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.
Imagine. You’ve found the purpose of your being, the meaning of your existence, the reason for living. Then it dies. Literally. This is the suffering of Our Lady. This is the Sorrow of Good Friday that remained when she awoke Saturday morning (if she slept at all), until that glorious Sunday when it was as if life was breathed back again into the world asleep in death.
But the sorrow of Our Lady was not one without gratitude for the “great things” God had done for her, for the gift of the 33 years with Our Lord! She did not cease proclaiming the “greatness of the Lord.”
Nor was this sorrow without the hope of his “promise of mercy… the promise he made to our fathers,” the mercy she recounts in the previous stanzas of her Magnificat.
Today, we are very united to Our Lady, to her sorrows. And yet, this makes us all the more grateful and hopeful of the great gifts and mercies the Lord has and will bestow on us!
It is on this Feast that the Stabat Mater and the Magnificat harmonize in the choirs of Heaven, interwoven by the descant of her Fiat, that first “yes” she proclaimed which gave new life to the world. Let us pray with the sorrows of Our Lady, while also remembering her joyful Magnificat, both extensions of her Fiat.
May we always keep our Fiat as the constant hymn on our lips. May it always be our response in our joys, the “magnificats” in our lives when we can only give gratitude to God, for the “great things” we have received. May it always be our response in the sorrows, the “stabat maters” in life where we are challenged to exercise the virtue of hope in His promises; when our purpose, meaning, and reason for life seem to have been torn from our very hearts, and we are rendered unable to find words to sing praise, except the words of Our Lady, “Let it be done unto me according to thy will,” a prelude to the words of Christ, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” May our thoughts, words, and deeds be a “remix” of their words, a resounding symphony of our own Fiat. May we please the ears of our Father in Heaven, all the Saints and Angels, and especially Our Lady- may they shout “Bravo!” “Encore!” to our “solo,” our unique contribution to the Heavenly Hymn of praise.
Lord God, the day of our salvation dawned when the Blessed Virgin gave birth to Your Son. As we celebrate her nativity, grant us Your grace and Your peace. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saint Dominic, 1170-1221
Spanish priest and founder of the Dominican Order.
An excerpt from The Lives of the Brethren of the Order of Preachers, compiled by Blessed Humbert de Romans, AD1277.
Suddenly he was rapt in spirit before God and saw Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin sitting at His right. It seemed to Blessed Dominic that Our Lady was wearing a cape of bright blue, the color of sapphire. As Blessed Dominic looked around, he could see religious of all the orders but his own around the throne of God, so that he began to weep bitterly and stood far away, not daring to approach the Lord and His mother. Then Our Lady motioned for him to come near. But he would not dare, until Our Lord Himself also called him. Then Blessed Dominic cast himself before them weeping bitterly.
But Our Lord told him to rise, and when he did, Our Lord asked him, “Why are you weeping so?”
“I am weeping because I see all the other orders here but no sign of my own.”
And the Lord said to him, “Do you want to see your Order?” and he answered, “Yes, Lord.”
Then Our Lord, putting his hand upon the shoulders of the Blessed Virgin, said to Blessed Dominic, “I have entrusted your Order to my Mother.” Then he asked him again, “Do you still wish to see your Order?” and again he answered “Yes, Lord.”
Then the Blessed Virgin opened the cape which covered her and spread it out before Blessed Dominic, to whom it seemed vast enough to cover the entire heaven and, under it, he saw a large multitude of the brethren. Then prostrating himself, Blessed Dominic gave thanks to God and to Blessed Mary His Mother. After that the vision disappeared and he returned to himself just as the bell rang for Matins.
Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, 1842-1909
Australian Religious Sister, foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
An excerpt from a letter written to her mother, Flora: from May 14th 1867, shortly after the founding of her new Congregation.
Oh, I have long been sick and weary of the world and its cares, of its false pleasures and delights. Still, I could not wish to leave it as long as I thought God willed my stay in it. I have such an earnest longing for the Order of Saint Joseph and know well how hard it will be to get it established here, but everything God blesses will prosper, and surely His blessing attends this holy Order; none other is so fitted for the wants of this Colony… think, dear Mamma, of the work that is to be done, and how few there are to do it, and thank God for permitting a child of yours to be one, the least worthy, of the workers. If our work be so pleasing to Him, will He not console and bless you, dear Mamma, for having first lead me to love Him?
From Mary MacKillop and Flora (2004), edited by Sheila McCreanor.