Today is one of my favorite feast days, that of the Holy Archangels!
While there are undoubtedly a multitude of archangels in God’s court, there are only three that we know for certain by name: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. Their identities have been passed down by holy scripture and tradition. God has given us these three to turn to in confidence, and they each have a unique role and mission. Michael is the mighty general and standard-bearer of the heavenly host; in fact, he is called the “Prince of the Heavenly Host.” Raphael is known as a healer, a close companion, a guardian and guide. Gabriel is the messenger of God’s word and God’s will.
There has been a tendency in modern times to “soften” or to “humanize” the holy angels in general–as, indeed, there has been a modern tendency to soften and humanize so many things. Some of it is harmless sentimentalism–the dewy, innocent, and gentle aesthetic of the last couple of centuries. Some of it is rooted in more sinister things–the atheist’s casting of all spiritual things as mere fluffy fairy tale made in man’s own image, and on the other hand, the occultist’s desire to be superior and dominate all things, including spiritual things.
Granted, it is not just a modern thing to portray angels as beautiful, somewhat androgynous, human-like creatures with wings and halos. But I think we’ve lost our sense of what that representation originally intended to convey. That angels are beautiful signifies their holiness, their goodness, their purity, their perfection, their closeness to God who is truth, beauty, and goodness. Likewise the halos, brimming with ethereal light and power. That they are androgynous signifies that they are not corporeal and not human. The wings further emphasize this, signifying that angels are not bound by space, time, or anything physical. That they are human-like signifies that they are persons, individuals with intellect and free will–not objects or lower types of creatures such as animals or plants.
Consider a traditional religious icon. Notice first that there is nothing white or fluffy or soft or comfy. These are noble, dignified figures, robed in splendor like princes and carrying staffs which show authority and power. They are very human-like, youthful, and beautiful, but they are imposing figures, nonetheless, evoking some degree of reverence. At the same time, they are not the true center of this image, of course–Christ is. St. Michael and St. Gabriel look at Christ, while St. Raphael looks at us as if to say, “You must follow our example. Make Christ your center. Look to Him, adore Him, love Him, and serve Him.”
That is part of the mission of each of these special angels: to help us and show us the way. And we are meant to turn to them respectfully and trustingly. We don’t need them to be soft or too human–we need them to be the strong, tireless, incredible beings that they are. We need them to be mighty enough to stand against Satan and all of the evil angels who are out for our destruction. We also don’t need them to be “nice” to us. They have something far greater than niceness–they have perfect charity. They love God perfectly and completely, and because of that they also love everything and everybody that God loves–and that includes God’s children above all!
So, just because they are greater than us by nature in many ways, we need never fear to call to them. God revealed their names to us for a reason–so that we can call upon them and talk to them in a personal way. I do so pretty often. Whenever I feel in danger, whenever I feel pulled toward evil, or whenever I behold danger and evil in the world around me, I call upon St. Michael to protect and guard me and the world. I pray Pope Leo XIII’s prayer to St. Michael after every Mass, and whenever else I need to. Whenever I feel lonely, lost, tired, doubtful, depressed, or in any way ill or in pain, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, I call upon St. Raphael to strengthen and guide me. Whenever I am uncertain about what God is calling me to do or who God is calling me to be, either in my whole lifetime or in very specific circumstances, I call upon St. Gabriel and ask for help in hearing, following, and obeying God’s voice.
In every case, I have always found the holy archangels to be very effective and dependable in their aid and in their understanding of what I need. I often look back later and realize that, in fact, they were providing exactly the help I needed before I called upon them. But it is good to call upon them and to build a relationship with them anyway. Give it a try, if you don’t do it already. I think you will find your life wonderfully enriched.
A blessed Feast of the Holy Archangels to you!