Of Archangels and Guardians
This is the time of year for angels. That is, as September ends and October begins we have two feasts of angels which are celebrated only three days apart. The first is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29, an ancient observance with roots in the 5th century when St. Michael was venerated in what is now southern Italy. A few days later, on October 2, is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, another celebration which dates back many years to the teaching of St. Basil the Great (4th century) who taught that every person has a protecting guardian angel. In fact, belief in angels predates Christianity and has its beginning in the oral tradition of the Jewish people regarding creation and the choice of the angels to follow or disobey God. The first written mention of them is in the Book of Genesis when an angel spoke for God to Abraham. They appear in various passages throughout the Bible through to the Book of Revelation when angels are referenced as doing the work of God in the fight against evil. Therefore, to think of angels as our guardians is not new at all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 334-336) teaches that each person has an angel who is assigned at birth who will accompany us throughout our life until we pass through death. Given how difficult life can be, it is comforting to know we have an angel who guides us and intercedes for us when we ask.
Angels, especially our guardians, are significant in our journey of faith. Just as many figures in the Bible were aided by them, we can also do with their help from time to time. Even Jesus had need of the assistance of angels during His life. The gospels tell us that the angels ministered to Him when He was tempted in the desert, and in the Garden of Gethsemane His guardian angel was present during His agony. Jesus was indeed fully divine, so the fact that an angel was at His disposal should be no surprise; but He was also fully human and as such needed the assistance of His angel to offer comfort when He was in His greatest spiritual need. Therefore, if we think we have less need of them than Jesus, we are mistaken. However, regardless of whether we acknowledge them, the angels are surrounding us, trying to guide us away from evil, though they do not interfere with our choices.
Many saints have attested to angelic visits and assistance from guardian angels, but it was St. Padre Pio who may have utilized his angel the most actively. It is said that he relied on his guardian angel to help him deal with the multitudes of prayer requests which came to him daily. In fact, Padre Pio is said to have received letters which were written in languages he did not understand; he told the Franciscans who assisted him that often his guardian angel would translate these letters and then assist him in responding in the same language, even though Pio only spoke Italian. He also said on a few occasions that he wished people would stop requesting that his guardian would take petitions to him because he was so overwhelmed by their requests that he could not keep up! Padre Pio clearly took his angel very seriously, something we should emulate in our times of need.
As for the Archangels, there are said to be seven of them, (referenced in Tobit 12:15), but only three, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are named in the Bible. Michael appears four times in the Scriptures: in Daniel chapters 10 and 12, then again in the Letter of Jude, verse 9, and finally in Revelation 12. He is always depicted as leading angels in battle against the forces of evil. Gabriel, known for conveying messages of major importance, appears in the Old and New Testaments as well: he explains the visions of Daniel to him (Daniel 8 and 9); he is the angel who came to Zechariah in the Temple (Luke 1:5-20; identifying himself in verse 19); and most famously it was he who came to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). Gabriel is also presumably the “angel of the Lord” who spoke to Joseph numerous times in Matthew 1 and 2. The third archangel, Raphael, is mentioned only once in the Bible, but he dominates the book in which he appears, the Book of Tobit: he is associated with healing. However, there is also a tradition that it was Raphael, though unnamed, who stirred up the waters of the pool in Bethsaida (John 5:1-9) where many waited for healing.
While angels are important, their role is as intermediaries. While we can ask them for assistance, we should not make them (or the saints) substitutes for growing in relationship with God. Our prayer should always be directed toward God so that we grow in relationship with Him, especially in the intimacy which comes through His love and mercy. We can entrust our petitions and intentions to the angels as intercessors, something guardian angels are meant to do, especially when we are praying for the needs of the world. They are undistracted and meant for just such a task. And we can also be inspired by the role of the angels, emulating them by reaching out to those in need, especially if they need a voice with which to speak when they truly have none. We can be a messenger by giving a voice to the voiceless, credence to the marginalized, and aid to the alien. We can speak up for victims, working for justice with mercy in the face of corruption and/or a lack of resources. Michael the archangel can be our patron as we seek to fight the inclination toward hate and divisive actions. He can be our inspiration against all that which separates the people of God. He is the one who battles Satan and we need to enlist him daily in that fight.
Like Gabriel we can bring the message of the Scriptures to others, living the Gospel as taught by Jesus. In short, we can become an evangelizing disciple by living what we read, study, and pray in the New Testament teachings. To do so we must set aside our judgments about where people are from or what their cultural bias may be. Unless we live the gospel message of inclusiveness and share the resources that we have, how do we expect others to want to hear that which we desire to speak? Living the faith means extending ourselves beyond our own prejudices and fears such that we open our hearts to those who may have nothing and to those who have been wounded. Just as Jesus did not judge the woman caught in adultery (John 8) or any other sinner He encountered, we can learn the message borne by the angels from Him, encouraging us to have mercy and compassion for the poor, homeless, and indigent.
Finally, we can also emulate Raphael as agents of healing and hope. We can feed, clothe, and house people, but if we do not give them anything in which to place their hope then our efforts are somewhat in vain. It is easy to fall into despair if one’s health is gone, if one is carrying the immense burden of tending to a suffering loved one, or if one is filled with interior pain, sorely wounded by those who were supposed to protect and guide. One can lose hope if they are fleeing from poverty or terrorism with nowhere to call a secure home, or even if they are simply lost because they are without friends. And those who are caught in addiction or who try to find happiness in material things, yet continually find that they are empty, are also in need of the hope which comes from mercy, compassion, and love. Though we all have woundedness, we can be as Raphael, working to lead people to healing; perhaps we need to stir up the waters a bit in order to do so.
Our guardian angels can help us to accomplish that which we are called to do as disciples: they are messengers of God, and this is also our call. This is a time for action from the ground up, so to speak, and so we are called to live the gospel with more vigor and more intentionality than ever. We are in need of prayer and discernment, of fasting and penance, and mostly of justice with mercy and compassion. To do so, we need to live what we profess and pray for much guidance in how to do so. Our guardian angels can assist, protect, and guide; the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael can help us to fight evil, live the gospel message, and be a healing presence. The issues of our day are quite serious, but the angels are signs of hope that God is ever with us. Let us always cling to this hope with the help of the angels.
May we regularly call upon our Guardian Angel to guide, protect, and intercede for us! May we look to the Archangel Michael as our inspiration to stand up against evil through our commitment to Christ, and may we constantly call upon him to protect us from the temptations of Satan! May we call upon the Archangel Gabriel to help us be bearers of the Gospel message! May we turn to the Archangel Raphael that we might be a healing, peaceful presence! May we learn how to balance justice with mercy! And may we never forget who it is that we serve: Jesus the Lord! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
© Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post will be on October 8.
Here is a beautiful prayer to the Archangels, should you be interested:
1. This is an Orthodox icon of the three Archangels. I really liked this one because you can see the symbol of each archangel depicted with them. Gabriel, on the left, is holding a medallion of the image of Mary at the Annunciation, while under it is the message he spoke to her on an open scroll. Michael, in the middle, is standing with sword in hand, overcoming sin and evil. Raphael, on the right, is standing upon the fish which he used for healing in the Book of Tobit, with the words of the book in a scroll in his hand.
2. This is a painting by James Tissot called And the Angels Ministered to Him, (1886-94) depicting Jesus after the temptation in the desert. I love the gentleness with which the angels are depicted as they lovingly tend to Jesus who is utterly spent.
3. This beautiful work is indeed a painting, done by Russian artist Rufin Gavrilovich Sudkovsy (1880). It is called Cliff in the Moonlight. I love the light on the water and also the figure sitting on the cliff. In my imagination the figure is praying and an unseen guardian angel is taking his prayer to Heaven. What do you see? For a closer look, go to this site:
4. This is an icon called Archangel St. Michael by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I am named for Michael, and so I chose this because of my natural bias toward my patron. If you are interested in purchasing a copy in one of many mediums you can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/archangel-st-michael-193-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
5. I took this photograph of clouds in the New Mexico sky while I was hiking. I chose to use it here partly because the cloud sort of looks like an angelic figure (if one uses ones imagination) and also because it seemed fitting as a symbol of heaven.
6. This is another of my photos, taken in a garden in Colorado. It spoke a message of beauty and seemed fitting to be matched with a section on the message of Gabriel.
7. I chose to use this painting of a loaf of broken bread as both a Eucharistic symbol and a symbol of feeding those who are in need.
8. I wish I knew who the artist of this piece is, but I do not. It was a print given to me by my mother when I was young, and so there is no way of knowing who to credit. I took a photo of it to use here. I had it on the wall in my bedroom when I was young; it has great sentimental value to me. I have always loved the translucence of the angel who guards and guides the little girl, unseen.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
The Most Holy Name of Mary
On September 12 the Church celebrates the feast of The Most Holy Name of Mary, a memorial which is unknown to many because it is optional on the liturgical calendar. We have a number of well-known feasts of Mary, such as the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Mother of God, Mother of the Church, and her Assumption into Heaven; we celebrate her under many titles such as Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima, (and many others). Simply put, after Jesus no one dominates the liturgical calendar the way Mary does. Her presence is everywhere, it seems, and so celebrating a feast which emphasizes the holiness of her name is appropriate. While this feast and most of the others are not holy days of obligation, I do think we should be aware of these celebrations and titles for Mary because they tell us something about her. This particular feast, The Most Holy Name of Mary, reminds us that names are indeed doorways to our identity insofar as names are intimate and connote deep meaning. Therefore through this feast we are honoring Mary, but also getting to know her better.
The name Mary (Miriam) was rather common in Israel, so of itself the name had no real importance although it was the name of Moses’ sister, as recorded in the Old Testament. We don’t know for sure, but we can guess that her parents chose this name for her because of their faithfulness to God and the rich spiritual history of Israel. We also know there were other women named Mary in the gospels, such as Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary the wife of Clopus. Therefore, we might wonder how the name of this particular Mary is any different from the other women called by the same name. The answer lies in her identity, not just in the word ‘Mary;’ it is the woman who possessed the name that renders it sacred. Mary was, in fact, a most remarkable woman, one who was considered so pure that at the Annunciation the angel who greeted her did not utter her name as a sign of his reverence toward her,* and yet in her humility, she paid homage to him!
Names are rooted in one’s personality and identity. Knowing a person’s name changes everything in the way we interact with them; our interaction becomes more personal and draws them closer to us. Names are also intimate. Think of Moses on the mountain when God passed by and pronounced His own name. “The Lord came down in a cloud and stood with [Moses] there and proclaimed the name ‘LORD.’ So the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing His love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin...!’” (Exodus 34:5-8) The word LORD is written in all caps to designate that God’s utterance of His own name was so holy that Moses would not even pronounce it, leave alone attempt to write it: to make any attempt to repeat it would take away from the awe of hearing His name. But it is in the description of God’s characteristics which follows that Moses attempted to reveal something of the identity of who this good and gracious God really is.
In the same way that Moses knew the sacredness of the name of God, when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary he revealed his attitude toward her. He said: “Hail, favored one!” In not saying her name, he imparts to us that he recognized how special she was for God to have chosen her to be the mother of His Son. Gabriel knew he was addressing the one conceived without sin, yet who was completely free in her response. After her humble, but courageous ‘Let it be done’ the angel left her; Luke tells us that she pondered the meaning of everything that had happened. (Luke 1:26-38) Strangely, the angel is not named in the birth narrative found in Matthew’s Gospel when the focus on Jesus’ birth was more on Joseph than Mary. Instead he was referred to as the “angel of the Lord,” though it is safe to say it was indeed Gabriel. (Matthew 1:18-25)
In light of the angel not addressing her by name, it is of interest that in the gospels, Jesus, who no doubt called her ‘Mother’ while He lived with her, publicly addressed Mary twice, and neither time did He refer to her as Mother or even as Mary: instead He called her Woman! He did this at the Wedding in Cana and as He was dying on the cross. But both times it was meant as a term of the greatest reverence and respect. He was acknowledging that Mary’s courage and humility, her purity and her willingness to suffer for His sake and for our salvation, places her above all other women. It is clear Jesus dearly loved her and that He wanted her to know what she meant to Him as her Son and as her God.
Given all this, there is no reason for us to be hesitant to address Mary by name, however. Holy as she is, in saying her name we are acknowledging her identity as the humble and ever pure mother of our Lord and we are accepting her invitation to intimacy with her. Although the knowledge that she was never touched by the stain of sin may make it feel like she is somewhat inaccessible, the opposite is true: she desires that we become so close to her that we do say her name, and that we say it whenever we need her intercession. It must give her joy when we say: “Hail Mary, full of grace,” not because she has a ‘big ego’ and loves to be honored, but because in saying this greeting we are acknowledging all that God has accomplished through her. Thus we are actually glorifying God for giving us such great gifts by allowing her to be put at our service: in her humility and love, she wants to serve us through her intercession. And in that same humility, Mary would want us to remember that while we do revere her greatly and consider her name holy, we do not worship her. (We venerate her; worship is reserved for God alone.)
Throughout the years, Mary has given us great insight into her identity in addition to what the gospels reveal about her. She has appeared many times since her Assumption into Heaven and she has been given numerous titles based on these appearances. She has declared that she is the Immaculate Conception and she has repeatedly called herself our mother; she has openly cried, smiled, warned, and prayed, but always, she comes in service and with love. She serves God, but she is always respectful of the ones to whom she appears. For example, she speaks and dresses according to the customs of the ones to whom she appears, asking them to share messages with her children. Thus, we learn that it is important to address everyone we meet with similar respect and even with reverence. Perhaps remembering that Mary’s name is holy will help us bear in mind that every person’s name should be spoken with reverence and kindness because to that name is attached the identity of the person who bears it, and thus we are addressing their dignity as a brother or sister. In addressing another, we should always remember that they are a child of God, beautiful to behold and precious in His sight. Each one is a loved sinner, as are we. In these times in which a lack of respect and even abuse of one another seems rampant, we need to call upon Mary more than ever to intercede for us that we might treat others the way Jesus taught, with love, mercy, and respect. With her as our model and with the names of Mary and Jesus on our lips and in our hearts, perhaps we can also be bearers of respect, kindness, mercy, and love, standing against the hatreds and vitriolic words which seem to flow freely today. Perhaps we are being invited into deeper discipleship by praying for the reparation of sin, by being an example of Christian love, and by being true children of our Mother.
Revering Mary’s name as holy, therefore, is to recognize everything about her identity and her role in bringing salvation from God through her Son. ‘Mary’ is more than a word; her name brings to mind an entire understanding of who she is and what she continues to offer us. Calling on Mary by name reminds us to imitate her so that we become a healing presence, living what we pray. Therefore, let us have faith in God, and cling to our mother Mary, saying her name repeatedly as a prayer. She can offer us her mother’s heart, the pathway to being a disciple of Jesus and a way to coming to know, love, and serve her God and ours with deeper love and commitment. Hail Mary! Holy is your name!
May we greet Mary every day with the words: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” May we take Mary as our role model, our confidant, and our intimate friend, so that she can respond: “I am with you and the Lord is with you, too!” May we remember that there is the power of humility, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love in her name: Mary! May we always give Mary her greatest joy, which is to lead us to her Son Jesus! And may we learn to respect and love others in the same way Mary teaches, that we may bring healing and peace into the world! Let us meet in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary! Peace!
© Michele L. Catanese
* From the September issue of Magnificat, page 156, this is a quote from St. Lawrence of Brindisi. (1559-1619)
If you are interested in Marian apparitions, there are many sites out there. I am only adding the one about the first apparition in Zaragoza, Spain. I have been to the shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar; the Church is quite beautiful.
Note: The next post will be on Tuesday, September 25.
1. This is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Maesta. Although the word 'maesta' translates to 'majesty,' I chose this icon because it spoke to me of holiness and simplicity. It is simply Mary; no words, nothing but her image. You can find it at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/maesta-224-william-hart-mcnichols.html. (A reminder that I have his permission to post his icons and images on my site.)
2. This is a photo I took at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth in Galilee, Israel. I thought it was appropriate to show the spot where the angel greeted Mary with the words, "Hail, favored one!"
3. This image is by Fr. William Hart McNichols, called The Hebrew Name of Yahweh-adam Kadmon. I thought it was fitting here because it is the Hebrew letters of God's response to Moses at the burning bush: "I AM WHO AM." Presumably this is not what God called Himself when He spoke His name to Moses in the passage I mentioned (Ex 34) but it is who God says He is: He is one who has always existed. http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/hebrew-name-of-yahweh-adam-kadmon-183-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
4. This is my favorite work of Fra Angelico, The Annunciation.
5. I took this photo in Ireland, near Adair. I chose to use it here as a scene of beauty, but which symbolically speaks of accessibility. The canoes make the beauty of the lake accessible from another vantage point.
6. This is a depiction of St. Juan Diego seeing the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill, Mexico in 1531. I chose to use it here because it is a good example of Mary appearing in the garb of the person to whom she has appeared. She was dressed as a peasant and spoke the same dialect as Juan Diego.
7. This is one of my photos, taken near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I chose to use it here as an example of the beauty of God's gifts to us, particularly the beauty of the holiness found in Mary.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart