|Rev.Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
A refugee fleeing his brother’s wrath is shown a way beyond all closed ways in a vision of angels going up and down the stairway to heaven. Here the patriarch Jacob would receive the first confirmation from God - “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15) On a dark cold night, heaven descended on earth when the angel of God declared to simple shepherds the good news of great joy that generations awaited. Beyond the still cloak of night these simple seekers would hear the choirs of heaven singing the Gloria. Heaven’s melody had seeped into the earth. Scripture reveals right through its pages that just as the angels celebrate the Glory of Heaven, they also bring to the earth the Touch of Heaven. Christian art is rich in presenting the Catholic tradition that reveres the Archangels and Angels. But have we felt the gentle brush of their wings or heard the sweet refrain of their praises in our daily lives?
“The Kingdom Of God Is In The Midst Of You” (Luke 17:21)
We are offered a rather vivid description of heaven by the prophet Isaiah as he records his first and life transforming visionary experience. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1-4) Again in the Book of Revelation, Heaven is characterized by the multitude of angels worshiping God. The glory of heaven and grandeur of God’s throne are highlighted by the praise and worship of the majestic angels. As we proceed through Isaiah’s account, we understand that a crucial role is assigned to angels in God’s interaction with man. When Isaiah recognized his impurity and repented, it was an angel who took the fire from the holy altar and purified the man into a prophet. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ ” (Isaiah 6:6-7) It was in the presence of the angels that Isaiah took up his mission to go out for the Lord. By this sanctifying ministry of the angel, Isaiah’s ears are opened to hear the Call of the Lord and his heart is opened to respond to the Lord in offering himself to be sent out as one of God’s great prophets.
God came down from heaven and took human form for the salvific purpose of leading humankind from the valley of tears to the heights of heaven. So the Messiah began His mission on earth proclaiming: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) This offers to everyone turning to God heavenly bliss right here on this earth. Heaven is no more confined to the visions of prophets or to life after earth but becomes a reality in the here and now. The heavenly reality of angels consequently becomes part of our daily living. We begin to realize the kingdom of heaven on earth when the angels lead us to echo the praises celebrated in heaven.
“Be Not Afraid; For Behold, I Bring You Good News Of A Great Joy” (Luke 2:10)
The mission of the angels is to bring to the earth the message of salvation. The very word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘aggelos’ which means ‘messenger’. The gospels are inaugurated with the visitation of the archangel Gabriel to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph who responding to the message played prime roles in receiving the promised Saviour into the world. Heaven’s messenger reveals God’s purpose, brings peace, enabling the chosen to accomplish the Divine mission.
Joseph was disturbed by the unhappy turn of events with the news of Mary, his betrothed, being pregnant. He is faced with two possibilities. One, to hand her over to the Mosaic law which would brutally kill her. The other, a more reasonable and humane option and which he settles for, is to divorce her quietly and leave the country. At this juncture, the angel comes to direct him to the Heavenly Plan in this seemingly impossible situation. The angel leads Joseph to understand the truth that is perfect and beyond human logic.
Abraham in his pursuing the Lord’s Word in his pilgrimage of faith is often supported by angels. When he is led to sacrifice his son, at the nick of time, the angel intervenes to save the child and reveal to Abraham that the Will of God was only to test his faithful love and not to take away the child.
“A Good Angel Will Go With Him” (Tobit 5:22)
The angel conveys to us the message from heaven but also remains with us as the guide for the way. They embody the ever abiding Presence and Care of God. The Book of Tobit reveals the faithful ministry of angels in the difficult moments of our life.
Tobit, elderly, infirm and blind was very concerned about the future of his son Tobias. He did not want Tobias to settle with a girl from the foreign land where they were staying. That was the custom of the Jews of the time. But to find a girl from his own Naphtali tribe would require him to go to the distant Midian country - an impossible task for the young man. In such a hopeless situation, the elderly Tobit called upon God. He then would bless his son “May his angel accompany you.” (Tobit 5:17) The account describes how the Archangel Raphael himself goes with Tobias on the long journey to accomplish the prayer of the anxious parent.
On finding his bride, Tobias is shattered for the woman proposed to him was possessed by a demon. Raguel, the father of the girl Sarah whom he fell in love with, informs him that the demon that possessed the girl would kill the man who married her and that seven men had died this way. Tobias sees his marriage now as a death trap. Here the angel clarifies to him the life giving mission that marriage is. In that helplessness of the young man’s confusion, the angel brings the Light of God that Sarah was the girl God had destined for him and that he would save her from the demonic possession. “Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed; you will save her.” (Tobit 6:18) The heavenly truth about marriage and indeed about every mission we are handed through life is revealed by the intervention of the angel.
God’s merciful intervention for the family does not end here. The angel continues his mission to completion by becoming the channel of God’s healing to restore sight to the elderly Tobit. What inspires us in these Scriptural events is how God’s loving concern for a poor helpless family is reflected in the presence and activity of the angel.
“Angels Came And Ministered To Him” (Matthew 4:11)
The angel is the Touch of God to care for and protect us. The Fathers of the Church have likened the Angels to the rays that emanate from the sun. A ray is part of the sun and conveys the warmth and light of the sun that yet remains a zillion miles away. But the rays are entities in themselves. So also angels come from God upholding us with the precious Presence, Guidance and Comfort of God.
At that crucial hour at Gethsemane when Jesus agonizes over the terror of betrayal, persecution and death that awaited Him, His prayer to the Father finds response in the comfort and strength an angel of God brings Him. When Jesus came to the world, He was wholly committed to do the Father’s Will. “My food is to do the will of my Father.” (John 4:34) Jesus was sure the Will of His Father was the Way of the Cross. He had to take upon Himself the sin of humankind and die that miserable death. He was preparing Himself for this moment with great determination. And yet when the hour came to be betrayed and handed over to death as a criminal, He slipped into deep sorrow. As He stood at Gethsemane, He held within Himself both the unbearable agony gripping His mind and body and the determination in His heart to be faithful to His Father. This great conflict within Himself made Him fall to the ground in utter helplessness. The gospel describes how the Father’s Comfort was offered with the presence of an Angel. The angels always bring to us the message of God’s Love strengthening us in our commitment to God. When we seem to be giving up on ourselves, God’s angel appears to lift us up with courage for victory.
The depressed prophet Elijah thought all he could ever hope for was death when he was being pursued by the evil queen Jezebel. Just as he gave up to lie down to die, the angel urges him to eat repeatedly and strengthened by the food of the angel he continues another 40 days of journeying to reach that wonderful encounter with God on Mount Horeb (1 Kings Chapter 19). Indeed just when the struggle seems too much, the angels come to give us just that extra bit of care that we need to reach the destination.
“Behold, My Angel Shall Go Before You” (Exodus 32:34)
Simon Peter had a most tangible experience when being chained in the highest security prison of Herod with the enemies of Jesus plotting to kill him, God sent an angel to set him free. “An angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly’. And the chains fell off his hands. The iron gate opened to them of its own accord; and immediately the angel left him. Peter came to himself, and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me.’” (Acts 12:7-11)
A young mother going through an extremely difficult time shared with me the consolation she received through the ministry of angels. Her husband was laid up in the hospital for months with cancer. She had to prepare his three meals at home and take it to the hospital daily. She was a nurse and had to work every day because that was the only income for the family. She had two small children who were studying in two different schools. They were to be taken to the school in the morning and picked up in the evening. She additionally had to keep watch over her ailing husband at night when he suffered much pain. All she could manage for herself was at the most a couple of hours of sleep. As she described her schedule, she had no complaints or grievances but only joyful gratitude for the Providence of God. She described how when she was terribly tired and had to drive, there were occasions when she would doze off only to realize that just as she was losing control of the vehicle, a gentle touch seemed to guide her through safely. When she went for work in the hospital, she would not know how she would get the energy to be alert in her ministering to the patients. She said in such weary moments she would pray to the Lord and she would feel the angels of the Lord holding her up to fulfill her responsibilities. Certain days she would have to take one child to the school much earlier than the opening time and she would pray that the angels of the Lord would protect them from all harm. In the hours of the night when she had to keep awake with her husband, if she dozed off once again, she felt a gentle heavenly touch wake her just a few seconds before her husband would himself need her attention. God’s love and protection was felt very tangibly by her in the soothing presence of the angels. The letter to Hebrews tells us “Are not the angels ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
“My God Sent His Angel And Shut The Lions' Mouths” (Daniel 6:22)
Angels are entrusted by God with the important mission of inspiring and strengthening human beings to fight evil. St Michael the Archangel is the sacred icon of all the struggle against evil. In the Book of Revelation, we have the picture of satan on the one hand rebelling against God and St. Michael taking up the challenge to fight this rebellion – “Then war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and its angels fought, but they were defeated.” (Revelation 12:7-8)
The Archangel Michael has been a great inspiration for everyone battling against the attacks of the evil powers. In the Letter of Jude, there is an interesting mention: “Yet the archangel Michael when he argued with the devil in a dispute of the body of Moses did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment on him but said ‘May the Lord rebuke you.’ ” (v 9) The verse has reference to an incident in the apocryphal assumption of Moses that the Archangel Michael was entrusted with the task of burying the body of Moses. Satan claimed the body. However Michael did not argue or revile satan but rebuked him in the Name of the Lord. This attitude of the Archangel should inspire us in the moments of our struggle against evil. We should not attempt at arguing against evil challenges. What is needed is to reject the offers of the enemy by turning to the Lord. This attitude is revealed in Jesus when He was tempted by the evil one in the desert. At the moment of temptation Jesus would take the authority of God and dismiss darkness “Get away, Satan.” (Matthew 4:10) This power of uncompromising approach in the battle against evil is the way of salvation.
“I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning” (Luke 10:18)
The power of evil prevalent in humanity is designated by the name ‘devil’ which in its original greek (diaballein) means ‘to cause destruction/ to divide/ to deceive/ to calumniate’ etc. The Bible refers to it as the ‘prince of the world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and even as ‘the god of this world’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). We find many other names as well - beelzebul, unclean spirit, tempter, evil one and even ‘antichrist’ (1 John 4:3). In the Book of Genesis, we read how satan succeeded to communicate to man an attitude of antagonism against God to lead him to sin (Genesis 3:5). Again satan tried to induce rebellion in Job in the moments of his intense suffering (Job 1:11; 2:5-7). Rebellion against God and destruction of humanity is what satan is always aiming at. Hence the warning of St Peter - “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Jesus calls him the cosmic “liar and father of lies” (John 8:44), who goes about imposing on human beings his radical and irreversible rejection of God.
The fact remains that satan is able to influence the free decision of man against God only if man gives consent to him. Satan is a defeated enemy. He was defeated by the angels who were committed to God and was thrown down to eternal hell. The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that satan and other demons “were created good by God but have become evil by their own will.” In the test of liberty, they rebelled against God. This teaching of the Church is based on the Word of God: “The angels who did not keep their own dignity, but left their own dwelling, are kept by the Lord in eternal chains in the darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (Letter of Jude verse 6). Similarly, St. Peter speaks of the angels who have sinned whom God “did not spare but… cast into gloomy abysses of hell reserving them for the judgment.” (2 Peter 2:4) The rebellious choice against God keeps the fallen angels in their eternal chains. This defeat of satan was complete by the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. “The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) All those who believe in Jesus are invited to live out the life of victory won by Him. Where is our confidence in the battlefield of life? The Bible teaches us that God has appointed His own angels who were victors over demons to help us in our life of struggle against evil.
“Let All God's Angels Worship Him” (Hebrews 1:6)
The Book of Tobit talks about the seven angels of the Presence who are called the archangels: “They present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.” (Tobit 12:12) The Angels, more than any other creation reflect the majesty and holiness of God. In them, we see gloriously reflected the Divine power, beauty and grandeur. They are united with God by a perfect commitment of love. They are constantly in the Presence of God, as Jesus said, “The angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:10) In the glory of this beatific vision of the Creator, these purely spiritual beings constantly offer worship. This is the heavenly liturgy.
In the preface of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer we read, “Countless hosts of angels stand before you to do your will. They look upon your splendor and praise you night and day. United with them and in the name of every creature under heaven we too praise your glory.” This indeed is our privilege to be united with the Angels of God at every moment of our life, praising and thanking God. The Catholic Church teaches that our liturgical celebrations are indeed a sharing of the heavenly liturgy of the worship of the angels in heaven. In liturgical celebrations, every believer is united with the whole Christian community praising and thanking God, experiencing the awesome Presence of God. It is this liturgical experience
<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->that enables us to continue to experience the Presence of God in our personal prayer.
This indeed is the strength of a believer on this earth. Being united with God at every moment of life, we become bold to stand up for God in our struggles of life. Our failure in life would be the inability to feel God’s Presence and Power. The absence of God will bring in fear and loneliness, sadness and despair. God has always been insistent in offering His Presence at every moment of our life. Hence we read in the Bible the Promise of God being repeated “I am with you.” These promises culminate in the solemn assurance of Jesus “I will be with you till the end of ages.” (Matthew 28:20) The deep experience of God’s Presence with us is the source of courage and strength casting out all fears. “Fear not!” (Isaiah 43:1) is a phrase that occurs 365 times in the Bible. God repeats it so often to assure us that evil power, however destructive, will not achieve final victory. When we declare our faith in the angels we receive an assurance in the depths of our hearts that God’s presence is with us strengthening us in all our struggles in this world. “He has given His angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11)
Angels come our way to tend to us as we must tend those who are brought our way. “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) Isaiah looked on the angels declaring the Glory of God ceaselessly and responded to go and proclaim this glory to all those whom he is sent to.
The Bible reveals to us God’s Mercy and Compassion is sent to God’s children through the ministry of the angels. Their constant presence in front of God enabled them to participate in the holiness and majesty of God. This same grace is offered to us as we remain in the Presence of God guided by angels. To believe in Angels requires us to take up their mission to our neighbours by declaring the Good News of God’s Love and Encouragement especially in the difficult moments of life.
Let Us Pray
O God of heaven and earth, the hosts of angels worship You in Your Presence. You send them to Your children on earth with Your Loving Comfort and guiding message in the moments of our struggle to hold on to You. When we are overwhelmed in the dark shadows of life, send Your angels to enlighten us with Your Word and strengthen us with courage. When we are not able to know the way and understand our pain, let Your angel be by our side to reveal Your Plans and to give us the vision of the glory that lies awaiting us. As we gaze on Your angels may we echo the heavenly chorus of the angels on this earth.