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BY Danielle Bean
Angels are everywhere, and in more ways than one.
Keep an eye out for the gentle heavenly beings and you'll soon enough spot them just about everywhere people go. They're inside wallets (on credit cards), atop kitchen counters (on coffee mugs) and even on people's backs (adorning T-shirts).
Of course, popular depictions of cuddly cherubs are hardly accurate reflections of real angels. The Catechism tells us that, in fact, angels are “personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness” (No. 330).
With the feast of the Archangels upon us — Sept. 29 is their big day — now is a good time to brush up on our knowledge of, and devotion to, the best-known of the bunch: Raphael, Gabriel and Michael.
We meet St. Raphael the Archangel in the Book of Tobit, where he guides a man, Tobias, on a journey. First he leads Tobias to a woman, Sara. After Tobias marries her, Raphael helps him to enchain an evil spirit that has plagued her. Finally, using oil from a fish, he heals Tobias' father of blindness and reveals his true identity as an angel.
For these actions, he is considered a patron of travelers, good health, the blind, nurses and lovers.
“Raphael exemplifies the virtues of compassion and healing,” says Sister Pamela Biehl, pastoral director of St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Osh Kosh, Wis. She suggests that Catholics can follow Raphael's example by “reaching out to heal others by our presence and our willingness to listen.”
The members of St. Raphael parish honor their angelic patron with a variety of healing ministries, including grief ministry, programs that reach out to the homebound and prison-visitation programs.
“The name Raphael means God's healer,” Sister Biehl says. “For us to be God's healer would mean that we are present to others in ways that might include a listening ear and a caring heart as well as feeding the poor and offering monetary assistance to someone in trouble.”
In many biblical passages, Gabriel the Archangel acts as God's messenger. He visits Daniel to explain his vision (Daniel 8:16-26), Zechariah to foretell that Elizabeth will conceive a child (Luke 1:11-21) and, finally, the Blessed Virgin to announce that she has been chosen to be the Mother of God (Luke 1:26-38).
Because he has always been the bearer of important and sometimes difficult news, Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.
Father Tom Phillips, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Woodlawn, Md., believes that Gabriel is a particularly appropriate patron for his parish community.
“Our parish was born of two parishes that were struggling in a community with changing demographics,” he explains. In the 1990s, when the two parishes could no longer support themselves separately, the archdiocese closed both parishes to begin a new one.
“When it came time to choose a name for the new community, St. Gabriel was chosen, because “he brought difficult news from God to people who were chosen for difficult missions.”
“It was a difficult transition,” Father Phillips says. “The combined communities saw their acceptance of the closings of their parishes as difficult as the missions of Daniel, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph. They also see themselves as God's messenger in a community where there are few Catholics and have chosen evangelization as their ministry.”
St. Michael is perhaps best known for his victory in battle against Lucifer and the other angels who rebelled against God. After a mighty battle in heaven, St. Michael thrust Satan and his followers from heaven into hell.
As the patron of police officers, firefighters and paratroopers, he is often invoked as a protector against the forces of evil.
Father Michael Sluzacek has practiced a lifelong devotion to St. Michael, first as his namesake and now as pastor of St. Michael's Church in Stillwater, Minn.
He recommends daily recitation of the traditional prayer to St. Michael and fosters in his parishioners an awareness of the presence and protection of St. Michael at all times.
“St. Michael demonstrates courage and fortitude in the face of the attack of evil forces,” he says. “He is Prince of the Heavenly Host and a great defender of the rights of God.”
Father Sluzacek describes the archangel as an admirable example of Christian strength, perseverance and purity of worship.
Ever aware of their patron's aid and protection, he and his parishioners plan to celebrate their 150th anniversary this year with a “Pageant on the Angels” featuring the history of their parish.
“We invoke St. Michael as our defender against evil,” Father Sluzacek says. “This is particularly pertinent in today's world.”
Angels Among Us
Benedictine Father Peter Guerin, professor of theology at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., believes that knowledge of and devotion to the archangels can help Catholics to pray with greater perfection, particularly while attending Mass.
“During the celebration of the Mass, earth and heaven are united in worship of the Father,” he says. “The angels are models of prayer, assisting us to become worshippers in spirit and in truth.”
Additionally, Father Guerin explains that all angels protect and support us during our lives on Earth and their constant presence teaches us to trust in Divine Providence.
“We can rejoice in the saving message of the Gospel and the providential care that God gives us through the angels,” he says. “They are companions with us on our way to the Father. Satan and the evil spirits have no claim on us.”
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.