Feast of the Archangels
Apocalypse 12:7-12; Psalm 137; John 1:47-51
Messengers or delivery persons usually lead hard lives. We’re often reminded not to shoot the messenger or hate the bearer of bad news. Customer service officers and telemarketeers often get the short end of the stick when dealing with people. Delivering a message, especially one that may not be welcome is not easy. Perhaps that’s why we need a feast to celebrate God’s messengers.That’s what the angels are – God’s messengers (angel coming from angelus in Latin via the Greek angelos). The Archangels are the chief messengers.
Also, consider what you think of when one mentions the word ‘angel’. Beautiful persons with huge feathery wings, perhaps? There’s no lack of representation in the history of art with many painters seeking to outdo each other in their effort to portray the beauty and perfection of angels. What exactly are angels? Angels are spiritual beings who are messengers between God and people (CCC 328-336). In our Christian tradition, there are three spheres of three choirs in the heavenly hosts.
- Highest, heavenly counselors – Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones.
- Middle, heavenly governors – Dominions, Virtues, Powers.
- Bottom, heavenly messengers/soldiers – Principalities, Archangels, Angels.
It’s interesting to note that the Archangels, impressive as their names sound, are the second to lowest in the hierarchy of the angels in heaven.
We have a glimpse into their ‘work’ in the 1st reading of today when we see Michael leading host of angels against the dragon or Satan. The battle is real though not in the physical realm where the Archangel Michael leads the heavenly hosts to defeat Satan the deceiver, who tricks us into fear and disbelief. The victory was followed by a declaration of joy and true faith in God (victory won by God and authority for Christ) and no fear (in the triumph and belief in saving power of the Lord’s death and resurrection). This all seems glorious but the Archangel Michael had to work to achieve that. And not all that work is so glamorous or leads to such glorious ends.
The gospel tells a different story that also needs to be understood in context. In the verses just before today’s gospel reading, Nathaniel said ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ to Philip who called him. He showed his prejudice but at least was honest about it, he did not seek to deceive others about it. And that’s probably what Jesus referred to as him being incapable of deceit. We’re like Nathaniel at times – quick to make judgements. But the Lord comes to us where we are – allowing us to respond and be open where we need to be. And Nathaniel was open, even in his prejudice and was able to encounter the Lord as a result.
He made a profession of Jesus’ divinity very much like Peter’s. That could be the result of the gift of him being incapable of deceit. Even with his prior prejudice, he was rewarded with a glimpse into Jesus divinity – to be able to see same vision as Jacob – angels ascending and descending (Gen 28:12). This seems like an invitation for us to try to go beyond our prejudices, our petty judgements to truly encounter the Lord. And in so doing, we could become a messenger of sorts for the Lord.
A messenger like the angels are. In a commentary on angels, St Gregory the Great mentioned that the angels’ function is more important than form. I take it to mean that it doesn’t really matter what angels look like – what matters is what they do. St Gregory adds that ‘Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”’ We saw what Michael did in the reading. We know that Gabriel announced the births of both John the Baptist to Elizabeth and Jesus to Mary. We know that Raphael healed Tobit in that book of the bible. Their functions were key in bringing God to people, people to God. I’d like to think that we can try to do the same. After all, angels serve God, and we’re called to do the same aren’t we?
I also noticed something interesting in the nature and work of the three Archangels. One defends God and leads the heavenly hosts, one brings good news to the people of God and one heals. The Lord calls us to a threefold office of prophet, priest and king. This can be understood us trying to exercise the office of the King who leads and defends like Michael; the Prophet who brings good news like Gabriel, no matter the reception; the Priest who heals and ministers like Raphael. The Archangels are thus exemplars for us all to continue this work of the Lord here on earth.
We’re called to perform this work unflinchingly, unafraid of the consequences. We’re called to go beyond our prejudices as we do so. We’re called to continue to exercise this ministry no matter the reception we get. We may feel like a beleaguered telemarketeer at times but we should not back down. We may not see nor feel the angels or even God at times, but in faith, we continue to sing with the heavenly hosts the song that we sing everyday (or at least every week) at mass, ‘Holy holy holy Lord, God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory!’ as we continue to defend, spread messages and heal all around us.