Today’s liturgy – a feast of the Church (second only to a solemnity in importance) – has a very ancient history behind it. Since the about the time of the Council of Nicea in 325, which defined the doctrine of the Trinity, the Church has honored these angelic “persons” named in the Scriptures as particular manifestations of God’s attention toward the human community. They stand for us as personifications of God’s power exercised on our behalf.
Michael is the power of God to defeat, overwhelm and destroy evil that seeks to do harm to God’s beloved. From the Revelations text that is one of the options for the first reading today, we hear that Michael and his angelic companions are the victors in the cosmic contest between God and anti-God forces. What doesn’t leap to our imagination perhaps is the incredible power of LOVE and compassion to overwhelm apathy, hatred or cruelty. Somehow the image of flaming swords does not often equate in our heads with the gentleness of a Mother Teresa, or the non-violent courage of an Oscar Romero and yet, that is the very paradox that I believe that the Scriptures invite us to ponder in calling us to reverence God’s power to defeat the darkness of our lives.
Gabriel is the bearer of Good News, of the victory of God’s plan, but Gabriel’s voice (actually God’s voice in Gabriel) always bears a challenge: Will you serve God’s plan to save the world? Will you be a key agent in bringing about the Reign of God? Gabriel carries to us the opportunity to be under the standard of Christ (in Ignatian Spirituality terms) in our life settings. It is Gabriel who brings the gift of vocation – call – to our attention in the very midst of our ordinariness. Again this perhaps challenges our imagination of God’s power, which we want to change into terms of human power (the power to control). God’s is the power of freely giving ourselves to goodness, to hope, to the work of saving our world from the forces of greed, violence, self-centeredness. Can any of us hear Gabriel’s greeting of peace and message of call? Can we respond as Mary did?
Finally, the Church invites us to honor the voice of God’s guidance and healing. Raphael has the triple task in the book of Tobit, of guiding Tobit’s son, Tobias, to his happiness in marriage, healing his young wife of a curse, and then healing the physical blindness of Tobias’ father, Tobit. Near the end of the book, the angel Raphael reveals that he is not an ordinary companion but an angel sent as a messenger of God. He tells the father and son that none of the great deeds he has done for them are from his own will or his own plan, but rather the will and plan of God that they are to praise with their whole lives. Raphael, then, is the messenger of God’s Spirit leading and guiding, healing and comforting us. But if we pay close attention, we also hear Raphael instructing us in God’s ways, challenging us to generosity, wise actions, courage, and hope when we might be inclined to less virtuous responses to the circumstances and events of our lives.
In celebrating the gift of angelic power – the power of God mediated to us in these angelic visitations, the Church places words of praise in our mouth – not words of praise for the angels (for they would be unhappy if we did praise them) but words of praise to God, from whom the power flows as streams of fire.
“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, LORD.” (Ps 138 – response)
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