Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘St. Gabriel’

“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

The Feast of the Annunciation is popularly called “Lady Day”, although it is a feast of our Lord.  The date derives from an ancient idea, that you died on the day of your conception.  Through figuring, early Christians thought that Christ died on March 25th, which meant His incarnation took place on March 25th.  This led to December 25th as His birthday and to June 24th as the date of the conception and death of St. John Baptist.  Despite early medieval attempts to move the feast outside of Lent, the original date prevailed.

From 1066 to 1752, the English held March 25th as New Year’s Day.  Blessed Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity during Elizabethan times wrote, “We begin therefore our ecclesiastical year with the glorious annunciation of his birth by angelical embassage.”  For nearly 700 years, New Year’s Day was today.  Can you imagine?

 

Our Lady was a woman amongst men, poor amongst powerful, young amongst those wizened in years, and unmarried amongst married.  She was faithful, but she was the least of the Jews.  And yet, through her faithfulness and obedience to God, she becomes the greatest of all people, men or women, who have ever lived who were not God Incarnate.

St. Gabriel tells her that God has “highly favored” her amongst all other people.  You see, God heaps blessings on those the world despises.  We see with the eyes of this world, of this culture, and yet God despises our order and our values except insofar as they conform to him.  God blesses those whom he finds worthy and not those whom the world bathes with awards, treasure, and honor.  “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” says Christ.  And again He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  And in the Old Testament, Isaiah lv.9:  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Mary’s response in great faith made her in the Holy Ghost a vessel through which God the Father poured God the Son into the world.  The Blessed Virgin, though a creature, though our sister through Adam and Eve, became a vital and critically important part of God’s salvation of all the world and all mankind.  We owe a great debt of thanks to her, but she gave it all up to God, and she would have us give it all up to God.  When we submit ourselves to our loving and almighty God, the greatest things in Heaven and Earth can happen.  Again and again, we see in Sacred Scripture God raising up men and women to fulfill his righteous will amongst us.  Since we are created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son, we are important.  As obedient to God’s will, we act vitally important.

 

The Blessed Virgin’s obedience did not lead to happiness unbounded.  Remember her mourning at the Cross?  Remember St. Simeon in St. Luke ii.35 prophesying, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”?  She gave birth, not in the inn, but in the stables.  They could only afford the sacrifice of the poor when they presented Christ to the Temple.  She and Joseph fled with Christ to Egypt to save His life.  She saw the priests and scribes conspire to kill Him.  And yes, she was there at Pentecost as well.  She lived a blessed life, but she lived neither a sumptuous or easy life.

We think that God’s blessing will bring prosperity and joy, but often God’s blessing brings hard, difficult, and painful work.  Death and suffering accompany us on the journey Godward.

Those with easy lives might think they have gotten away with a well-lived life, when they have done nothing.  Those who have faced an uphill battle through trial and tribulation may cry out for a rest, but may indeed have won a crown.

And note that heavenly visits inspire fear and wonder.  We want to see an angel to comfort us and to strengthen our faith, but indeed we may cower in fear upon the sight of one.  We pray for divine guidance, but find that truly divine guidance will lead us into danger and out of worldly prosperity.  Our simple earthly minds cannot fathom nor comprehend the immense and profound wonder that a heavenly being such as St. Gabriel would have upon us.

Never doubt the courage of the Virgin when she placed herself into God’s hands during the visit by the angel.  Such an overwhelming and scary experience for a young woman!  But perhaps this is what our Lord meant when He said that we had to become as little children to enter into the Kingdom of God.  He would have us remain innocent and open to fantastic experience, not hardened and jaded like we had earned every year of our life through hard work and bitter disappointment.

And if anything can happen, then what is next?  Probably not what we expect.  The faithful Christian should have a heart like St. Mary, open to the unbelievable possibilities of Almighty God, our Heavenly Father.  We must truly believe that the Holy Ghost can do all things.  We must truly believe that Christ is one of us and lived a life amongst us.  We must believe in miracles and goodness and holiness and not insist upon having things our way.

 

As we are all brothers of Christ through adoption, and since we enter into eternal life through Christ, so we may faithfully and truly say that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of us all.  Christ saying to St. John from the Cross, “behold your mother”, and saying to his mother from the Cross, “behold your son”, is the symbol of this truth.

Moreover, St. Mary had the Lord inside of her just as the Messiah was within Israel, and Christ came forth from His mother just as out of Israel the Messiah came forth.

As the Blessed Virgin Mary is our mother and as she is a type of Israel, so she is a type of Holy Church.  Through our mother Holy Church, we are birthed into new life.  Thus Christians may call St. Mary our mother as well.  It is as St. Mary as mother of us who through obedience allowed salvation into the world through Christ flips the work of Eve, who though mother of us all, allowed sin into the world through Adam.

 

In the lady parts of our Lady, God the Son became Incarnate Body and Blood, anticipating and prefiguring how this bread and wine shall become the Body and Blood of Christ for us to eat and drink on God’s altar in just a few minutes.  St. John Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb when he encountered our Lord Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  So we bow and kneel before Christ in His Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  And the Blessed Virgin helped make it happen.

If you love Jesus, you have to love His mama, for He certainly did.  If you would love like Christ loves, you would love the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But if somehow you love the Blessed Virgin more than Christ, she would be the first one to correct you and point you to her Son, for she followed Him, and obeyed Him, and was there at the Cross and on Pentecost.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us that God chooses the weak of this world, shows us that following God can be costly, and shows us that she is our mother as well as our sister.  But most importantly, the Blessed Virgin is the model for Christian discipleship.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” This is the model of the humble and faithful Christian’s prayer, placing himself under God’s will.

Father Massey Shepherd said that St. Mary is the “perfect example of a humble acceptance of God’s favor and a ready and trusting obedience to His will.  Here, indeed, one witnesses in purest form the self-giving response of a human life to the redeeming purpose of God.”

St. Mary is told she will be the mother of the Son of the Highest, and yet she makes no grand claims.  She calls herself handmaiden, a servant, chosen by another.  How often does God give us something small and we claim something big?  How often do we boast of our station or wealth or knowledge or capabilities when it all came from our good God and we earned so very little of it?  Give God the glory!  We should learn from her.

And then she wishes that God’s will be done, foreshadowing Christ’s teaching of that in his prayer, “Thy will be done.”  The Blessed Virgin teaches us how to behave before our Lord God.  She is the prototypical Christian, our mother by example if our sister by birth.

St. Mary’s “yes”, as well as our “yes”, is only the beginning of a marvelous and gracious journey of faith.  In the Gospel and the mission of the Church, each moment opens with opportunities to follow Christ, obey God, and spread the Gospel.  Like St. Mary, our obedience to God should form our essential identity in Christ.

What St. Mary started at home one day by emptying herself to God before St. Gabriel culminated in Christ emptying Himself on the hard wood of the Cross that dark day upon the hilltop.  We empty ourselves for God, not negotiating and wheedling with him about what pet trifles we might keep.  Jesus says in St. Luke’s Gospel, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We surrender all to God.  We obey God.  We follow God.  We empty ourselves for God.  God is all we have, for we and all we have come from him.

 

“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Nowadays, many people dismiss angels as merely poetic or symbolic, but not truly real.  People, learned people especially, tend to dismiss Satan as the personification of evil, that is, we pretend he is a person exemplifying evil traits and not a real spiritual person.  These notions come from the folly of naturalism, the Enlightenment and Modern philosophy that only “natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.”  This notion sits more firmly in minds of even the faithful than we would like to think.

Therefore, we tend to think very little of angels because they are not popular like they were in medieval and ancient times.  They do not really fit in with our modern ways of thinking.  We believe that if we do not think of them much, it does no damage to our Christian faith.

But this last point is wrong.  Not believing in actual spiritual beings called angels does hurt our faith in Christ.  If we do not believe in angels, we cannot consistently hold that Christ was the spiritual God from Heaven come down and made Man, and that directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and teaching of Holy Mother Church.  You can explain away angels and thus deny Christ, or you can believe in both.

If we believe in Christ and thus believe in angels, then we may be comforted by the idea of the Heavenly Host doing God’s will and ministering to us.  Hebrews i.14:  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  That we are aided by supernatural spirits gives us comfort, hope, and courage in our battle against sin.  We join the ranks of Christians throughout all the centuries who took practical help from angels.

Naturalistic philosophy holds that science teaches us about our world.  But science can only examine the material world, although it does that very well.  Many questions of our race remain unanswered by science.  Psychology and medicine explain some of the cases of demon possession and miracles in the Bible, but they cannot explain all of them.  Evil angels cause evil disorders.  What science teaches us is correct so far as it can go.  The natural world and the supernatural world are but different parts of God’s good Creation.

Indeed, our personal experiences bear out the existence of both holy and diabolical angels.  Who here has not been sorely tempted and then found sudden inexplicable relief?  Who here was otherwise doing fine until suddenly tempted or troubled with the most unsettling thoughts?  Some of this may come from habit, diet, and rest, but can all of it be explained so?

The Holy Scriptures mention angels many times, but the angels are never the point of the Holy Scriptures.  Thus, most Biblical references are indirect.  To understand angels in the Bible, we must look at references that are about other things and glean what we can from them.

We know they exist and that they communicate with men.  Angels conveyed messages to Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Moses, Daniel, St. Mary, the ladies at the Empty Tomb, and the apostles.  We know that they are not flesh and blood from Ephesians vi.12.  We know that angels do not marry from St. Matthew xxii.30.  We know that they are wise from 2 Samuel xiv.20.  We know that they are moral creatures from St. John viii.44.  We know that they will be judged on the Last Day from St. Jude 6.  We know that we share with the angels in the communion of saints from Hebrews xii.22-23

Angels appear throughout the Scriptures, from Satan and the angel in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to St. Michael and Satan in the Revelation of St. John the Divine read today for the Epistle.  But angels especially appear around Christ.

St. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of St. John Baptist.  The same St. Gabriel appeared unto the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior.  The heavenly host appeared to the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”.  Angels ministered to Christ in the wilderness after His Temptation and announced His Resurrection on Easter morn.  Christ taught that angels minister to His children.  Christ exorcized demons and came to deliver men from the power of the one who had power over body and soul in Hell.

Fr. Hall:  “It has always been generally believed by Christians that multitudes of angels exist; that they are created and personal spirits, possessed of high intellectual power and capable of considerable although limited influence upon nature and upon man; that they belong to various orders, to which diverse functions are distributed; that, originally created good, many of them have fallen away, and under Satan’s leadership oppose themselves to divine purposes and to man’s moral and spiritual welfare; and that the holy angels not only minister to God in heavenly places, but also to the souls of men, defending them against the assaults of Satan and his hosts.”

Other than this common core of belief, Christians from the age of the early Church Fathers until now have supposed many things.  The most accepted of these, Pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings have been very persuasive, lists nine orders of angels he found in Holy Scripture.  The highest of the three sets of three are the thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, who minister directly to God in his presence.  The middle of the three sets are the dominions, virtues, and powers, who are, in the words of Fr. Hall, “more or less associated with works of power in nature and warfare.”  The lowest order includes principalities, archangels, and angels, who are often God’s messengers to men.  These orders are included in the Eastern liturgies of St. Basil and St. James and are included in our closing hymn today.

Angels have more powers than men but less than God.  They are personal, moral creatures who possess free will, know more than men, and enjoy the presence of God – the Beatific Vision.  But they do not know the Day of Judgement, and they cannot discern men’s thoughts.  They are not of flesh and blood but seem to have power over men’s bodies.  They are local in presence and motion but can move very swiftly.

Since they do not marry, they do not generate themselves.  They were each created directly by God.  Unlike us, when some of them fell, they did not all fall.  Therefore, Christ did not have to come to save angels.  Christ only came to save man.

Holy Scripture assumes that there are seven archangels, of whom Ss. Michael and Gabriel are named in the primary canon and Ss. Uriel and Raphael are named in the deutero-canonical Scripture, otherwise known as the Apocrypha.  Jewish tradition names the other three.

We know angels protect us and guide us in God’s will.  They seek to help us towards salvation and guard us against the evil angels.  They accompany our prayers to Heaven, witness our tribulations, rejoice over our repentance, come with Christ on the Day of Judgement, and generally do God’s bidding.

Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:  “It has been a constant tradition of Christianity that angels attend at the ministration of Holy Baptism, and at the celebration of the Holy Communion; and that as Lazarus was the object of their tender care, so in sickness and death they are about the bed of the faithful, and carry their souls to the presence of Christ in Paradise.”

Then, there are evil angels.  God is good, and he created everything good.  But those of us with free will, namely men and angels, have the capacity to rebel against God and goodness.

Our pets and animals, however, cannot willfully choose evil.  They naturally live for the glory of God.  However, we are responsible as stewards with dominion over the earth to take care of them and treat them well.  But these animals of ours cannot choose evil.

But the evil angels do.  They beheld God’s face and wanted to live for themselves anyway.  They were given freedom by God and chose to misuse that good gift.  Evil angels fell before the Fall of Man, for Satan there tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Evil came to men from fallen angels.  Many theologians have sought to explain this, but that is the extent to which Scripture teaches.  We can only speculate how Satan and the evil angels fell and why they tempted man.

Satan has limited dominion over our world and will be consigned to the “lake of fire and brimstone” at the Day of Doom.  Since we are fallen and unstable, we are particularly susceptible to the wiles of Satan and his demons.  They are far older, wiser, and more evil than we are; they are very dangerous.  But in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb Who Was Slain, and their evil influence upon us is limited.

Unclean spirits cannot alter God’s natural laws but only manipulate them for evil purposes.  Holy Scripture shows this limitation.  When we use mediums and other wicked means to communicate with the dead, setting aside cases of fraud, the poor quality and vanity of that supernatural communication shows the origin of these communications to be from demons.  St. John warns us to test the spirits.  St. Paul tells us that the power to discern spirits is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  Christ said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

In St. Matthew, we see that the damnation of Satan and the demons is eternal.  His work to corrupt man had its singular epic success in the fall of man, but subsequently their evil work has expended itself upon sinful men.  The plans of God are not thwarted.  Satan can plot and plan all he likes, but the eternal goodness of God continues on as always, unabated, unaltered.  Those evil plans are often turned into following God’s perfect plan, as goodness and grace and protection pours upon his people through his ministering spirits.  We repent and return to God despite the wiles and viciousness of the Devil.  The holy angels protect and defend us, the Holy Scriptures teach us, the Holy Sacraments empower us, and the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.  The power and hostility of demons are real, but God’s eternity, grace, and loving-kindness are so much more powerful.  We are not pawns in the battle of good and evil.  We are powerful yet flawed men who must decide for ourselves if we shall fight on behalf of our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost alongside the saints and angels, or if we shall fight in rebellion to the Blessed and ever glorious Holy Trinity along with other evil men and the wicked angels.

We have countless fellow-creatures and friends who wish us well, who watch over us day and night, who are always ready to whisper to us a word of encouragement or warning.  They possess heavenly rectitude and wise judgement and ever stand ready as good examples for us.  Satan and his evil angels are out to get us, but our friends the heavenly host do battle and assist us.

The angels in Heaven are above us now, but after the Last Judgement when we enter into the glory that Christ has prepared for us, we shall indeed be higher than the angels.  Angels are not little gods.  They, too, are creatures.  We never worship them.  Only Christ can lead us into Salvation.  They are not our brothers, but they are our fellow creatures who share in God’s love and ministry.  We are never alone.  We always have help.

And let us dare not forget the words of the Mass, which in a short while I shall sing on behalf of all the faithful gathered here together:  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most High.”

Believe in the holy angels of God.  Ask for divine help from on high whenever you are in trouble or temptation.  Befriend your guardian angel.  Y’all are in it together.  And as St. Peter warns:  “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”

 

St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us.  Amen.

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »