Posts Tagged ‘Angels’

St. Michael and All Angels

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

“How can we poor earthworms speak worthily of angelic spirits?”, asked St. Bernard in the 12th Century. So it’s with some trepidation that I write on angels today; the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Angels remain ever popular from Christmas tree decorations, to greeting cards, to New Age festivals but they’re also ever elusive; what are they?

Perhaps we understand angels through our own self-understanding and personal reflection. The theologian St. Augustine said God “created human nature as a kind of mean between angels and beasts”. For Augustine beasts are driven solely by the instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. However, angels gaze on God and their nature is raised by the contemplation of God; the source of all being and love. Our human nature is battered by our animal instincts and our higher calling to gaze upon eternity. The word angel means “messenger” and the angelic message is that we’re much more than the animal instincts of tribe or violence, and are called to the celebration of love.

Christianity does not assume purity, in fact it abolishes purity. From its founding birth in a smelly cowshed, proclaimed by angels, to the degrading death of a criminal and tomb watched by angels, via prostitutes and lepers, Christianity is the most human of faiths. Our nature between beast and angels is the same nature that clothed God’s son. The battles with temptation and fear are shared by both Christ Jesus and us. It’s no wonder that Augustine said, “This is the very perfection of humankind to find out our own imperfections”.

There’s a tradition of the fallen angel. Lucifer was said to be the most beautiful of angels, his name implying that he shone brighter than those around him. This led to pride and an unwillingness to serve God and instead to dominate heaven. As with the “fall” of humankind in the Garden of Eden, so Lucifer fell from heaven as Archangel Michael drove him out. It’s a profound reflection on the dangers of self-importance and pride. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet”. That’s partly because he was still enjoying his animal instincts but it’s also the realisation that purity is not part of the messy earthy and bodily reality of Christianity.

“I believe in angels”, sang Abba. I believe that we need to contemplate God and the self-giving of his son. The tradition of angels can help our reflections. Do we need to hear God’s call upon our lives? Contemplate with Gabriel who came to Mary with the news of God being made present in her womb and life. Do we need to understand the power of the gospel to overcome evil? Contemplate with Michael who drove Lucifer out of heaven. Do we need to acknowledge the power of evil? Surely news from Syria or refugee ships in the Mediterranean shows we do. The story of Lucifer is a powerful warning of a life where only self-love is contemplated.