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.
Heart Speaks to Heart