September 29 is the feast of the three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. It is one of my favorite feast days mostly because it is also my name day: my name derives from Michael which means "Who is like God?" The very name is praise for God and I feel honored to share it. I also love this feast because it moves me to know that God loves His people so much that He created the angels to be His intermediaries, showering us with His love and with protection. The angels are God's messengers. These three in particular, the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, have had the some of the most important duties in salvation history. I find that awe inspiring and down-right thrilling!
Michael is well known as the angel who leads the heavenly hosts. He is the protector who battles to keep the Kingdom growing and to keep us safe from evil. He is a powerful friend and appears in both the Old and New Testament. Gabriel, equally well known as Michael, is the angel who bears important news. He is the angel who announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Savior of the world. On the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary I read this: "Our salvation begins when an archangel speaks the name of Mary." (September Magnificat) That archangel was none other than Gabriel. I know angels have free will and intelligence, so I imagine that the honor of bringing that message must have made Gabriel blush with the humility and love it must have taken to address one so pure with such news.
The archangel I would like to highlight, however, is Raphael, who is often overlooked, but is no less important or powerful than the other two. Raphael means "Healer of God" which refers to his role as the one who brings healing to those in need. Some translations say his name means "God is my Health" which I also like because without the gifts which come from God and enable our spiritual health, we are lost. Raphael's most famous appearance in Scripture is in the Book of Tobit which is as much about Raphael as it is about Tobit and his family. No other angel has an entire book which features him. Some sources say he is also the angel who moved the waters of the pool at Bethesda when Jesus worked a miracle in John 5:1-4.
In the Book of Tobit, Raphael was sent by God to heal two people with very dire problems, in very desperate situations. The first was a very righteous, holy man named Tobit who lived as a captive in Assyria and had taken it upon himself to disobey the law by burying the dead when a Jewish person was killed by the Assyrians. He risked his life to keep the dead from being dishonored, which was very much part of Jewish culture and law. He was arrested for this, and even after being punished, persisted in his courageous acts, only to be made fun of by all who knew him. In his sorrow he went to his courtyard to try to catch a cool breeze, and while sitting by a wall - (I kid you not) - bird droppings fell into his eyes and blinded him. He then prayed for death, knowing he could no longer take care of his family.
Meanwhile, a young woman named Sarah had a huge problem also. She was a pious woman who loved God, but was attacked by a demon that was infatuated with her: she (actually the demon) would kill her new husband on their wedding night before they could consummate the marriage. She had gone through seven husbands; in despair, she prayed for death. As the simultaneous prayers of these two courageous and good people arose to Heaven, God sent Raphael in disguise as a man to answer both prayers. Soon he appeared at the home of Tobit and offered a solution to his problem, which was to have Tobit's son, Tobiah, retrieve a family fortune which was being held by a relative. Tobiah met Sarah on his trip, they fell in love, and Raphael came up with an ingenious way to heal both Sarah of her demon and Tobit of his blindness. Read the book for all the “juicy” details! It is indeed a wonderful book.
What is most important about the Book of Tobit, and therefore the archangel Raphael, is that we learn that God is more than just interested in our physical and spiritual health: He desires that we are our best selves such that we find happiness as we grow closer to Him. What is most important is that we find happiness in true love, which is not just reserved for the realm of romance. God wants us to know the truest of loves, which is His great love for us. He wants us to know the true love of family and friends, which is part of His gift of love to us. He wants us to know that all the gifts we have are gifts of His love to us. In the Book of Tobit, Sarah and Tobias find happiness in marriage which means they will be fruitful and multiply. Tobit finds happiness in being able to serve God by obeying the laws which glorify God, but also by loving his family. Raphael was sent not just to heal them of their wounds, but to bring them the freedom to love and be loved to a greater depth. The healing he brings them from God is meant to help them have a fullness which they were unable to achieve on their own.
Raphael's role is to help all of us to grow in spiritual health and to be protected on our inner journey. That which we do to love and serve the Lord, which thereby brings us happiness, is what He wants to help us accomplish. He cares about our well-being, and he attests to God's care for us as well. We never leave God's sight, and it is the archangel Raphael who makes sure that the healings we need are brought to us. Indeed Raphael is a very powerful archangel. He is more than the angel who heals the blindness of a man in ancient Israel. He helps us heal from whatever keeps us blinded, whether it is a blindness to how loved we are, a blindness toward another person, or a blindness to the actions of God within and around us. And as he freed Sarah, he helps us have the greater freedom we need from the obstacles in our spiritual journey.
Raphael is not the one who decides what kind of healing we receive; he is a messenger of God. Sometimes we pray for physical healing for a loved one or for ourselves and mysteriously it does not take place. But this does not mean we have been forsaken. It means that perhaps the healing we are to receive is to forgive someone, or to grow in some emotional or spiritual way. Perhaps the healing is to accept suffering and diminishment so as to glorify God and help others who suffer by being a sign of courage. Perhaps the healing is the final healing of death. Whatever it is, we are not alone. We are accompanied by the angels. I can imagine that Raphael will be one of those who will accompany us as we cross from this life to the place where we meet God when our lives are over. It would be an honor to be accompanied by one such as him when we die.
I believe that God makes use of the angels in order to care for our every need. The archangels are reminders that we are never alone. They dispatch other angels to help in their work, and no doubt make sure each of us have a guardian angel who is in their employ, so to speak, as they serve the Most High God. Healing is something we all need continually, but we also need to maintain good spiritual health. Perhaps including prayers to these regal angels would be good for us to remember. We should pray to our guardian angels asking for their protection and intercession. We should pray to the three archangels by name when we need their special help. And we should pray in gratitude to God for giving us these, His messengers, for safety, health, and strength.
May the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael be ever present to us! May we pray for the intercession of the archangels when we are in need, confident in their care for us! May we be protected and guided in our efforts to love, serve, and glorify the Lord! May our prayers be led by the angels to the throne of God! And may we be inspired to grow in holiness through the freedom to love more deeply through the aid of the angels and archangels! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus, accompanied by Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! Peace!
The image at the top is a painting by Kenn Ashe called Archangel Raphael - Healer of God. You can contact him at email@example.com if you are interested in his work or to purchase one of his originals.
The photos are mine from a recent trip to Sicily. The statues are in the city park/botanical garden in Taormina. The bottom photo is of archangels from the cupola in San Giovanni in Palermo.
On September 17 we celebrate the feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen, (1098-1179), who was canonized rather recently. What is ironic about this is that many have known and revered her for centuries. In May, 2012 Pope Benedict XVI not only canonized her, but also named her a Doctor of the Church. Given that she wrote the world's first opera, was skilled at medicine, was an inventor, spiritual director, poet, theologian, and wisdom figure consulted by bishops and popes, the only thing that should surprise us is that it took so long for her to be recognized. However, it is her understanding of something she called viriditas which I would like to highlight and it is why I am referring to her as 'green.' Viriditas means the greening power of God. "She described this power as the agent of God, a divine attribute, that was the animating life-force within all creation, giving it life, moisture and vitality. Viriditas was green fire and energy, and Hildegard has been associated through history with the colour green." *
Viriditas is a unique gift of God, which gives not just animation (life) to creation, but it gives us a gift of God Himself. She declares: “There is a power that has been since all eternity and that force and potentiality is green!”* This is consistent with what we read in Genesis: at the moment of creation the Spirit of God (or ruah) hovered over the waters. Water is representative of life, and so we understand this to mean that God gave life to everything that exists and it was His Spirit who was "delivering" the life power that gave rise to everything. The Spirit made sacred all that God created. Therefore all life is sacred since it is imbued with the creative gift of our Creator God. St. Hildegard saw this not only as the life-giving force present at creation, but as the force which continues to give life throughout salvation history. It is what enables us to have a relationship with God that is not only life-giving to our souls, but which is life-sustaining. In other words, without the gift of the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to keep our relationship with God dynamic and growing.
The Old Testament describes Wisdom as the ultimate connection with sanctification and God. (See the book of Wisdom.) In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes the Spirit as one who brings wisdom, guidance, teaching, comfort and who empowers us with gifts. And both the Old and New Testaments describe the Spirit of God as coming in fire. Examples of this are the Burning Bush, the fiery cloud that led the Israelites through the desert in Exodus, and the shekinah, (God's protective presence) on Mt. Sinai when Moses would approach God; the Spirit is present as fire at the Transfiguration, (the bright cloud surrounding Jesus), and the Pentecost event when tongues of fire were present over the heads of the apostles as they received the Spirit.
Therefore, what St. Hildegard taught about the Holy Spirit using the term viriditas, was both scripturally and theologically accurate. Hildegard was a mystic, and like most mystics she had insights into who God is and how God acts which were revealed to her by God during prayer. She spoke of green fire, so for her it was the fire of God which creates new life and keeps it alive. Hildegard was quite brilliant, so she was able to come up with a concept in order to attempt to describe the indescribable. (All of her writings, such as the Scivias, are simply incredible, given her God-given wisdom and her holiness.)
I just read a short book which captured a similar concept, though the book was fiction and written by one who was probably not familiar with St. Hildegard and who was not trying to make a theological statement. This book was written by none other than Jules Verne (1828-1905). The work to which I am referring is a lesser known short novel by Verne called The Green Ray. Written in 1882 this book was penned midway through his prolific writing career, coming after his more well-known books, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is a rather sweet story about a young woman who is searching for a phenomenon called the green ray which she has read about in a newspaper.
In the novel, the green ray is said to be a rare occurrence which can only be seen when the sun is setting over the sea. When the upper rim of the "disk" of the sun is just about to disappear beneath the horizon of the sea, there is a phenomenon which occurs "at the very instant the heavenly body sends forth its last ray." In order for it to occur there has to be a cloudless sky. The book goes on to say: "The first time you have the opportunity, and it happens but rarely, of making this observation, it will not be, as one might think, a crimson ray which falls upon the retina of the eye, it will be 'green,' but a most wonderful green, a green which no artist could ever obtain on his palette, a green which neither the varied tints of vegetation nor the shades of the most limpid sea could ever produce the like! If there be green in Paradise, it cannot but be of this shade, which most surely is the true green of Hope!" **
In the story, it is what happens when one sees the green ray that is of importance: according to ancient Highlands legend, when one sees this ray, “all truth comes to be known, there is no room for deceit or falsehood, …and the one who has been fortunate enough once to behold it is enabled to see closely into his own heart and read the thoughts of others." While this is a novel, the concept is that when one sees the green ray, one is filled with both deepened self-knowledge and heightened insights into the heart of the person one is with. In the story, the young woman discovers true love during the quest for the green ray and ironically it is more the quest than the actual occurrence which seals the love between her and her beloved.
While Verne was simply writing a sweet story, the connection I am trying to make between the green ray and St. Hildegard is that it is in the virtue of hope, given by the Holy Spirit, through which life really thrives. The heroine of the story, Helene, grows in the hope of finding the illusive ray, but in the process finds new life in the love of the man who believes in her quest. They share hope, and discover deep love. Not only that, but this ray is a shade of green that no artist could create. It comes from God Himself, as do all gifts.
St. Hildegard teaches that it is God who is the source of the hope which leads to deep love. God gives life to us through the gifts He gives, hope being one of these essential gifts. It is hope which keeps our hearts and spirits alive, especially when we are struggling with whatever burdens we are carrying. Therefore, viriditas is not simply that which starts life: it is that which sustains and enlivens life, both physically and spiritually. In the letter to Titus the author writes, “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) This renewal or rebirth is what St. Hildegard means when she refers to viriditas.
Just as we connect creation with the color green, we can connect spiritual life with green as well. Liturgically green represents creation and life, (as well as hope), and this is why it is present at liturgy during the majority of the year, which we refer to as Ordinary Time. So during this season of Ordinary Time we can look to the Spirit to continue to renew our minds and hearts with the continual rebirth of hope and love. Let us ask for the intercession of St. Hildegard to help us to become more deeply attuned to God, to have our hearts honed to be more loving, compassionate, and peaceful, praying for our world to be filled with viriditas through our prayer and actions. Maybe we need to be living green rays so that along with the author of the Book of Job we can attest: “And you shall be secure, because there is hope; you shall look round you and lie down in safety.” (Job 11:18) Let us pray this becomes true for our entire world. And may our actions be consistent with our prayer!
May we be disciples and ambassadors of the Spirit, bringing life and healing to those in need! May we have reverence and gratitude for the gift of creation! May we pray for the green fire of God, viriditas, to enliven and sustain the world! May we continue to pray for peace, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit! And may we be filled with the grace of hope in a new and deeper way! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus, the Lord of Love. Peace!
* Quotes of St. Hildegard taken from http://www.greenflame.org/gf-viriditas/
** Quotes from The Green Ray, by Jules Verne.
-The icon is Hildegaard of Bingen by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at
-The painting is from my personal collection and is called A Study of the Holy Spirit by Rev. William Hart McNichols. You can see a similar study in his icon El Espiritu Santo de Taos found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=377
(Reminder:The icon and painting are copyrighted material.)
-The photo is one of mine and it was taken in Ireland near the Dingle Peninsula.
© Michele L. Catanese
Last week I beheld something so beautiful it just about took my breath away. I had seen it for many years, but this time it was as if for the first time because I beheld it in a new light, given the circumstances. It was the 65th wedding anniversary celebration of two dear friends at which I saw the beauty of love. I have always known they were deeply in love, continually, throughout all those years. All one needs is to hear a family story that one of them might tell, and it is clear that there is great love and that there has been much laughter. But at this event the light that shone in each one's eyes as they looked upon the other was filled with deep joy, and was unmistakably the look of deep love. They positively glowed!
I believe this couple was in love the moment they met, but no matter the details, I got to know them well into their marriage, probably for the past 18 or 19 years. Every time I have been visiting with my dear friend and her husband arrives home from work, she gets a twinkle in her eyes, eyes which usually have quite a sparkle in them already. And when he speaks about her, his eyes take on that twinkle also. There is no doubt in my mind that they have grown in love every day of their marriage. In some ways, that look of newlyweds is still with them, but indeed it has deepened and matured over years of trial and blessing, tears and laughter.
What makes a marriage like this, a love so great that it not only endures for 65 years, but flourishes? What comes to mind is that they are friends with each other. As friends they trust each other and have total respect for each other. Every marriage has its bumps in the road, but if the husband and wife are friends, they look for the best and bring out the best in each other. In a marriage such as theirs, communication is part of the foundation. Openness and honesty help to foster such a trust and respect.
In this marriage, it is clear that they each delight in doing little things for each other. Rather than waiting for a holiday, they try to do something special for the other on "ordinary" days. Whether he is bringing in a bouquet of flowers from his garden for her, or whether she is making a special meal for him, everything is done with love. And when they disagree - and every married couple does disagree from time to time - they have learned the art of forgiveness which is nurtured by their underlying trust and love.
It should come as no surprise that both of these people have great faith in God. It is in this that their strength and love finds its wings. They do more than attend church faithfully every weekend. They love the Lord, and because of this they have spent their lives in service of others at their church, and they have lived what they profess to believe. Both of them have touched countless lives by being people of faith in deed and in word. And they find their joy in the gratitude they have for everything with which God has blessed them. They have joy in their family, which includes children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; they find joy in their friends, and mostly they find joy in each other, strengthened through the gift of the Sacrament of Marriage, which is the grace which has sustained them these many years.
The Sacrament of Marriage is a covenant which is modeled upon the covenant God has with His people. A covenant is an eternal commitment of love between God and His people and it is based on love. Since God is love, all that He has made comes from love. His love is seen in the great beauty which exists all around us. He has promised to be our God and that we are His people, loving us throughout salvation history. This love culminated in our Father God, sending His Son, who is Love incarnate, into the world to save us from the power of sin and death by dying and rising for us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Therefore God continues to be in a covenant with each one of us through baptism and through every sacrament in which we strengthen this covenant. When we marry we enter into a covenant with our spouse, but the covenant also includes God who is present through love. He is the center of every marriage and it is His grace which enables the couple to confer the sacrament upon one another. It is most important for us to remember that the grace of the sacrament is conferred not only at the moment in the wedding ceremony when we make our vows: it is to be conferred in each and every moment of our lives together "until death do we part."
While marriage is a covenant for the rest of our earthly lives, love lives eternally. Love overcomes the boundaries of this life on earth. It is Love who gave us life; it is Love who sustains our lives and it is Love who welcomes us home to Heaven when we finish our lives here. While we are no longer bound by the covenant of marriage in Heaven, we are never out of our covenant of love with God. Heaven is the realm of love, so all those loves we have had are one in Him. They do not end; rather they become perfected and immersed more totally in the "sea of love", who is our God.
From my 65-years-married friends we can see that this is the way that God intended us to be in relationship with Him. Whether we are married or not, we can have that kind of love. God wants us to share this not just with other people, be it a spouse, a dear friend, or a relative; He wants us to share this kind of love with Him. He wants us to get that sparkle in our eyes when we think of Him. After all, God gets that twinkle in His eye when He thinks of us! If you think that is bold of me to say, remember that while none of us have ever seen God face to face, He gives us so many loving touches daily, we know that He delights in each and every one of us. He loves us beyond what any of us can fathom. He thinks of us nonstop day and night. He loves it when we spend time with Him throughout our day, and when we share our inmost thoughts, hopes, dreams, and that for which we yearn, He holds it dear to His heart. And when we are hurting or lonely, He is most present to us; when we need Him most, He is closest to us. His love for us is without end. The most wonderful, incredible, everlasting, unfathomable force in creation is His love for us. There is nothing more beautiful in the heavens or on earth. God Himself is love and in that love is incomparable beauty.
I have learned much from my 65-years-married friends. They have taught me of great beauty. Their love is magnificent in its depth and in the beauty of what it has produced in each other, in their family, and in everyone who has ever met them. They have taught me of God in both word and deed. I know they are not perfect and their marriage is not perfect, since there are no perfect people. But the beauty that emanates from the love of this couple is about as close to the perfect love of God as I have ever witnessed. They are clearly as in love as they ever were, and it is a beauty to behold. It is also a gift to be loved by these two incredible people. Their friendship and wisdom have blessed many lives, not the least of which is mine. God bless you both with many more years of love and happiness!
May we see the delight God takes in us each day by becoming more aware of the graces He sends us! May our hearts burn with love for our Creator so that we may yearn to be with Him forever! May we have that twinkle in our eye, which is the sign of our love for whoever is that special someone in our lives! May we have hearts filled with gratitude for the way God gifts us with those who love us! And may we celebrate love every day! Let us meet in the unending celebration of Love which dwells in the very heart of our God! Peace!
Love to you, Joanne and Bernard!
All three photos are mine. The first one is of my parents wedding rings on my Bible. The second photo is a painting of God the Father, with the Spirit above and the symbol for the reign of His Son in His hand. It is from a church in Nova Scotia, Canada. And the third was taken in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Heart Speaks to Heart