Father in whom Christ lives.
As the Body is inseparable from the Head, the Body of Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are our angels.
The battlefield of heaven is the human heart, for the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21). Christ came to conquer our hearts with unconditional, self-emptying love. He sent the Holy Spirit to possess us—body, soul, and spirit—and to transform humanity with his deifying grace.
War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them” (Revelation 12:7-12a).
All external wars with bombs and tanks, words and diatribes, arguments and debates, begin and end in the human heart. The lack of physical war or argumentation is not yet peace, for peace can only be found in hearts free of malice and envy.
St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and all the myriads of angels in the circle of the Trinity “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”—come to our aid and draw us into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple and give thanks to your name (Psalm 138:1-2).
In the Hail Mary we ask Mary to pray for us sinners, “now and at the hour of our death.” These are the two most important moments in life. We have the past and the future, for sure, but they’re far less important than now and the hour of our death.
“Now” is the time we live in, the present moment. Whether it’s a time of joy or sorrow, a time of satisfaction or disappointment, a time of sickness or health, it’s the time we have to love, to give, to endure, to act, to live.
“The hour of death” is God’s time, when God brings us from this life to the next. It may be instantaneous or prolonged, but it’s the time when God who gave us life takes this life away.
Both of those moments benefit from faith. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was a believer who trusted in the power and presence of God through these same moments of life. They’re challenging moments.
After the angel left Mary in Nazareth, no other angel came; she walked by faith from the Child’s birth to the death and resurrection of her Son. As we face the mysteries of life, we ask her in our weakness to be with us as a believer and a mother, who knows the goodness and power of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ her Son.
“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
What if we could see them?
They exist. They don’t have bodies. They are purely spiritual beings.
What if we focused on them?
What if we focused on them helping God’s people?
Perhaps then we’d better see?
Perhaps then we’d realize how conscious God is of our frailty?
Perhaps then we’d have more compassion toward those whom we are tempted to criticize and condemn?
Perhaps then we’d be more like God’s holy angels— “ministering to” and “strengthening” those whose turn it is to undergo great strain?
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”