Monday September 29, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Archangels
Reading (Revelation 12:7-12ab) Gospel (St. John 1:47-51)
Today we celebrate a glorious feast that in the minds of many people does not really have a lot of relevance because people do not recognize the reality of the angels. Even though in Scripture the angels are mentioned more than three hundred times and their work is hailed in many different ways, people think they are not real because they cannot see them. The foolishness of that would be to say “I guess radio waves and video waves and so on aren’t real either because we can’t see them.” It does not make sense. The angels are made very, very clear in Scripture, who they are and what they are about. They are mysterious, yet at the same time the reality of them is very clear.
Today we celebrate the only three angels whose names we actually know from Scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. These three angels are generally known as archangels. Even to call them archangels is an equivocal term because, for instance, Gabriel himself tells us that he is one of the seven angels that are around the throne of God. That means he is from the order of seraphim, not from the order of archangels. And so the word “archangel” is used then in an equivocal sense. The Greek word arche´ is where we get the word “arch” at the beginning of “archangel” and that means “leader”. So these are the leading angels. Now, the order of archangels is the second lowest of the nine choirs of angels, so when we are talking about these particular angels, we are talking about those who are the leaders of the heavenly host. Saint Michael actually is the only one in Scripture who is called an archangel; Raphael and Gabriel are not. Calling them an archangel is just lumping them with Michael, but it does not really mean they are from the choir of archangels.
Regardless, the angels are real. There is a battle that is going on around us that we do not see. To deny the angels would be as foolish as denying Satan, because he is a fallen angel. Our Lord Himself told us that He saw Satan falling from the sky, losing his place in Heaven, and being cast out. We heard the same thing in the first reading today, the war that broke out in Heaven and Michael and his angels battling against Satan and his angels. And Michael, whose name means “Who is like unto God”, throws Satan out, who said, “I will not serve.”
So we see exactly in the angelic world what is happening in our own. It is a choice for us of whether we are going to serve God or not. If we want to serve ourselves then we will say, “Who is like unto me?” But that is not what the good angels did. That is what Satan said: “I will not serve. I am greater than this little baby, I am greater than this woman whom you want to make my queen, and I will not serve.” Michael, when he looked at the mysteries of God – the angels do not have an infinite intellect (only God does) so they are not able to comprehend fully the mysteries of God either – was able to say, “Who is like unto God? Who do you think you are, thinking that you know better than God?” And it was within the power of that act of faith that he was able to cast Satan out.
It is the same for us. With the help of the angels whom we can call on, whom we can pray to, whom we can ask for help, we too can overcome Satan. By ourselves there is no way. The name Satan means “the accuser”. Again, it is exactly what we heard in the first reading: “The accuser of our brothers is cast out who day and night accused them before our God.” It is what he still does. But God has given us the angels to help us, and they help us in ways that we never know because we do not see them and we pay no attention. But we need to learn to call upon the angels. That is what they are there for. They worship God day and night but they are there also to help us. And there are, as we hear in the Book of Daniel, thousands upon thousands and myriads upon myriads of angels. No one knows just how many angels there are. Some of the saints suggest that when one-third of the angels were cast out that part of the task of humanity is to fill up all of the thrones that were vacated by the angels. Well, if you stop to think about all the billions of people that have lived upon the earth – we do not know how many of those have actually gone to Heaven – but the fact that God is still filling the thrones of fallen angels, if that is the case, at least gives us a slight idea of how many angels there must be.
Each of those angels simply waits to do the bidding of God, and we can call upon each of them. Our Lady is their queen and they will do whatever she asks. So we can ask her as the Queen of the Angels, we can ask Our Lord, Who created the angels and in Whom the angels made their glorious act of faith that they believed in Him Who is God but man, and they will be there to help us. We are not in this battle alone. We know that we have Our Lord. We know that we have Our Lady. We can get a grasp on them because they are tangible; they have bodies. The angels do not, but that does not mean they are not real. We need to learn to call upon the angels. We need to learn that this battle that is going on around us and the battle that is going on for our souls is completely real – more real, in fact, than all of us sitting here. Satan wants your soul, and so does God. God has given you all the help necessary to be able to ward off Satan and all of his fallen angels. We have to make the choice to call upon them, to avail ourselves of the help that God has given us. We can call upon these three angels whose names we know, but we can call upon any number of angels. Our Lord said that He could call upon His Father and He would send a legion of angels. We can too because we are members of Jesus Christ and the help of the angels will be there for us in times of temptation, in times of fear, in times where we are experiencing a variety of difficulties. God created the angels to be messengers to us. That is what the word angel means: “a messenger”. And so we can call upon them and they will bring the Word of God to us. They will help us, protect us, and fight for us against Satan and all his minions.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.