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Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Amigos: An Eclectic View on Angels

by Lawrence Fox

Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom God’s Love commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard and to rule and guide.

Three Visible Amigos to the Rescue

My wife informed me that I was to meet her at the car dealer at 5:30 p.m. So after school, I adroitly got in my car and traveled off to meet her. While in transit, suddenly I picked up in my peripheral vision an impending scuffle on the opposite side of the roadway.

I slowed up the car, glanced left, and noticed about six or seven youths ready to pounce on two lanky looking youths. I pulled my car into the middle turn section of the roadway, sounded the car horn, turned on the emergency flasher, got out of the car and yelled, “Get into my car!”

And so they started to run towards my car along with their pursuers. I noticed that two of the ring leaders stayed behind. I wanted to help these youths and at the same time, I recognized the risk of getting into real trouble if someone started to throw fists. In other words, I was not really prepared to deal with the impeding situation. So while surrounded by several miscreants telling me to mind my own business, I prayed in my spirit: “I need a little help here!”

Immediately, three amigos ran up and started to wail on the two ring leaders who had stayed behind. I remember the enthusiasm with which the three amigos executed their task. It was like something out of a Marvel comic: “You want to fight? SMACK @#$% “You want to hit on someone?” POW $@#!

As a result, the miscreants scattered away from my car and headed towards bedlam. I gained my composure and instructed the two lanky kids to get into my car and off we drove. They were so relieved and I was so grateful that nothing else happened.
I cannot state with certainty whether the three amigos were angels or men but the timing was obviously supernatural.

One Invisible Amigo to the Rescue

Many years earlier while walking home from grade school, I was about to turn from the curb and head into the street. I must have been day dreaming or something. I was grabbed from behind and stopped one step from the curb. In a flash a metro bus zoomed past me. If I would have stepped into the street I would have been “food for worms.” Who grabbed me? I could see no corporeal person around. Again the timing was supernatural.

Should I be surprised?

Sacred Scripture time and again speaks of God’s intervention in the lives of men and women; sending his messengers both Angels and Archangels to protect, guide, instruct, and to encourage. The Catholic Catechism Article 336 states that from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. With each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.

Sometimes these messengers appear and announce good tidings like the gift of a child as was the case with Abraham & Sara, Zacharias & Elizabeth, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Sometimes these messengers appear to execute God’s judgment like at Sodom, in Egypt during the Passover, and with the tribulations described in the Book of Revelation. Sometimes these messengers assist men in battle like the Prince of the Host of the Lord assisting Joshua after Israel crossed the River Jordan.

Sometimes these messengers provide sustenance and comfort to weary souls: like the angel bringing water to Hagar & Ishmael and the angels that came to minister to Jesus after his 40 days of fasting in the desert.

We easily remember these supernatural moments knowing that God has intervened and sent his messenger. Yet, God is always acting in our lives with every breath we take.

I have been told that the sure ticket to heaven is to demonstrate gratitude to God for his constant Love and Protection and to thank God for all the ways He guides and protects us through the various creatures and persons He brings into our lives.

Blessed be God in his Angels and His Saints.

One way that the Catholic Church helps us to live a life of gratitude is through our participation in her various liturgical celebrations: Solemnities, Feast Days, and Memorials.

Two such Feast Days are the Feast of St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels on September 29th and the Feast of Guardian Angels on October 2nd.

Three Amigos in Heaven

We learn from the Deposit of Faith that St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are Archangels (rulers or princes).

The Church identifies these archangels as saints. The term “saint” means holy and set apart. The Catholic Church sets these three angels apart in the liturgical calendar because they are set apart in Sacred Scripture for they are specifically named among the myriad and myriad of good angels which make up the nine choirs of angels (not in any order): angels, archangels, virtues, thrones, powers, principalities, dominions, cherubim, and seraphim.

Sacred Scripture specifically identifies these three archangels by name: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, incorporating the Hebrew expression of God “El”. There are three Hebrew names for God: El, Elohim, and Eloah. The proper name for God is Yahweh (IAM).

Note: Sacred Scripture also identifies by name certain bad angels but not for our curiosity but as a warning and that is for another topic.

“Who is like God?”

Michael's name is an interrogative expression, "Who is like God?" And his name seems to be based upon the fact that he fights against those who oppose God with his own brand of humility. His battle cry against Satan and his minions who rebelled against God must have been: “Who is like God that you dare to challenge Him?”

We find St. Michael spoken of by name in the Book of Daniel, the Letter of Jude, and the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Daniel it is the Archangel Gabriel who identifies St. Michael as the one of the chief princes in heaven and the great prince of the people of Israel (Daniel 10:7-21, 11:2, 12:3).

In the Book of Revelation (12:7) we learn of war in heaven between St. Michael and his angels and the dragon and his followers. The battle is fought and St. Michael and the good angels cast the dragon (the ancient serpent called the devil or Satan) and his demons out of heaven and to the earth. Pope Leo the XIII was given a vision of this battle and as a result composed the St. Michael the Archangel prayer.

St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. And may God rebuke him, we humble pray. And do thou oh prince of the heavenly host by the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirit that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen!

Our Pastor leads the congregation in the recitation of this prayer after Mass here at St. George’s Roman Catholic Parish in Apache Junction, AZ. I get the sense that God is pleased with this practice.

I remember reciting this prayer to my Baptist friend named Michael and he said: “Baptists do not pray to angels.” I asked him: “Does not the Bible state that St. Michael battles against the devil and wins? Do you not understand that God deliberately reveals to us this task of St. Michael’s in Sacred Scripture? And is not the devil still around harassing us? Then it seems that since God has assigned him this task, and we are God’s children by adoption, we would be fools not to encourage St. Michael to kick butt in our defense.

St. Jude writes that we are to be humble in our language even when dealing with evil. It is from the Letter of St. Jude (1:9) we read that when Moses died, the Archangel Michael disputed with the devil over the body of Moses. We learn from Sacred Scripture that Moses the servant of the Lord died in the land of Moab. And the people of Israel buried him in Gai near the house of Phogor; and no one has seen his sepulcher to this day (Deuteronomy 34:5).

It seems that God collected and transported the body of Moses but where we do not know. There are apocryphal books which attempted to provide some of the missing data: the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch which may have been referenced in this Letter of St. Jude.

It is speculated that it is St. Michael who stands with his sword drawn and proclaims to Joshua that he is the Prince of the Host of the Lord (Joshua 5:14). The presence of this Prince of the Host overcomes Joshua who places his face to the ground.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 101

The Watchtower Society teaches that Michael was the word of god (a god) with the god (Jehovah) in the beginning. This is why Watchtower Society manipulates into their New World Translation John 1:1 (and the word was a god). That god (Jehovah) then changed this divine Michael into the human Jesus - from god’s (Jehovah) memory of Michael. This human Jesus did not have a soul since no human person has a soul [sic] according to Watchtower Society teaching. And after Jesus died on the cross and was buried, the god (Jehovah) took the lifeless body of Jesus away so his followers would not commit idolatry, worshiping the body of Jesus (similar to the reason given for the missing body of Moses). And then the god (Jehovah) created a new spirit being from god’s (Jehovah) memory of Jesus and this new spirit being is sometimes identified as Jesus and sometimes as Michael.

Like the followers of Mohamed, the Watchtower Society denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Fourth Century, the Gnostic presbyter and heretic Arius taught (like the Jewish Gnostic Ebionites centuries earlier) that Michael was the first creature that God created. And through this creature Michael, God then created all other creatures.

Speaking of creation, when did God create the angels?

After reciting the Canticle of Daniel 3:57-88, 56 (All you works of the Lord, O Bless the Lord..) over and over, I finally understood that the Jews identifying in Sacred Scripture that God created the angels before He created the material world.
The Canticle of Daniel describes the sequence of God’s creation starting with the angels, then the heavens, the clouds, the armies of the Lord, sun and moon, stars, showers, the earth, the land, the seas, sea creatures, birds, land beasts, men, priests, servants of the Lord, spirits and souls of the just, and finally leading up to his martyrs Ananias, Azarias, and Mizael.

Gabriel means “Strength of God.”

We find St. Gabriel spoken of by name in the Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Luke. St. Gabriel brings to the prophet Daniel many revelations about the people of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. Daniel is a Jew in exile and living in Nineveh. He was praying and confessing his sins and the sins of his people before God when St. Gabriel comes to him to reveal the events which were about to happen soon and much later. The presence of St. Gabriel overcomes Daniel who places his face to the ground while his heart is deeply moved to reverence.
St. Gabriel tells Daniel that he would have come sooner but was delayed twenty one days by the Prince of the Persians (another good angel). And this prince would not let St. Gabriel go until St. Michael came to remedy the situation. Then St. Gabriel tells Daniel that he is going back to fight with the Prince of the Persians and the Prince of the Greeks. This event shows that even good angels can make mistakes.

It is from the Book of Daniel that we come to understand that angels (good and bad so it seems) are associated with peoples and nations. I assume the good angels are assigned their roles from God and the bad ones simply attach themselves like a plague to a place (maybe due to a prevalent type of sin) or they are brow beaten into the task by Satan. It is a good reason to praise the name of God constantly so that the bad angels flee and lose influence over our homes, our land and leave.
We know from the lips of Jesus that each little child has an angel who beholds the face of the Heavenly Father. We also know from the lips of Jesus that when an evil spirit is swept from a soul and the soul remains empty (not filled with Grace and Truth) the evil spirit eventually comes back with many more leaving the person in a worse state.

From the Gospel of St. Luke we read that St. Gabriel brings to Zacharias the good news that his prayers have been heard and that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son and they were name him John. We know this son to be John the Baptist. St. Gabriel reveals that the son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. When poor Zacharias doubts the message, St. Gabriel lets him know that he is Gabriel who stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to him.

I always thought that Gabriel words were other worldly and then I realized that Zacharias was in the Holy of Holies offering incense (God’s dwelling place on earth) when the angel came to him. Here is Zacharias standing with Gabriel literally in the presence of God in the Temple and Zacharias suggests that Gabriel is telling a fib. The irony of the exchange is so Jewish.

There is a Jewish tradition that when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice (one time a year), a rope would be tied to his ankle in the event he perished as a result of some impropriety in the presence of God.

I can imagine St. Gabriel reminding Zacharias “Are you comprehending what you are saying? Who has the rope tied around his foot -- me or you? ” Anyway Zacharias got off with a warning ticket; he could not speak until his son John was born.

Note: Daniel while in exile was offering prayers to God on behalf of himself and his people before the Archangel Gabriel arrives. Zacharias was in the temple offering incense and prayers on behalf of himself and his people, before the Archangel Gabriel arrives.

From the Gospel of St. Luke we read that St. Gabriel brings good news to Mary, a Virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, and that she is “Full of Grace” and that she would conceive in her womb a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. And her child would be known as the Son of God and she was to give the child the name of Jesus (Joshua), which means "God Saves." Perhaps we can conclude that Mary was also praying before the angel appeared to her.

It is St. Gabriel who reveals to the Virgin Mary the mystery of God as Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 102

It should be noted that the followers of Mohammed believe that Gabriel revealed the Koran (Recital) to Mohammed. “Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clots of blood. Recite your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, who by the pen taught man what he did not know” (Sura 96:1-5). Mohammed taught that the Koran corrects the errors which crept into the GOSPELS and the BOOKS of MOSES and rules over them (Sura 4:48). It is worth noting that when Mohammed told the angel Gabriel he could not read in order to receive the Koran, the angel squeezed him three times until he could read. Mohammed then read and his followers committed the recitals to memory and wrote them down.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 103

It should be noted that the followers of Joseph Smith believe that an angel named Maroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of the golden tablets onto which were inscribed the contents of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith unearths the golden tablets and uses a peep stone in order to translate the golden tablets into the King’s English. This King’s English translation is the text which the Church of Latter Day Saints identifies as ANOTHER GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST which corrects errors which crept into the GOSPELS and BOOK of MOSES and as such rules over them [sic].

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 104

In the Third Century, Jewish Gnostics known as Elkesaites taught that Gabriel was the personification of the word and in some cases the personification of the Holy Spirit.

How does one discern the good angel?

There are many encounters described in Sacred Scripture between angels and men. It is certain that when angels appeared in their glory, their presence was overwhelming. When they appeared as men, they were approachable. Whenever they identify themselves as the Angel of the Lord, the recipient of the visit would fall to the ground and worship God. In almost all cases, the angel would respond: “Fear not...” For example: Daniel demonstrates a deep sense of reverence in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel and bows to the ground. Zacharias is troubled and overcome with fear by the Archangel Gabriel’s presence. Mary on the other hand is troubled by the angel’s words of salutation and considers what they mean. In all cases the Archangel Gabriel eases their minds and tells them not to be afraid.

This led the Church Fathers to understand that in the presence of the Angel there is awe and reverence and a natural fear but that the good angel is able to comfort and encourage the soul by his words “Fear Not.” That is because their words are from God who encouraged his disciples with the same words “Do not be Afraid," and "Fear Not it is I.”

Sacred Scripture at times shows men testing the message of the angels as in the case of Gideon.

St. Paul says to the Church in Galatia that if anyone -- including an angel -- brings to them a gospel which contradicts the Gospel which he delivered to them, let him be anathema (Galatians 1:8). What was the Gospel that St. Paul delivered to them? Man is justified by God’s Grace through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and not be the works of the Mosaic Law. That Jesus gave himself up to death so that man may be delivered from wickedness.

St. John recommended that we test the spirits: Every spirit that denies the Incarnation (that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and dwelt among us) is of the Antichrist (1 John 4: 3). And who is a liar, but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2: 22). John then says that whoever believes that Jesus is the Son of God lives in God and God lives in him (1 John 4:15).

The other option to test a spirit would be to ask the Angel to pray the Divine Praises: "Blessed be God, Blessed be His Holy Name, Blessed Jesus Christ True God and True Man." I was approached in the airport by a member of a cult. Before the man even could speak, I said firmly, "I believe in Jesus Christ, True God and True Man." And without saying anything he immediately turned and ran away.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 105

A tradition recounts that when Mohamed encountered the angel Gabriel in the beginning he suffered much pain and his face turned dark red (like taking too much Niacin). During these first encounters, Mohamed said he did not know if the revelations were from an angel or a demon. These encounters almost drove him to suicide, not a good sign. Visitations from good angels do not tempt one to suicide. A mechanism for determining if the visitor was an angel or a demon was proposed by his first wife. She instructed Mohamed to sit on her lap when he had a vision of the angel. If during the course of his vision, she removed her veil and the vision left, then it was the good angel. If the vision remained, it was a demon. This act of discernment stemmed from a Muslim tradition that angels would not remain or take the prayers of men before God if in their presence there were unveiled women. I suppose this tradition stemmed from an interpretation of Genesis 6:2 in which the sons of God (misinterpreted to be fallen angels) viewed the daughters of men as beautiful and lusted after them. It would be interesting to determine if within this Islamic tradition, the messengers of God are still prone to temptation. The tradition of women wearing a veil in respect for the angels is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. I would think this idea of respect should not be construed to mean that the angels are prone to temptation. In the Jewish tradition, there is the practice of men covering one’s head before praying from the Sacred Scriptures.

Raphael means “Healing of God”

We find St. Raphael spoken of by name in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is a saintly Jew who is in exile in Nineveh. He is engaged in an act of charity that endangers his life. He is burying his fellow Jews and in doing so making himself ritually unclean. Tobit is married to Anna and they have a son named Tobias. Tobit is blinded by bird dung. In the meantime, there is young virgin and future daughter in-law named Sara who was being persecuted by a demon with the name Asmodeus. – who killed seven of her newly-wedded husbands.

Tobit and Sara pray to God (each in their own far away locations) to be set free of blindness and the curse of the demon Asmodeus. God hears their prayers and sends St. Raphael to heal Tobit and then sends St. Raphael to bind the demon. The story then continues with the angel leading Tobias to Sara. The two find out they are related and become betrothed. Because of the death of the previous seven husbands, the wedding night comes with much anxiety. On their wedding night, Tobias recites the beautiful prayer that he is marrying Sara out of love and fidelity and not out of lust. They did not know at the time that the demon Asmodeus was already bound by Raphael. Things work out for the two of them, so it seems.

It is from the Book of Tobit and the lips of St. Raphael we learn that the angels receive food and drink which cannot be seen my man (Tobit 12:17-19). Seemingly like Jesus at the well – who said I have a food you do not know – and that food is to do the will of My Father.

In the book of Tobit, St. Raphael reveals that he is one of seven holy angels who take the prayers of the saints to God, and goes in and out before the glory of the Holy One (Tobit 12:15). The reference to seven holy angels finds its way into the Book of Revelation where we read about the seven churches and their seven angels and the seven lamp stands and the seven spirits of God and so forth. In particular there is the reference in the Book of Revelation Chapter 8 verse 2 in which John sees the seven angels who stand before God and God gives to each of them a trumpet. At that point each angel sequentially blows a trumpet and seven woes come upon the earth. Some traditions and texts such as the Book of Enoch and the Pseudo-Dionysius have attempted to identify these seven angels as seven arch-angels with the names of Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Jegudiel, Sealtiel, and Barachiel. There are other variations but again the Catholic Church recognizes as part of the Deposit of Faith the three Archangels: Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel.

Prayer: St. Raphael, loving patron of those seeking a marriage partner, help them (me) in this supreme decision of their (my)life. Find for them (me) a helpmate in life, the person whose character may reflect some of the traits of Jesus and Mary. May (he) she be upright, loyal, pure, sincere and noble, so that with united efforts and with chaste and unselfish love they (we) both may strive to perfect themselves (ourselves) in soul and body, as well as the children it may please God to entrust to their (our) care. Amen

This prayer can be directed for self (if single) and for others, who are single.