I sometimes wonder what to make of angels.
Today is the feast of the three holy archangels whom we know by name – from the scriptures: Michael (“Who is like God?”), Gabriel (“God is our refuge”), and Raphael (“The medicine of God”).
I feel closest to Saint Raphael – for any number of reasons. His presence in the book of Tobit show us the care of God for travelers, for lovers, and for the sick. In addition, I was baptized in the parish of Saint Raphael in Philadelphia and I spent almost 24 years in the archdiocese of Dubuque, whose patron is Saint Raphael.
But what about all these angels and archangels?
We live in a world, especially apparent these days, where evil, illness, depression, and much more weigh us down. The world seems to be filled with all that is negative, that denies life, wholeness, health, and holiness. It seems populated by the principalities and powers of domination, violence, racism, division – from the cases of sexual abuse of minors and killing of innocents that I see around me here in Honduras. And then there are the rulers of this world who use violence, corruption, and divisiveness to keep their abusive power. It sometimes feels that the world is populated with demons – from families to the places of the rich and powerful in many countries of the world, including – sad to say – the United States.
But I think that the feast of angels can be good news for us.
Angels, the messengers of God, not only see the face of God and worship him, but they can help us see the face of God and the presence of grace around us.
The angels show us that, ultimately, the world is not controlled by the powers of evil, the demons, the obstacles to good. They show us the power of God.
Michael reminds us that we are not god and that the rules of this world are not gods or saviors.
Gabriel reminds us that the true God became flesh in the womb of a poor virgin and lived among us, as a poor man and as one committed to God and God’s reign of truth, justice, and love. He was willing to give himself, even to death, so that he might be raised to new life – and bring us access to that life.
Raphael shows us the guiding hand of God. He guided Tobit’s son, Tobiah, to find a wife in a foreign land. He gave Tobiah the wisdom and the power to overcome the assumed power of the demon who had killed all the previous husbands of Sarah on their wedding night. He also gave Tobiah the medicine to cure his father’s blindness. He is the guide for the journey, the healer of the sick, the one who makes the marriage bed a place of life.
The world is filled with the presence of God – and the angels can help us see this. Seeking their intercession, we can begin to turn aside from the negativity around us – the evil of violence and poverty, the divisiveness in the church and in politics. They can help us walk the way of the Lord.
The icon of Saint Raphael is from Concepción Abbey Press.