September 29: A celebration of heavenly beings in an overly-materialistic world.
In the preface to his infamous Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis notes the following about our attitudes towards heavenly beings.
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
On the one hand, ours is an age that values the physical and material world around us. To the materialist, the world is what you can experience and observe: atoms, molecules, nature, etc. This world is explained in scientific terms; we hold things to be true if we can empirically verify them in a laboratory. The world of spirits, angels, and demons is often billed as a thing of the past — a primitive view of the world suited only for primitive humanity.
On the other hand, even in this overly-materialistic world, our wider culture is drawn to the supernatural. Many of the most popular films and television series tread into the realm of magic and spirits; they are populated with dragons and elves. Production companies do not spend a fortune on a television series unless they somehow know that it will strike a nerve with a wide audience.
(And, as someone who once dressed up as Frodo for the DVD release of The Two Towers, I can attest to the reality that these fantasy worlds can really strike a nerve with a subset of that wider audience!)
Wherever you land on angelic beings—an ardent materialist who denies their existence, or as one who perhaps takes “an excessive and unhealthy interest in them”—the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels has something for you.
In the biblical languages, an angel is simply a messenger from God. Angels are not at the forefront of the story of Scripture, but they certainly feature in a few key moments on earth and in a few key glimpses into heaven.
It is worth noting that throughout Scripture it is not uncommon for angels to begin their message to God’s people with the words, “Do not fear.” This should tell us something about their physical appearance. Cute babies with wings appearing to you in a dream do not need to lead with, “Don’t be afraid of me” do they?
(On second thought … maybe they do!)
Most angelic beings are not mentioned by name in the Scriptures. Joseph, for example, is visited by many unnamed beings bearing the title “angel of the Lord.”
Chief among the angels that are mentioned by name are Michael and Gabriel. In Scripture and the tradition, Michael is considered the greatest of the archangels. He is credited with defeating Lucifer in the war in heaven (Rev. 12:7-9). His name is mentioned twice in the OT and twice in the NT, and numerous other times in apocryphal literature. Gabriel is most well known for his announcement to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of God, but appears also to Daniel in the Old Testament and Zechariah in the New Testament.
Biblical angels appear to have different roles: Michael protects, and Gabriel announces. Countless other angels of the Lord fulfill other duties.
So what does all of this information about angels have to do with our own formation?
There are times when God protects, communicates, or guides us in inexplicable ways.
As people who aim to have the story of Scripture engrained in our lives, we should be open to the reality that this protection, communication, and guidance may be the work of “an angel of the Lord.”
Habit to Adopt: An increased awareness of the angelic and demonic realms is not necessarily a habit, is it? But perhaps each year on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels you can make it a practice to pray a thanksgiving for the work of angels. Year after year, this reminder may help you grow in our ability to trust that the unseen is as real—if not more so—than the seen.
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.