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The Archangels

Does anyone know how many archangels there are? Does anyone know the names of those archangels whom we actually know? Today we celebrate the feast of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the archangels. The concept of archangels is rooted in a hierarchical world. Civilizations ruled by kings and their courts found it easier to imagine the heavenly realm in similar terms. Today, we’re less likely to transfer our forms of government to a heavenly kingdom. And yet, even we can see the appeal of our all-powerful God sending out powerful messengers to tackle the problems in the world.

Lacking context, we tend to imagine the archangels as superheroes. Michael, whom we meet in today’s first reading, has long been seen as a powerful soldier, taking on all of Satan’s armies. Raphael is perhaps less well-known. The most extended biblical reference is in the Book of Tobit, where he guides Tobiah on his journey to find a wife for himself and healing for his father. And Gabriel, of course, is the great messenger (the literal meaning of the the term angel). In the Gospels, Gabriel brings the promise of salvation to Elizabeth and Zechariah and to Mary and Joseph. And that promise of salvation becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Our experience of Jesus puts even the great archangels in shadow. He tells Nathanael that he will see even greater things than Jacob’s vision of angels ascending and descending the stairway to heaven. He will see healings far more miraculous than the folkloric tale of Raphael. He will hear the message of the kingdom announced, not to a select few individuals, but to all people for all time. And he will see a power in Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection far greater than Michael and all the angelic armies.

The Gospel reminds us that Christ’s power lies in humility, in service to God and to one another, and in the great command of love. The feast of the archangels reminds us that while we sometimes long for the spectacular, we shouldn’t let this longing blind us to the more ordinary miracles of our lives as children of God. And so, while we might wish for spectacular feats of power on the part of God and His angelic hosts, the Eucharist represents the greatest power imaginable ... all of God’s love for us contained in a tiny Host. May God bless you.

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