A post for the Feast of the Holy Angels, by Penny.
Fairly frequently, I’m called upon to answer random questions about Catholicism: everything from “Who’s the patron Saint of actors?” to “Can I be a Catholic and a Buddhist at the same time?” (A: Saint Genesius, and B: no.)
Of all the misconceptions that I usually encounter, however, the most common revolve around angels: the belief that humans who “cross over” turn into angels, for example, or that that angels are “beings of light” who can “channel” that light through you if you meditate enough and burn the right kind of candle.
The reality, though, is a lot more fascinating than these insipid New Age ideas. While I was in the convent, I read through a fair chunk of the Scriptures, and noticed a pattern whenever God sends an angel to speak with a prophet: the prophet looks up, sees something enormous that burns brighter than fire, and immediately keels over unconscious. Far from being benign lights with a fondness for lavender oil, the angels in God’s service are the highest created beings, reflecting the glory of God with a brilliance that drives humans to the ground.
They are also warriors who will, at the end of time, fight the final battle with the devil and drive him and his followers into hell for eternity. Consider the Archangel Gabriel, who is most well-known, of course, for bringing the joyful message of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin. This isn’t his first appearance in the Scriptures, however: hundreds of years earlier, Gabriel had appeared to the Prophet Daniel and – after waking Daniel from his faint – described to him an angelic war that was in progress at the time, in which he was fighting side-by-side with Michael (Daniel 10:12-13.) To me, this image of Gabriel in battle makes the Annunciation even more profound: the powerful warrior brings God’s message to a young woman from Nazareth, and quietly awaits her answer.
Consider, too, the third Archangel whose name we know. At the climax of the book of Tobit, the friendly guide who has brought young Tobias through various trials to a happy marriage suddenly drops his disguise:
I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.
Then they were both troubled, and fell upon their faces: for they feared.
But he said unto them, “Fear not, for it shall go well with you; praise God therefore.
For not of any favour of mine, but by the will of our God I came; wherefore praise him for ever.
All these days I did appear unto you; but I did neither eat nor drink, but ye did see a vision.
Now therefore give God thanks: for I go up to him that sent me; but write all things which are done in a book.
And when they arose, they saw him no more. (Tobit 12:15-21)
Of all the books of the Old Testament, Tobit is the one I most love to re-read: a story of ordinary people to whom God sends an angel as a teacher and protector, not for any grand world-changing reason, but for the simple purpose of bringing them joy. We too, can turn to the angels in prayer and ask for their guidance in discerning the will of God – and we, too, can ask these heavenly warriors for their protection. I’ll conclude with a prayer to Saint Raphael, “The Angel of Happy Meetings,” which took on a new and powerful meaning for me after I left the religious life. At a time when I was struggling to imagine that I would ever find a place to belong, this prayer reminded me that, somewhere in the world, there are people who don’t yet know me but are waiting for me nonetheless. This is the essence of any vocation: God has created something that will be incomplete until you are part of it. On this Feast of the Holy Angels, let us ask their help in finding it.
O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for and those who are waiting for us.
May all our movements, all their movements, be guided by thy light and transfigured by thy joy.
Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to thee at the foot of Him on whose unveiled Face thou art privileged to gaze. (Mention your request.)
Lonely and weary, deeply grieved by the separations and sorrows of earth, we feel the need of calling to you and of pleading for the protection of thy wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy.
Remember the weak, thou who art strong, whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.