Archive for the ‘Angels’ Category

Learning from the Angels

December 24, 2021

Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord

It can be an alarming experience to encounter an angel. Their presence is typically veiled to us but once revealed to our human perception angels radiate such mightiness, holiness, and otherworldliness, that often the first thing they say upon appearing is: “Do not be afraid.” So it was on the first Christmas night in the fields outside the little town of Bethlehem where the shepherds kept watch over their flock.

A heavenly angel appeared to them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and the shepherds were utterly terrified. But the herald angel said, “Do not be afraid… I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. …Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” The angel then gave them a sign to look for, to know that they had found the newborn king: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a whole multitude of angels appeared, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” When the angels departed the shepherds were seemingly alone once more in the dark and quiet field.

Like the gospel two weeks ago about St. John the Baptist’s preaching, what strikes me about the angels’ proclamation is what the shepherds are not told to do. The Holy Family was very poor, but the shepherds are not told to bring them coins. The cave-stable in which Jesus laid was probably dirty like a barn, but the shepherds are not told to bring him a broom or clean blankets. Jesus’ parents had had a long day, but the shepherds are not told to bring them a meal. Any of these things would have been good gifts, but none of them were the most important thing. The angels invited the shepherds to bring themselves to Jesus; to approach him, see him, know him, love him, honor him; to come and encounter him, to come and adore him. This is the greatest gift.

Jesus Christ had only just been born on earth but the angels had already met the eternal Son of God in heaven. Through him all things were made, including the angels. The angels knew him from the start of their existence and in highest heaven they adored him constantly beholding his unveiled glory. In this, the angels seem to have an advantage compared to us. We see God’s creations, but they see the Craftsman. We see his effects, but they see the Source. We see his works which reflect his glory, but they see his glory directly. At Jesus’ birth, we see the Godhead veiled in flesh, lying in the manger. At his Holy Mass, we see Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, veiled in the appearances of bread and wine. Every good and beautiful thing you have ever enjoyed has its existence from him who is the most real, the most delightful, the greatest and best of all. And yet, for us human beings, God is easy to overlook.

If an angel had not visited the shepherds they would not have realized that they were within walking distance of their Savior, Messiah, and Lord. But once the angels had proclaimed the message and went away from them to heaven, the shepherds turned and said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us!” The shepherds left in haste, but imagine if… they had chosen not to go. The shepherds could have chosen not to go into Bethlehem. Nobody was forcing them to visit the Holy Family. They could have ignored Jesus and stayed away from him. Many people do.

The angels, in their beginning, once faced a choice like this themselves: would they love and adore and serve the Lord or would they disregard him, rejecting him and his reign? Would they love him or not? Would they worship God or themselves? The spirits who chose well are called the angels. The spirits who chose badly are called the demons. Ever since that decisive decision, the angels have loved and worshipped the Lord and been rightly ordered and thriving in his will, while the demons who refused to love and worship him have been disordered and depraved through and through.

Worship and love are linked. We worship what we love most, and that impacts our relationships to other things for good or ill. Imagine a child on Christmas morning who excitedly unwraps a new and coveted toy which, for a while, they love more than anything on earth. Will they remember to thank Mom and Dad who gifted it, or be too distracted to show gratitude? Will they be willing to share the toy with their brothers and sisters, or resent and fight against anyone who wants it? Will they draw closer to their family, or isolate to be alone with their most precious possession? Will they be delighted by that toy forever, or feel disappointment when it does not provide happiness unending? As adults, our coveted toys, our disordered loves, take different forms but lead to similar results. To love God as our greatest good and worship him with thanksgiving, praise, and openness to grace, are essential for us to love him and people and things like we should.

For the first Christmas, the angels’ gift to Jesus Christ was worship: “Glory to God in the highest!” And the angels’ gift to the human race was an invitation for us to do the same. As God’s messenger to you this sacred day, I invite and urge you to return to this church soon to faithfully encounter and adore your Savior, Christ, and Lord.

Her Very Close Friends — Funeral Homily for Doris Prince, 92

September 2, 2020

Doris has been a faithful and longtime parishioner of St. John the Baptist’s in Cooks Valley. At the end of this hour, we will be taking her earthly remains there, to St. John’s Cemetery, to await day of the resurrection. The reason we gathered here at St. Paul’s Church for Doris’ funeral Mass was to guarantee that there would be enough space in church for all of you to attend. There are now more than seven and a half billion people living on this earth. Consider that you who are gathered here (plus those who attended Doris’ visitation yesterday) are the people on earth who know her best and love her best. There are many ways one could preach a funeral homily for a devout woman like Doris, but I believe Doris is pleased to know that I am going to speak to you about friends of hers who have known her and loved her better than any of us here. You’ve probably never met them and you don’t know most of their names. They formally introduced themselves to Doris herself for the first time only just last week, but they have been faithfully there for her and she has been fond of them for many years. I speak of the angels.

Doris had a huge collection of angels she collected over the past fifty years or more. There were more than two hundred of them within her house, some in almost every room. She had angels of all kinds; porcelain angels, plastic angels, cloth angels, some glittery angels, some outdoor angels, some that glowed in the dark, and that some played music, all for Doris to delight in. In her later years, an angel was the go-to gift one gave to her. After moving into the nursing home seven years ago, Doris began giving away her angels as gifts herself. She even gave them out to surprised trick-or-treaters. God has similarly collected angels for his own delight, and the Lord has shared his angels with us, to lead us to the Father’s house on the mountain of God to share in their heavenly joy.

What is an angel? Angels are purely spiritual beings, created by God but not made of matter. Angels are personal and immortal creatures possessing intellect and will, knowing and choosing. They surpass in perfection every earthly creatures we can see. Never having fallen, they are sinless and glorious; loving God, one another, and human beings with a intense and extraordinary devotion. Precious Moments statues rightly depict angels as pure and innocent, but these small and fragile figurines do not reflect angels’ awesome power and often intimidating presence. The Bible records that angels who reveal their otherworldly glory to human beings throughout salvation history have typically needed to first calm and reassure, “Be not afraid.”

God sends angels to us as his servants and messengers. As the Book of Hebrews rhetorically confirms, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” Though “some have entertained angels unawares,” we seem to rarely see angels; yet, angels are never far from us, even the smallest children. Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” So, even the littlest ones have angels. Each of us, from the beginning to the end of our lives, have been assigned a guardian angel whose mission from God is to help to enlighten, and guard, and rule, and guide us through this world. In the words of St. Basil, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.

Each angel has a name, but we know only three individual angels’ names from Scripture, all of them archangels: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. An archangel announced the first coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary; and today’s second reading from St. Paul says an archangel’s voice will announce to us the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus descending from Heaven. We have no authority to name our angels; they are named by God and belong to him.

Your relationship with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is most essential, but do you have a personal relationship with your guardian angel as well? We can and should have a relationship with our angels. Thank them for their assistance and ask them for their help. We can ask them to pray for us. The New Testament Letter of St. James says, “The prayers of a righteous person are very powerful,” so imagine how powerful these sinless creatures’ prayers are before God.

We can ask them to remind us of important things because angels never forget. They are brilliant creatures, more intelligent than any of us, and we can ask them to enlighten us. (For instance, I asked angels’ help in writing this homily.) We can also ask them to go on small missions for us, to lend aid to others we care about wherever they may be. Our angel guardians’ ultimate mission is to lead us to salvation. The angels are more glorious than any creature on earth, but their humble and earnest desire is that we would become even more glorious than themselves in Heaven.

Doris has been a friend to the angels. May you be their Christian friends as well. For our beloved, devout, and faithful Doris, who surrounded herself with angels, and someday for all of us here:

“May choirs of angels lead you into paradise,
and may the martyrs come to welcome you,
to bring you home into the holy city,
so you may dwell in new Jerusalem.

May holy angels be there at your welcoming,
with all the saints who go before you there,
that you may know the peace and joy of paradise;
that you may enter into everlasting rest.”

What We Should Do Now

March 25, 2020

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

What would it be like to be visited by an angel? Scripture tells us “some [people] have unknowingly entertained angels,” like Gideon or Tobiah, because angels can appear on earth in human disguise. But if you ever saw an angel in unveiled glory this spiritual creature would not be a winged Precious Moments character like some people imagine. As C.S. Lewis writes in the preface of his book The Screwtape Letters:

In the plastic arts [the symbolic representations of angels] have steadily degenerated. Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish and consolatory angels of nineteenth-century art… They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying “Fear not.” The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say “There, there.

When the Archangel Gabriel came and greeted the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, “she was greatly troubled.” He must calm and reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” His message from Heaven is a weighty and mysterious one: you shall conceive and bear the Messiah, the Christ, who is both the heir to David’s kingdom and the Son of Almighty God. Mary has apparently made a prior vow to remain a virgin within her current marriage to Joseph, for she questions how she would ever conceive apart from relations with a man. Gabriel explains this will be through the power of God, for whom all things are possible. Even this answer leaves a great deal unrevealed.

It’s natural for Mary to feel anxious. She has heard God’s promises but much remains uncertain for her near and distant future: Will Joseph believe her? How should she parent such a Holy Child? How will Jesus become king? What will happen to her? How long or difficult will her life be? God’s full plan is unknown to Mary, but she knows what to do for that moment. She says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Through this faithful, trusting response, Jesus Christ saves his Church, the Virgin Mary becomes the Most Blessed, and every generation is blessed.

It’s natural to feel anxious now. We have received God’s promises but much remains uncertain about our near and distant future. Follow Mary’s example and entrust your life to God’s will, so that you may be the most blessed and a great multitude may be blessed through you.

Close Companions of a Third Kind

October 9, 2019

Our Creator God has created living creatures in a vast variety. Some are as big as redwoods or blue whales and some are as small as amoebas or plankton. Many living things ordinarily cannot be seen with our naked eyes. Some creatures have intelligence (like monkeys, dogs, or octopuses) while some show little or none (like goldfish, slugs, and houseplants.) God has given earthly creatures material bodies and to the human race he gives rational, immortal souls as well, but third kind of his living beings are pure spirits without physical bodies. They are called the angels.

“Annunciatory Angel” by Fra Angelico, circa 1450.

As for intellect, every angel is likely infused by God with more knowledge than any human being on earth. The angels who did not rebel and become demons are entirely sinless. Angels are not all-powerful (for they are merely God’s creations) but they are mighty, as when St. Michael the Archangel led the battle expelling Satan and the demons from Heaven. Being without a body, angels can give their immediate attention to various places at the same time; beholding God in Heaven while attending to matters on earth. And angels are loving, even desiring that our holiness and glory would surpass their own.

You have an accompanying angel whose mission is to help you to both greater holiness and Heaven. We know this because Jesus tells us. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:10) From the first moment of his or her existence, a child is entrusted to an angel’s care. This Guardian Angel is tasked by God “to light and guard, to rule and guide,” as the famous prayer says. “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.” (Psalm 91:11)

As the old saying says, “Out of sight, out of mind.” We tend to forget about these close companions that humans only rarely see on earth. But we should remember to frequently thank our personal angels for their faithful support and to call upon their help. Ask your sinless, holy angel to pray for you. Your angel is incredibly brilliant and can see the bigger picture, so also ask for ingenious inspirations and astute guidance. Your angel can attend to many matters, so ask for helpful reminders and nudges. (For example, if you want to pray more often, give your angel permission to remind you to pray every morning and night, so that when you first open your eyes and before you drift off to sleep your thoughts will be to pray.) And our angels are fiercely powerful, so call upon their strength to fight off tempters or to dispel needless fears. These angels of God, our dear guardians, will be daily at our sides, so let us commit ourselves to their wise and loving care.


Reintroducing the St. Michael Prayer

October 22, 2018

Our Bishop William Callahan has asked that we begin regularly reciting the St. Michael Prayer at the end of our parish Masses. In last week’s pastoral letter he wrote that “this prayer, given to us by Pope Leo XIII, is a sure defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. Now as much as ever we need the assistance of St. Michael to help rid us, the Church, of its current evils.” So, we will be praying this prayer together at each Sunday and weekday Mass following the final blessing (and preceding the closing hymn.)

Who is St. Michael? He is a mighty archangel, a leader among God’s angels. He has several appearances in the Bible, but most famously in the Book of Revelation. There he is beheld leading good angels in battle against the Devil (referred to here as the dragon): “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven.” (Revelation 12:7-8) St. Michael’s name is Hebrew for the phrase “Who is like God?” Tradition says that this was Michael’s challenging battle cry against the proud, rebellious demons – for no creature is equal our all-glorious God.

The St. Michael Prayer was written by the long-reigning Pope Leo XIII. In 1886, he instituted that it be recited after the celebration of Masses. Though the inspiration for this prayer is uncertain, many historians accept accounts that it followed from Pope Leo experiencing a profound vision. A cardinal from that time explained, “Pope Leo XIII truly had a vision of demonic spirits, who were gathering on the Eternal City (i.e., Rome.) From that experience… comes the prayer which he wanted the whole Church to recite.

Since the St. Michael Prayer in English is a translation from the original Latin text, some versions of the prayer slightly differ from one another. (For instance, some translations ask St. Michael to “cast” Satan and all the evil spirits into Hell, while others use the word “thrust.”) To keep everyone on the same page, please refer to the prayer cards at the end of the pews or the version below. Together, let us pray for aid in our battle against the iniquitous spirits active within God’s Church and our world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Who is St. Michael the Archangel?

November 12, 2015

(Based on his 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia entry)

St. Michael is one of the principal angels. His name (translated from Hebrew, “Who is like God?“) is the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the devil and his followers. His name is recorded four times in Scripture:

Daniel 10 — Gabriel says to Daniel, when he asks God to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem: “The Angel of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me … and, behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me … and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince.

Daniel 12 — An angel speaking of the end of the world and the Antichrist says: “At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who stands for the children of your people.

Jude 1 — St. Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses: “[The archangel Michael] did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon [Satan] but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!’”

Revelation 12 — St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Following these Scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St. Michael four offices:

(1)  To fight against Satan.

(2)  To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.

(3)  To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.

(4)  To call men’s souls away from earth and bring their souls to judgment.

Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy opinions vary; St. Basil and other Greek Fathers place St. Michael over all the angels; they say he is called “archangel” because he is the prince of the other angels; others believe that he is the prince of the seraphim, the first of the nine angelic orders. But, according to St. Thomas Aquinas he is the prince of the last and lowest choir, the angels.

Ezekiel’s Consolation — Tuesday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 12, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The Lord GOD said to me: “As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.” It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me. It was covered with writing front and back, and written on it was: “Lamentation and wailing and woe!”

He said to me: “Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. “Son of man,” he then said to me, “feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.” I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

How can a message of “lamentation and wailing and woe” taste sweet in the prophet’s mouth? Ezekiel found the message sweet because it meant God was neither blind nor indifferent to the evils in his midst and that these evils, one way or another, would not continue forever. Either sincere conversion or painful events would soon check his people’s wickedness. This was the prophet’s consolation. Jesus says:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?

Guardian Angels by JHS MannIn the parable of the Lost Sheep, we focus on the lost sheep’s consolation while forgetting the ninety-nine’s desolation. The flock may fare just fine, but they will find the experience quite unsettling. Jesus tells us:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

For forty years, the people of our land have intentionally and legally ended the lives of roughly one million unborn children annually. What would the opposite of receiving Jesus look like, if not this? Jesus warns us:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

This represents a warning, because God’s angels are fearsome and righteous creatures. Let us earnestly pray for our country’s conversion to a culture of life. Yet we too share Ezekiel’s consolation, for one way or another, this evil in our midst will not go on forever.

The Parable of the Princess’ Guardian

October 2, 2013

Once upon a time, a king had a daughter. Though she was a princess, she was young and immature and needed to grow in many ways. So the king appointed one of his oldest friends to be her guardian, teacher, and guide. The guardian was never far from her, but the princess never felt unfree. The guardian was a great and subtle teacher, often imparting important lessons to her without the princess even noticing. When the princess’ false friends would suggest bad paths her guardian would provide better counsel. Some of these false friends envied the princess and did not want to see her reign–they would attack her in every conceivable way, but her guardian would come to her defense. Out of love for the king and his princess, the guardian’s greatest hope was to raise her up so that he could someday bow down to her as a queen.

The king in this parable is God, the princess (or prince) is you, and the guardian appointed to guard, teach, and guide you is your guardian angel.

The “In Brief” Catechism On “Heaven & Earth” (CCC #350-354)

September 7, 2013

● Angels are spiritual creatures who glorify God without ceasing and who serve his saving plans for other creatures: “The angels work together for the benefit of us all.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

●  The angels surround Christ their Lord. They serve him especially in the accomplishment of his saving mission to men.

●  The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being.

●  God willed the diversity of his creatures and their own particular goodness, their interdependence and their order. He destined all material creatures for the good of the human race. Man, and through him all creation, is destined for the glory of God.

●  Respect for laws inscribed in creation and the relations which derive from the nature of things is a principle of wisdom and a foundation for morality.

Who’s Who — 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 14, 2013

Who are the “thrones, dominions, principalities and powers” mentioned in today’s second reading?

Saint Paul is listing four varieties of angels who have differing roles in serving God. Angels are purely spiritual creatures who were made through and for Christ. They have minds for knowing and freewill for choosing—this makes them persons and capable of love. The angels always glorify God and  serve in his saving plans for other creatures. Sometimes they are His messengers, like Gabriel at the Annunciation. Some serve as guardians; over whole nations or even the least children (see Daniel 10 & Matthew 18:10.) Archangels and our guardian angels are thought to belong to the lowest levels in the hierarchy of angels—well below the power of the ranks that Saint Paul mentioned—yet we do well to remember to pray for their help. Even the least of our angelic protectors is more powerful than any flesh and blood foe. Even the highest demons who act against God’s will can be overcome by humble angels, as the archangel Saint Michael’s victory over the devil proves (see Revelation 12:7-9.)

In our Gospel, Jesus is questioned by a “scholar of the Law.”  What does that title tell us about that man?

He was an expert on the Old Covenant Law of Moses and its 613 commandments. The scribes in Jesus’ day were regarded as scholars of the Law but tended to be hostile toward Christ.

A “Levite” passed on the opposite side. Who were the Levites?

These were men of the tribe of Levi (though not descended from Aaron like the Jewish priests) who were appointed to assist in the worship and rituals at the Temple in Jerusalem. A commandment in the Law of Moses required Levites (and priests) to avoid contact with dead bodies in order to remain ritually pure, which is probably why they passed by on the opposite side of the road.

The Samaritan showed mercy. Who were the “Samaritans?”

The Samaritans were a mixed-race people descended from intermarriage between Israelites and Assyrian colonists. They dwelt in Samaria, the region between Galilee and Judea. Samaritans worshiped the same God as the Jews and kept many of the same religious practices, but they rejected the priesthood at Mt. Zion and worshiped instead on their own Mt. Gerizim. The enmity between the Jews and Samaritans was so great that Jews traveling between Galilee and Judea often crossed the Jordan to bypass the land of Samaira entirely.

Bread of Angels — Wednesday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

Here at St. John’s, on the wall behind me, there is painted an angel holding a banner which says, “Ecce Panis Angelorum.” This is a Latin phrase. “Ecce” means “behold,” “panis” means “the bread,” and “angelorum” translates to “of the angels.” And thus the phrase goes, “Ecce Panis Angelorum; Behold the bread of angels.” This idea comes from Psalm 78, the psalm we heard today, which says of the Manna and the Israelites in the desert, “Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance.” 

Why was the Manna in the desert was called the bread of angels? Extra-Biblical Jewish tradition suggested that the Manna bread actually nourished the angels. The Manna also came down from Heaven for the benefit of men and came through the mediation of angels. Of course, the Manna prefigures the Eucharist, which nourishes us through the deserts of this life toward the Promised Land. The Eucharist is really Jesus Christ who came down from Heaven for mankind. The angels are indeed nourished by this bread, Jesus Christ, for their lives are sustained thorough Him. We also receive the New Testament Manna with the help of the angels. As we say in Eucharistic Prayer I: “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” It has been said that if angels could envy us, it would be for our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The angels do more for us than we realize. We should remember to thank them; for getting us out of bed to come to Mass this morning, for assisting us here in our prayers, and for assisting us in our daily lives. Lovingly invite them, give them the permission, to do more in your lives. (They’re probably just waiting for you to ask.) Let us ask their intercession and at this Mass, together with the angels who surround us, let us delight in the bread of angels.

The Age of the Donkey — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 4, 2011

Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” But if that is so, why do so many things in the world seem so out of hand? We see that many things are sinful, broken, and not as they should be. Zechariah foretold that the true king would proclaim establish peace among the nations. Yet, this Fourth of July weekend sees our country fighting in at least two wars abroad. If we take our faith seriously, and think seriously about our faith, we’re led to ask, “Where is the reign of Jesus and where is His promised peace?”

In our first reading, we heard Zechariah prophesy that the true king, the Messiah, the Christ, would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. You will recall, of course, how Jesus fulfilled this passage when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the people’s shouts of joy. So what is the significance of His riding in on a donkey? The significance of the donkey is that it points to the meekness of Jesus’ reign.

In the ancient world, when a general sieged and took a fortified city, he would most often ride through its city gates by means of horse power. That conqueror would either be saddled upon one of these magnificently fast and powerful animals, or else he would ride in a chariot pulled by them. Then, upon entering, one would expect him to ruthlessly establish the new order of things. Oftentimes, to secure the conqueror’s rule, new laws would be proclaimed and severely enforced, prominent enemies would be put to death, and all local resistance would be crushed.

Jesus, however, comes into Jerusalem in a different way; not on a warhorse or in a chariot, but on a slow and humble donkey. This signifies that His reign shall be different. Apart from the relatively tame activism of scattering livestock and tipping tables at the temple, Jesus introduces his reign without any sign of force. In fact, the only person who would be murdered in the course of Jesus’ rise to power… would be Jesus Himself.

When Jesus stood accused before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, when He was in chains before Pilate and his troops, do you not think that He could have called upon His Father to provide Him in an instant with more than twelve legions of angels? Jesus could have backed Himself up with the power of more than 60,000 angelic warriors, but then He would not have died, and His kingdom would have been very different.

Let me speak for a minutes about the angels. God’s angels, in the first instant of their created existence, had a clear knowledge into God’s goodness and preeminence. In that moment, some of them decided that they would rather live as their own gods. As the Book of Revelation tells us, a war broke out in heaven; St. Michael the Archangel and his angels battled against Satan. Satan and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. Satan was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him, where they have tempted us to share in their rebellion ever since. Sometimes people ask if Satan and the demons could be someday be saved. However, angels and demons are creatures that do not change their minds. Unlike human beings, they do not change over time. We human beings are a different sort of creatures. We learn through experience and (hopefully) grow in maturity. If one of us chooses to rebel through grave sin, hope remains for us, as long as we live, that we will repent and turn again to God, to love Him and others as we ought. Even after Caiaphas and Pilate condemned Jesus and handed Him over to for execution, hope remained for their conversion and salvation.

What if Jesus had called in His angelic reinforcements, unveiling before them the Heavenly armies in their terrifying fierceness? What if Christ had tolerated no resistance to the advent of His reign, to the coming of His Kingdom, in 33 AD?        In that case, all of humanity would be confronted with a sudden and inescapable choice, a choice either for Christ or against Him; a moment of choosing like that experienced by the angels and demons.

Some human beings, when confronted with Christ in this way, would sinfully refuse to follow Him, and that refusal would be a rebellion. And here we come to the heart of the problem: How can Christ allow these rebels to remain on the earth, in hopes that they may repent, unless He is willing to show some tolerance and patience toward their sinful resistance for a time? Jesus could wipe away all sin from the face of the earth in an instant, but He would have to wipe out all of the earth’s unrepentant sinners in the process. A sudden judgment would bring a quick and clean end to sin, but less of mankind would be saved. The approach Jesus has taken with us is more merciful, but is also messier. God hopes that all shall turn to Him freely, and not by force, because love cannot be forced. Jesus Christ hopes and works for the conversion and salvation of all. As St. Peter writes, “The Lord’s patience is directed towards salvation.” And though it can be difficult for us to see God’s providential purposes and plans in our lives, “we know that,” as St. Paul says, “all things work for good for those who love God.”

Where is the peace that was promised to the world? Its total reign, the fullness of the kingdom of God, is yet to come. For now, the spirit of the world and the Spirit of life do battle. But we can experience peace in our souls, peace in our families, and peace in our communities, if we live by the Spirit of Christ.

In this age, Jesus comes to us on a donkey, but in the age to come He shall ride a warhorse. As the Book of Revelation says:

“I saw the heavens opened, and there was a white horse; its rider was called ‘Faithful and True.’ He judges and wages war in righteousness.… He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood, and his name was called the Word of God. The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing clean white linen. Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he himself will tread out in the wine press the wine of the fury and wrath of God the almighty. He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”

In this age, Jesus rides the donkey, for this is the time of patient mercy. But on the Last Day, Jesus shall ride the white warhorse, for that is the time of decisive and definitive judgment. Let sinners take note; we shall not be permitted to keep sinning forever. And let those who mourn the brokenness, the sin, the suffering and death in the world take courage, for these things shall pass away. ‘See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he. He shall proclaim peace to the nations. And His rule shall be to the ends of the earth.’

Attacks Within — Tuesday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 18, 2011

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He also created purely spiritual beings called angels to serve Him and share His friendship. Unfortunately, some of these spirits decided that they would not serve, and rejected His friendship. We call these rebels demons, and with intense hate they wage spiritual war against us on the battlefields of our hearts and minds.

Demons are pleased when we hold either of these two extreme attitudes towards them: either in denying their very existence, so that we will be completely unaware of their activity in the world, or in fixating upon them, so that we are paralyzed with false fears of their power. Demons are powerful (by nature we human being are “lower than the angels”) but we should not be terrorized. First, Jesus is greater than them all. Made “for a little while lower than the angels” the Father has crowned Jesus “with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his feet.” Second, as a baptized Christian, you belong to Christ, you are claimed by Him, and that gives you special protection. Demons cannot possess you like the man in the Gospels unless you invite them in. (This is why Ouija Boards, Tarot cards, seances, magic and other things occult are so dangerous.) Demons cannot control us, overriding our freewill, but they can influence our thoughts and feelings.

When I interact with you, I can influence your thoughts and feelings by what I say and how I act. If I mention elephants, you’ll think of elephants. If I smile and compliment you, you’ll feel good, and if I insult you, you’ll feel bad. But however I interact with you, you can see and hear me doing it right in front of you. The work of spirits, on the other hand, is more subtle since they operate invisibly, speaking in our thoughts and influencing our hearts. God’s good angels direct us toward what is good, but demons would lead us toward sin and harm. To be forewarned and aware of the demons’ tactics is to be forearmed and prepared to resist them.

One typical demonic tactic is to first entice and then condemn. Suppose you gave up cookies for Lent and you notice the cookie jar sitting on the counter. A demon might entice you by speaking thoughts to you like this: “… a cookie would be great right now …this sucks …I’ve been good all Lent… I’ve earned it.” Then, once you give in and have the cookie, the enemy shifts to words of condemnation: “…couldn’t even give up one cookie for God.” Whenever you fall into sin, the demons don’t want you to get back up with Christ, they want to kick you when you’re down and keep you there. Sometimes our heavenly friends will correct and challenge us, but whenever they do, they always do it in a way that makes us stronger to do what’s right.

Another demonic tactic is Always/Never, or All or Nothing Thinking. If you find yourself thinking that you’re “always” this, or “never” that, you’re probably being fed a lie; either an untruth welling-up out of your own human brokenness, or a lie coming from an external attack. If you find yourself thinking that you ‘always mess things up,’ or that you ‘don’t have any friends,’ or that you ‘never really sin,’ you’re facing a falsehood. The truth is that only in rare cases are you “always” or “never” anything. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Another tip: don’t dialogue with temptations. Whether the temptation springs from an external enemy or merely from our own desirous passions, both demons and we ourselves are cleaver enough to persuade us into sinning, if granted enough time for convincing.

So what can we do to defend against such attacks? We should pray every day and stay close to Jesus Christ through frequent reception of confession and the Eucharist. We should use holy water and holy images to sanctify the places where we dwell. We should call on our heavenly friends; Mary, St. Michael the Archangel, leader of God’s angelic armies, and all the saints. We should also remember that we are always accompanied by a Guardian Angel who God-given mission is to light, to guard, to rule, and to guide us.

Demons want us to either fixate on them or to deny that they even exist. Instead, let’s be forewarned in faith and confident in Christ about the invisible spiritual warfare fought on the battlefields of our hearts and minds.

October 2 – Guardian Angels

October 2, 2009

There are members of our Church gathered here today, who are always with us, but whom we all-to-easily overlook. It is to this group of persons that I wish to speak to today: our holy guardian angels. I invite you to share in my thoughts and sentiments of my words to them.

Holy Guardian Angels,
First, I want to apologize for our tendency to forget about you and the important part you play in our lives. Though we do not say it enough, thank you Holy Ones, for everything you do for us and we ask you for your continued help.

May we be always docile to your promptings. Please accept this invitation to enter our thoughts and emotions as through an open door. You are Christ’s perfectly sinless creatures, and you discern His will with far more clarity than we do. Please make His will clear for us and make it easy for us to follow it.

Holy Angels, you know the hearts and minds of men with penetrating insight. Please help us through your mediation to communicate graciously with the people in our lives. Please help mediate good resolutions to the conflicts and tensions we have with others. Please help us to know how to best communicate Christ’s love to others in ways that are tailored for them.

Holy Guardians, just as some of your angelic peers ministered to Jesus Christ amidst His sufferings, please bring us support and consolation in our difficult moments. And please defend us against spiritual attacks, for you understand these threats far better than we do.

Please join us in our prayers. Perfect in them and add to them whatever may be lacking. Please pray with us for our loved ones and for the intentions which are dear to us. You are blessed to see God face-to-face and you worship Him day and night. Please lead us to perfect worship.

Holy Guardian Angels, thank you, for everything you do for us. Know that we will someday thank you even more profusely when it is revealed to us in detail all that you’ve done to light, to guard, to rule and to guide our lives.

September 29 – The Archangels

September 29, 2009

Today we celebrate Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. God created lots of angels, so that they might enjoy, share and manifest His glory. Within this multitude, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael hold special rank as archangels. The angels and archangels are like us in important ways, but in other ways they’re very different.

Just like us, God did not create the angels to fulfill some need He had. God needs nothing to be happy and complete. God made heaven and earth, all that is seen and unseen, out of sheer love, overflowing. God created us because love likes to share.

Just like us, God created the angels as persons. We are persons because we both have intellect and will, the capacity to know and the ability to freely choose. Just like us, angels are persons, having souls which will never die. But unlike us, angels don’t have a physical body united to their soul. Instead of body and spirit, angels are spirit alone.

Like us, angels know things and choose things. Like us, they’re made for interpersonal-communion. They interact with God, with each other, with us, and our world. But like God, and unlike us, angels live outside of time. We humans grow, and change, and mature, day by day. We’re incomplete and we develop over time. We can choose holiness one day, choose to sin the next, and on the day after that, think better of it, repent, go to confession, and return to God. But in the case of angels, their natures are complete and finished. And the free choices they’ve made once are made for all time. That is why the angels are forever sinless creatures, and why the demons, who are the angels who chose to rebel and were cast down from heaven, will never turn back to God.

We do not know exactly why Satan and the many demons fell, but it is clear that they did not, in their sinful pride, want the roles in God’s kingdom which God had prepared for them. Some speculate that when the angels where created, God gave them some knowledge of His plans for the human race. God wished the angels to share in this plan, but, for some reason, some refused to serve.

Perhaps it was the scandal of the Incarnation, the idea that the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, would take on material flesh. Maybe they refused to worship the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, in such a state as that. Perhaps, filled with pride about their own glory, which was entirely God’s gift, they refused to be Christ-like and serve creatures they deemed to be inferior to themselves.

Whatever the reason for it, a war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels battled against Satan. Satan and his angels fought back, but they did not prevail. The demons wanted to be like God, but without God. Perhaps Michael challenged them with the meaning of his name, “Who is like God?” They wanted to be God, but without God, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

And now we arrive at the lesson we learn from the demons’ Fall that I want you to take to heart…

When the demons refused to be what they were made and called by God to be, they became something far less than what they were meant to be. By turning away from God, the source of their life, they became stupid, ugly, and weak compared to what they should have been.

Compared to what God makes us, calls us, and longs for us to be, sin makes us stupid, ugly, and weak too.

Do you have any sins?

Every Tuesday I sit in my office as much time as can, from the end of morning Mass until 3:00 PM, when prayers are offered in the Columbus chapel that God the Father would have mercy on us. I’ve spent hours at my desk, behind my confessional screen, catching up various work. And in all that time, not a single student has come for the sacrament that reconciles sinners with our Lord Jesus Christ. Now don’t think that I’m angry about this. Tuesdays for me as they are now are very productive days. I get a lot done behind my desk. But I would very much prefer, that so many of you would come, to the healing forgiveness, and strengthening graces, that Jesus is waiting to give you in this sacrament, that I would get nothing else done.

I want you to come to the sacrament that cleans your slate and lightens your heart. I want you to come to the sacrament that makes you wiser, stronger, and more attractive as a person than you are when you’re in sin. I want you to come to the sacrament of reconciliation, not for my sake, but for your sake.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, whose name means “God’s healing,” may we believe in God’s power to heal our wounds. Through the intercession of St. Gabriel, whose name means “God’s power,” may we believe in God’s power to recreate the repentant sinner. And through the intercession of St. Michael, may we consider “who is like God,” who shows mercy to all who come to Him.