Wednesday, September 28, 2016

ANGELS ASCENDING AND DESCENDING


Homily for September 29th, 2016: John 1:47-51.

          “Truly, I say to you, you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus speaks these words to his newly recruited disciple, Nathaniel. Elsewhere in the gospels he is identified as the apostle Bartholomew. The words tell us that Jesus is the contact person between earth and heaven, between humanity and God. 

We contact God by offering prayers to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus, in and through the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to pray and supports us as we do so. The ascending angels are carrying our prayers heavenward. And the descending angels are bringing us the Father’s blessings in answer to our prayers. 

The Bible identifies three special angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, called archangels. We commemorate them today. Michael, whose name means, “Who can compare with God?” is mentioned in the book of Revelation, where we read: “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven.” The archangel Michael represents God’s power, defending us against the forces of evil.

Gabriel is God’s messenger. He appeared to the Old Testament prophet Daniel to help him understand a vision Daniel had about the world’s end (cf. Dan. 8:16 & 9:21). Later he appeared to a teenaged Jewish girl called Mary, to tell her she was to be the mother of God’s Son.

The archangel Raphael is traditionally the angel of healing. Chapter 12 of the Old Testament book Tobit speaks of his healing power. And chapter 5 of John’s gospel speaks of sick people waiting to be healed at a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda. An ancient verse which is missing in modern Bibles speaks of an angel, identified in Catholic tradition as Raphael, coming to stir up the waters, to release their healing powers.

In 1886 Pope Leo XIII composed a prayer to the archangel Michael which was prayed at the end of every Mass until 1968. It goes like this:

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host - by the Divine Power of God - cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”