Appropriately, this week we celebrate two feasts of angels. The first, on September 29, is the Feast of the Archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. It is an ancient observance with roots in the 5th century when St. Michael was venerated in what is now southern Italy. The second, on October 2, is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, a celebration which dates back to the teaching of St. Basil the Great (4th century) who taught that we all have a protecting guardian angel. However, the tradition of celebrating the angels goes back many centuries before St. Basil’s writing. The angels have been written about since Old Testament times. We see examples of this beginning with the Book of Genesis, when an angel spoke for God to Abraham, through the Book of Revelation when angels are described as doing the work of God in the fight against evil. In short, there is nothing new in believing in the existence of angels as spiritual helpers sent by God. They are among us doing what they have always done: offering guidance and help from God. However, it seems that they come among us in many forms, and often we may not notice because we are simply not aware of them.
We can look at the Archangels as agents of God, but we can also see them as inspiring faith, hope, and love. For example, the message of Raphael is that of faith: the people who prayed fervently to God found that their faith was what enabled them to receive God’s help through him. Tobit and Sarah prayed with belief that God would help them in their desperation and indeed God heard and answered their prayers through the work of Raphael. The message of Gabriel is of hope: God sent him to announce the message to Mary that all men and women would have the promise of a savior fulfilled through the Son she would bear. Therefore, Gabriel’s message is that in Jesus all hope is found. Finally, the message of Michael is love. While being a warrior might not sound very loving, the way evil is fought is through love, which is indeed the gospel message of Jesus. In protecting us, both he and the guardian angels try to inspire us to respond to everyone in love, just as Jesus taught. Through our prayer and through the assistance of the angels, we can continue to build the Kingdom of God.
The other aspect of remembering to be hospitable is to recognize that we are called to act as the angels do. For every act of kindness given, for every act of forgiveness offered, for every act of mercy shared, we bring healing and hope into our world. When we reach out to the poor and marginalized, offer a welcome to those who are vastly different than ourselves, open our hearts to the lonely, weak, neglected, ill or spiritually impoverished, we are acting as angels to them. In short, it is not only that we want to be aware that we might be ‘entertaining’ angels,** but we need to remember that sometimes we are to be as the angels whom others might be ‘encountering unaware.’ The lives of some people depend upon us acting in concert with the angels. And often we will never know just how important our little acts of love can be in the lives of those who receive them.
As Jesus taught, and as Pope Francis reminds us, we need to care for all our brothers and sisters as well as having respect for ourselves, remembering that we are all children of God. We must welcome strangers, teach evildoers through our acts of love and forgiveness, and work to become closer to the Lord through our prayer so we can learn to recognize His presence and listen to His voice. If we want others to come to Christ, we need to offer our love and mercy, ‘preaching the gospel’ through how we live our lives. In doing so, we can help them to encounter angels, just as we discover the angels in those whom we meet. The angels are God’s gift to us. It a way that He shows His care and concern for us and for our world. Let us not be unaware, then, but rather let us offer to those who are strangers the same hospitality He gives us. What we have received, let us give as a gift so others may encounter angels through our love, too.
©Michele L. Catanese
*Quote from page 97, The Catholic Source Book, edited by Rev. Peter Klein.
** Another translation of Hebrew 13:1 which is often quoted is: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (ESV)
The first icon is of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The second icon is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols called Archangel St. Michael. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/archangel-st-michael-193-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The next photo is one of my own taken in Hermann Park, Houston, TX.
Next is a photo of Pope Francis taken at his one year anniversary of being elevated to the Papacy.
The final photo is also one of mine, taken in the Alps of Switzerland, just outside Davos.