Bishop: Archangelic Attitudes
by Bishop Joensen | September 21, 2020
September 29 is the annual Feast of Saints Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. The archangels are not fictional superheroes; they are real persons without bodies but with distinctive shares in God’s appointed mission. There is no rivalry or competition among them. We pray to them for protection, healing, and sustained joy the Gospel is meant to instill. As with anyone upon whom we set our hearts and devotion, we not only receive grace; we become somehow more like the persons we love. This is my hope in these contentious, sometimes murky and mysterious times: that each of us will become more like the archangels.
Thanks to the friendly prompting of Jeff Pierick and his men’s group in West Des Moines, I have rejoined the many faithful praying the St. Michael prayer on a regular basis. Saint Michael, the warrior and protector, battles against the “wickedness and snares of the Devil,” who seeks to deceive and seduce us with his lies and lead us to destruction (see Rev. 12:7-9). Michael wields the sword of truth that exposes lies, distills light from darkness and liberates us from the many grey shades of moral relativism. Our culture is rife with spin doctors whose words are slippery and peeled off from reference to reality.
When we imitate Michael, we are courageous enough to “call things by their proper name,” as St. John Paul II enjoined, allowing us to be sifted and measured by the good God has established and bestowed. We are bold enough to claim that there is such a thing as “human nature” and that our choices and actions either contribute to our flourishing or our downfall, depending on whether we respect the natural law God has inscribed in minds and hearts.
Yet the sword of God’s word wielded by Christians in the cause of truth cannot be a slash-and-burn affair, dividing and further polarizing human society, our country, and our Church. We cannot lay proprietary claim to the “Truth” (capital “T”) as a way of separating the good guys from the bad guys, deflecting attention away from the fact that we are all sinners seeking to be saved. Sometimes I wonder if our own bickering and finger-pointing within the Church, let alone the wholesale denunciations by various “Catholic” organizations, make us seem like one more human society set against itself. We don’t want to resemble the Midianites of the Old Testament, who, when the men of Gideon broke their jars and blew their horns, wielded their swords against one another instead of their real enemy (Judges 7:16-22). Jesus does not further bend the bruised reed, or quench the smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20). We must mingle mercy with justice, and befriend our own frail nature in our neighbor and ourselves. And that’s where the ministry and example of St. Raphael is vital.
When Raphael enters the house of the blind Tobit, the angelic guest says to the man on the brink of despair, “Take courage! God has healing in store for you!” (Tobit 5:10). Raphael ministers healing of physical sight and rescues from despair. He reconciles body and spirit, uniting Tobit in his own person, restoring his household, bestowing blessings and peace. We imitate Raphael when we are agents of encouragement, when we seek to make peace with God, quieting our own self-recrimination sometimes spun outward in our harsh attitudes toward those around us and our world. The sacrament of reconciliation continues to be made available by our dedicated parish priests throughout the diocese, and the gates of mercy remain wide open in our ongoing pandemic with permission for general absolution from sin under appropriate circumstances. When we know peace in God’s sight, we find ourselves spending less time stewing about what’s wrong with the world, and more time praying about how we might anoint others we accompany on our pilgrim way with a word of encouragement, gestures of empathy and benign longsuffering that convey to them that “God has healing in store for you!” We ponder and are poised like St. Gabriel, ready to announce good news to others, just as God commends us to do.
“Rejoice!” is the angel’s greeting to Mary (Luke 1:28). Gabriel found joy when announcing joy to others. In his message, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis notes that wherever the first disciples went, “there was great joy” (Acts 8:8). The Holy Father continues, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” even as he understands “the grief of people who have to endure great suffering.” Yet, “slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet but firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.” When happiness seems elusive, we imitate Gabriel and the author of the Book of Lamentations: “I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new each morning” (Lam. 3:17, 21-23, cited in EG n. 6).
Adapting Pope Francis’ original predecessor, St. Peter, we might ask ourselves, “Am I always ready to give a reason for the [joy] that is in me?” (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). When people encounter me, what sort of spiritual “vibe” do they perceive: someone who is bitter? Cranky? Cynical? Or someone who lifts spirits, is quick to laugh at herself, himself, quick to inject joy into situations, focuses on the good in one another and confirms that God is present among us, within us—the basis of all joy? And is there any greater source for regular renewal of joy within us than our reception of the Eucharist--however many precautions we observe these days--where we become like Mary in Gabriel’s presence when the priest or minister holds out the host and announces, “The Body of Christ!”?
We are definitely not angels. But as we ardently pursue truth, we also want to heal, to bring hope and joy to our weary world. We cultivate archangelic attitudes, imitating Saints Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel—and not just on their feast day, but in every time and season.