The gift of the angels
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1) In many ways that seems to be the message of Pope Francis as he has spoken words of mercy and compassion throughout his time in the USA. The photos that have grabbed at our hearts have been the ones where he leans down and kisses a child or embraces someone who may be marginalized by society. He has spoken of mercy almost ceaselessly, which is of course, the gospel message of Jesus. It seems to me that Pope Francis sees everyone, particularly those whom we might call strangers, as those for whom we are to take the message from the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to heart. In showing love and by opening our hearts to strangers we might just be encountering angels without realizing it.
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.
There are nine choirs (or classes) of angels according to Jewish and Christian tradition. The Archangels are the ones who do the direct bidding of God, “messengers in significant matters.”* There are seven Archangels, although only the three we celebrate on Sept. 29 are mentioned by name in the Scriptures. St. Michael is the warrior who glorifies God and fights evil, leading armies of angels. St. Gabriel is the messenger who announced the coming of the Son of God to Mary and also guided St. Joseph, assuring him that Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy was true. St. Raphael is the angel of healing and safe travel. In the book of Tobit he came disguised as a human to help Tobit, his son Tobias, and Sarah (the eventual wife of Tobias). He not only helped God to answer their prayers for healing, both physical and spiritual, but he kept Tobias safe in his travels.
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.
If we were to think of the people we encounter as potentially those ‘angels of whom we are unaware’ then that might affect our way of responding. If we see people around us as sacred and filled with the grace of God, then we will be moved to live as Jesus taught. He taught us to not to retaliate, but rather to return kindness in the face of violence, to go the extra mile, and to share what we can. He taught us to forgive by forgiving us. He taught us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned. He taught that all life is a sacred gift; therefore from the moment of conception to natural death life is to be upheld and protected. He taught that everyone has dignity no matter where they are from or what they believe. He taught that everything we are given is a precious gift from God, and therefore it is important to live with a sense of gratitude. If we live our lives this way, then we are living hospitably, because the way of the gospel is the way of opening our arms to all those who we meet. It is the way of Jesus, who offered His life for us. It is the way of trying to work together for peace and justice, embracing the common goal of building 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.
It seems to me that the visit of Pope Francis this week has driven home the message that we all ought to act with humble hospitality. We have been almost entranced by him and his every act even more than by his words. But if we are so awed by the holiness of Francis, we also ought to emulate him. His words and actions are from his heart. He is not a politician and he does not favor Republicans or Democrats. Rather, he is speaking the words of the gospel of Jesus. Therefore his words are difficult challenges, just as the gospel of Jesus is often a difficult challenge. Instead of simply being awed by him, which is not what he would want given that he is a very humble man, we need to do as he does: 'entertaining angels' and being as the angels in putting the love he models into action. The things we see him do are incredibly simple and beautiful. Beauty begets beauty, and so, too, must we do what we see him do. Love begets love. If our hearts are moved by the Pope, then our hearts are moved by Jesus. If our hearts are moved by Jesus than we can truly grow in holiness, sharing the love we have seen and heard through our own actions and words. If we are humble, we can accomplish much by simple, loving acts.
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.
May we pray to the Angels and Archangels for aid in doing the work of the gospel! May we live the gospel with humility and mercy! May we learn to recognize the angels among us and respond with gratitude! May we be as angels for all those who are in need of healing, hope, and mercy! May we have a heart for the poor, disabled, abused, lonely, and forgotten, bringing the love of Jesus to them! And may we come to know Jesus through prayer and find Him present in our good works! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©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.
Who Do You Say That I Am?
In a recent Sunday Gospel reading Jesus asked His disciples the question, “Who do you say that I am?” We have probably heard this reading many times, though perhaps we spend more time on what comes later (when Peter rebukes Jesus saying he will not let Jesus be put to death), than we do in thinking about the value of the question itself. When Jesus asked the question it seemed to come ‘out of the blue’ as they were on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. It seems to be a sudden question at a strange time. But no matter why He timed it during this part their time together, it got to the heart of their relationship with Him. In reflecting upon this I found myself wondering how I would respond if He were to ask it of me. Obviously, we have the benefit of knowing more than the apostles knew at that point since we are living after Jesus’ death and resurrection took place, but it is still a very compelling question. Who do we say that He is? This question is no less at the heart of our relationship with Jesus than it was for the apostles.
What first struck me about this gospel passage is its context. Jesus and the disciples were walking to Caesarea Philippi which was at a distance from Bethsaida where they had spent some time. (If my research is correct, it is a journey of approximately 20 miles.) It was during this lengthy trek that Jesus posed the question. It could have been that this was a time when they were truly alone and without distraction, and thus it was appropriate for Jesus to have the discussion with them. But it also made me wonder if there is something to the aspect of being on a journey which is important as to the reason He chose this particular time for such a question. Both of these possibilities are important to consider as we ask ourselves the same question. Who do we say that Jesus is?
It seems to me that in order to get to the heart of a relationship with anyone we have to have some time to truly spend with that person, alone and undistracted. And it also seems to make sense that as we grow in love with a friend, we would reflect upon the quality of the relationship, how that person brings out the best in us, and who that other person is relative to our own life. This would be especially crucial in terms of our relationship to Jesus. If we do not reflect upon the quality of our relationship with Him, what He brings out in us (calls us to be), and how He impacts our life, then the odds are the relationship is in a pattern of inertia and not one of vibrancy and growth. Therefore time spent alone with Him without distractions (over which we have control) is important. That is, we need to be intentional in the time we spend with Him in prayer, not simply catching snippets of prayer-time here and there.
Similarly, our lives are a journey from God and back to God with a lot of twists and turns in between. It is important that along the way we hear Jesus ask who we think He is in order to be in touch with the great graces, especially those of His mercy and love, which He is offering us. He asks the question not to test us and not because He is out of touch with our faith in Him, but rather because He wants us to hear our own answer. Jesus was not asking the apostles because He wanted to know what the latest gossip was about Him. He already knew that they had a sense that He was greater than John the Baptist and Elijah. He also knew they were understandably confused. Therefore Jesus seems to ask the question more for their sake than for His own. He wants them to hear their own reply in order that they might grasp who it was that they were with. He wants them to come to know who He is: by challenging them with the question they have to wrestle with the answer.
As I mentioned earlier, spending time with Jesus in prayer is essential, although reading and pondering the gospels is important, too. But like the apostles, we must spend time with the One who is already in our hearts, listening and discerning the movements that come through our prayer. It is true that the more we spend time with Jesus, the more like Him we become. Letting Jesus into our hearts more deeply will help us to grow in mercy, understanding, and love. This is because the more we are with Him the more we realize how much we have been forgiven, how much we are loved, and we learn the way to follow. The more He gives us mercy and love, the more mercy and love we have to share with others.
It is also important that we look to the holy ones who have gone before us. They can show us a way to imitate Jesus and also of recognizing Jesus in those who are around us. The first and best example of this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was her openness to God and God’s plan which made her a perfect choice to be given the great gift and task of being the mother of His own Son. Mary had to have a sense of what it meant that He was the Son of God so that she could be a fitting mother to Him. Simply knowing His identity was not enough. She needed to grow in understanding of what it meant that Jesus was God and man. Luke tells us she continually pondered things in her heart as she struggled to understand the deeper meaning of the mysteries of her Son’s life. Just because she was His mother and was without sin does not mean she had perfect understanding. Therefore, we can learn from her that pondering who He is remains a life long journey.
Also we can learn from the martyrs who gave their lives for Jesus. A person does not give up his or her life unless they are truly devoted to the One for whom they sacrifice. The martyrs were so passionate about their love for Jesus that they were willing to die gruesome deaths for Him and to give witness to all that Jesus taught and offered to us. In order to have such a dedication and so great a love for Jesus and His people, one has to know Him intimately. Martyrs did not shed their lives lightly; they were on fire with love for Jesus, giving their all for Him as He had given their all for them. We can learn to be as passionate in our love, sacrificing our own needs from time to time in order to live the gospel.
Another important point raised by Jesus’s question is whether we can discern His presence, learning to recognize Him when He is ‘in one of His more distressing disguises,’ as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying. We need to know who He is such that we are able to recognize Him in the poor and the downtrodden, the lonely, the marginalized, and all the beloved of God. Do we know who He is when He comes to us as one who is in need or maybe even in someone who is challenging, one who we do not care to be around? Do we welcome His presence in our own hearts? If He has a home within our heart, then we will come to experience the depth of His love and mercy for us, which we can then extend outward to others. We are not intended to understand all the intricacies of the mystery of who He is, but we are intended to know that He is love, a love which never is extinguished and which always yearns to heal us and our world, a love which longs to have us with Him forever, a love which sees us as beautiful, and a love which desires nothing more than that we accept His love and try to love Him back.
“Who do you say that I am?” Let us be able to say from the depths of our heart: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world in love for each one of us. You are the One who loves us beyond our ability to comprehend and in whom I find my strength. You are the One whom I love.”
May we be inspired by the Holy Spirit to continually seek Jesus so we might better know who He is and how greatly He loves us! May we spend the time in prayer which we need in order to come to know the Gospel message taught by Jesus so we can better incorporate it into our lives! May we realize how greatly we are forgiven, graced, and loved so that we might be inspired to pass it on to others! May we come to recognize Jesus, especially when He comes ‘in His most distressing disguise,’ in the poor and forgotten, the needy and wounded! And may we respond in love to all those who are in need of coming to know Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first and last photos are mine. The first was taken in west Texas and the photo at the end of the post was taken while in southern New Mexico.
The next two works are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. First is an image called The Galilean Jesus, found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-galilean-jesus-266-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The second is an icon called The Petrovskya Icon of The Mother of God and it can be found at
Finally the last painting is The Burial of Lucy by Caravaggio. I chose this because St. Lucy was a martyr and I wanted to have an image depicting the sacrifice of the martyrs.
Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope
This week we celebrate a feast called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It might seem odd to glorify something that was a cruel fate for so many during the first century, especially because it was the instrument of the death of Jesus Christ. However, the Cross was how He won our salvation because on it Jesus was able to conquer sin and death. It is not the Cross as an instrument of death which we acclaim, but rather it is the Cross as the path to new life. The Cross is a stumbling block for those who do not believe. But for those who do believe the paradox of the Cross is important because while Jesus’ life ended there, He went from it to His resurrection, enabling us to share in the new life of Heaven. Therefore, in the Cross Jesus triumphed. The Cross became not a symbol of tragedy, but a reality of hope.
The Priests and Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross have as their motto “Ave Crux, Spes Unica” which translates to “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.” This motto arose from their founder, Bl. Basile Moreau,* who was a man familiar with suffering, experiencing much adversity during his lifetime. At his beatification in 2007 this motto was present during all the celebrations and liturgies. It was central to Moreau’s spiritual life and therefore it obviously remains central to those who follow in his footsteps. Surely for one to find hope in the Cross is to have understood that suffering has a meaning, and that, as Moreau believed, “the Lord’s choicest blessings come through the crosses we bear out of love.”**
In the readings from Sunday, (as if in preparation for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14), we heard of the suffering which Jesus would endure, prophesied through Isaiah’s fourth Suffering Servant Song: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.…” (Isaiah 50) This indicates that God chose to send His Son into the world with the knowledge that it would entail suffering as the way to bring salvation. Next, in the responsorial Psalm the writer reminds us that the Lord is gracious and merciful and that when we were brought low He saved us: “He has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:8) It is through His suffering that Jesus has brought us to ‘the land of the living.’ Furthermore, we do not walk the road of suffering alone. Jesus has walked it for us and is with us on our journey; the road is familiar to Him, and because of His great love He will walk it again and again, for and with us.
However, we have a responsibility in all of this. In the letter of James we hear: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:16) We have received a great gift from the Lord, but if we do not pass it on to those whose suffering may be worse than our own, how are we showing our gratitude for it? The Cross of Christ is living, not dead. That is, it leads us to new life and therefore it is dynamic in its power. But that power does not come in a vacuum. With the power which saved us comes the rest of the Gospel message: we are to bring Christ to others by extending the power of mercy and compassion which Jesus extended to us.
Every life matters. There is no life which is less significant than others. That message is clear throughout the gospels. Jesus spent significant time with those who were considered the lowest of the low: the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners of every sort, the possessed, and the ill. He gathered around Him fishermen, shepherds, farmers, outcasts, the poor, widows, children, the under-educated, and foreigners. He cared for every one of them. There was no one who approached Jesus whom He ever turned away. The most notorious of sinners and the lowliest of people all received a response of boundless love. He lifted up that which had been torn down by sin and brokenness. He even offered His love and mercy to the arrogant, such as the Roman officers, Pharisees, and other Jewish officials who sought to trip Him up at every turn. There was no one beneath Jesus and no one who was not worthy of His love.
If we are to call ourselves followers, then, we are called to have the same attitude. Every life matters, no matter how insignificant we think we may be. Yes, we have to begin with our attitude toward ourselves before we can offer anything to anyone else. So I repeat: our life matters, no matter how insignificant we think we may be. If we think that we do not have anything to offer, or that our gifts are not really that great, if we think that we are unimportant to the Lord, or that we are not important enough to make a difference in the world, then we are giving up on the great gift of love that God has for us. The Cross was intended to make us understand once and for all that every life matters. The Cross and subsequent Resurrection of Jesus were not just for some people, but were for us all. Therefore, each of us needs to accept the gift of the Cross for ourselves, realizing that the Lord would have died if it was ‘just for you alone.’ Before we can extend our arms to the world, we need to accept how greatly we are loved by God. He is great and merciful and has ‘freed our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from stumbling.’ He walks the road with us because He cares for us more than we can imagine.
Second to the realization and acceptance of being loved by God is the realization that we have a mission to accomplish. We need to accept that we are very gifted with talents in our own uniqueness. In other words, there is no one else on this earth that can do what you were put here to do. No one else can love as you do, and no one else can give to the people you meet as you can. No matter how small you feel, no matter how insignificant your place in life may seem, and no matter how much you are suffering, you always have something to offer the world. Even if it is your very suffering which you offer up as prayer, you have a great gift to give. We all do. Each of us must realize that our efforts matter in the fight against poverty, injustice, oppression, waste, marginalization, and loneliness. Even the little we may have, (or the great amount we may have), can go a long way in helping others realize that their lives matter, too. The smallest gesture, such as a loving response to a rude, angry attitude or lending a hand to one who requires help, can change the life of one in need.
In this time of refugees fleeing their homeland in fear, we can offer support to a stranger in our midst, or if we feel so called, monetary support to reputable organizations that can help those in grave poverty. We do not have to become homeless to help those who are, but we can offer our gifts to those who are impoverished in our communities. We are challenged by the Gospel, by the letters of James and others, and by the very Cross, to share with those who are spiritually impoverished and who feel homeless in their own churches or who have no religious home at all; we can share with those who are without many friends or who have familial relationships which are shattered; we can share our financial resources with those who have little to nothing; we can offer our prayer not only for those in need, but for ourselves to have eyes to see and ears to hear. Nothing we give is too little. Our sacrifices matter. Our love matters. Our mercy matters. Our lives matter. All lives matter. Let us take up our cross, let us take up the Cross of Christ, and let us work together at building up the Kingdom so that everyone can understand that His Cross was for us all. Let us exalt the Cross in our words and deeds. Hail the Cross. It is our only hope.
May we find hope in the Cross of Christ! May we be inspired by the Cross to offer what we have to those who are in need! May we accept how very much we matter to God, and may we share this reality with those to whom we minister! May we realize that our lives are ministry for others when we act intentionally to spread the love and mercy of God! And may our lives be a witness to the power of love and mercy which comes through the Cross of Christ! Let us continue to meet at the Cross of Christ! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*For more on Bl. Basile Moreau, founder of Congregation of Holy Cross you can go to the following sites:
**The quote comes from this site:
The photos are mine. The first one was taken in Salzburg, Austria; this crucifixion scene was on a church on the end of a main street.
The second picture is an artist's rendition of Bl. Basile Moreau, CSC which was featured prominently at his beatification in 2007.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. James the Lesser. No one knows who actually wrote the letter attributed to James. It could have been any of the men named James who were companions of Jesus. So in the spirit of the letter being named for one of the men named James, I chose to share this icon. You can find it at http://fineartamerica.com/products/st-james-the-lesser-254-william-hart-mcnichols-art-print.html.
Next are my own photos again. A small village in Austria is first of these. Many seemingly solitary villages dot the Tyrolean countryside. Each of these, and each of the people in them, are important to God.
Following the village scene are some climbers getting to the top of Jugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. They did not climb the entire mountain, by the way; just the last bit, but it was still hair-raising to watch. I chose this photo to symbolize that all our efforts and struggles matter.
The last photo is the back of a commemorative medallion which was struck for the beatification of Bl. Basile Moreau. I was blessed with being present at this event. The medallion was a gift to me.
Heart Speaks to Heart