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"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" (Or "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" Lk 1:28).
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Photo credit: Lukas Meier
Many people are familiar with this encounter between an angel and the Virgin of Nazareth named Mary. The story of the encounter is taken from the pages of the New Testament of the Bible. The text has formed the words of an ancient Christian prayer called the "Angelus" which is prayed early morning, midday, and evening throughout religious houses, monasteries, and religious homes throughout the world.
Perhaps as children, some of us recited this prayer in a Church service. It is recited in many churches in the Diocese of Tyler and in many homes in our Diocese. Maybe we are among the many who still pause at the appointed hours every day, no matter where we are, to pray the words as a devotional practice in honor of the Incarnation. This prayer invites us to remember that scene and to seek the intercession of Our Lady. We can encounter angels if we have the eyes of living faith:/p>
"The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.Behold the handmaid of the Lord:Be it done unto me according to Thy word..."
Picture the scene. Most historians place Mary's age between thirteen and fifteen when this extraordinary encounter with the angel appeared. I had the honor of raising three daughters (along with two sons) through that season of their lives which is perhaps the most emotionally volatile, their teenage years. I love them deeply. However, I am not sure how any of them would have responded if visited or confronted by that Angel, Gabriel, who visited Mary of Nazareth.
For that matter, I am not sure how I would have responded. However, through the Biblical account, I know how Mary of Nazareth responded and I am forever grateful. In the Christian tradition, this event is referred to as "the Annunciation." It has become the symbolic backdrop that has inspired some of the most beautiful artwork in human history depicting the event. God sent a "messenger" to announce what He was about to do, not only in Mary but in the world, as a result of her response!
Both the event and her response changed all human history. Her response can be made our own if we enter more deeply into the mystery that is the prayer of Mary and learn to live a life of surrendered love as she did. Maybe we have read this story, accepted that it occurred, but believed that it had no real relevance to our own lives. It is time to think again.
On Friday, September 29th, we will celebrate the Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. We should ask ourselves this question, -- Can we encounter God in our own daily lives? Does God still visit men and women? Does he still send "angels" or messengers to reveal His plans? Does he send them to us to speak His words to specific people? The answer to all these questions is "Yes"!
The Latin word translated as "angel" is angelus and the Greek word is angelos. Both are found in the ancient translations of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. They are variations of a more ancient word found in the Hebrew texts of the Bible. It is literally translated as "one going" or "one sent". Angels "go" for God. They carry His word and initiate His actions. We could also call them messengers and ministers.
Angels are mentioned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible. They are also found throughout the Christian Tradition and the magisterial teaching of the Church. In our contemporary age, there is a "rediscovery" of an interest in angels and a growing interest in their actions in our midst. This is evidenced in our popular culture on television, at the movies, and in our bookstores.However, this interest can become misdirected. For example, some who, under the title of â€˝new age" seek to bring old-school paganism back into an increasingly de-Christianized Western culture. But, it still reflects a deepening hunger for God and a desire to hear his message. And we should seize the opportunity to share our faith with those who have such a hunger.
The public life, ministry, and words of Jesus Christ are filled with references to the Angels. Even more present are the tales of their actions. They ministered to the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where He suffered his anguish before the final act of selfless love at Calvary. They attended to Him in the Victory of the Resurrection and announced the meaning of the event to His followers who came to the empty tomb.
In the earliest account of the New Testament Christian community called the "Acts of the Apostles" and in the letters to the early Churches, found after the Gospel accounts in the New Testament, the presence and actions of the angels are everywhere. Finally, in the last Book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, they are woven throughout the Biblical texts and in a very unique way, their territoriality is explained and revealed. For example, there are Angels delegated for each one of the early Churches.
If one were to remove the references to angels from the sacred texts of the Old and New Testament, substantial amounts of the Bible have to be removed. Much of its meaning would be lost. Belief in the existence of Angels is an integral part of Christian revelation. There is a supernatural order. The Christian faith involves a worldview that not only acknowledges the existence of God but believes that God is still at work.
This worldview was Mary's worldview. It predisposed her for the encounter, prepared her to make the response of surrendered love to Godďż˝ s invitation, and paved the way for her life of surrendered love to Jesus. That worldview begins with the knowledge that there is a loving, personal God who cares not only about the whole world but about your world and my world; a loving God who communicates His love and who often does so through a visitation.
Finally, it is a part of the Christian tradition that each of us has a specific angel, a "guardian" assigned just to us to guard and direct us through life. If angels are real, and they are everywhere, the real question is do we have the eyes, ears, and hearts to discern their presence? Or, do we even know what (or better who) we are looking for?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament exhorts the early Christians to:"Keep on loving each other as brothers, do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13: 1-2). I conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The text reads as follows:
I. THE ANGELS
The existence of angels - a truth of faith
328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.
Who are they?
329 St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.'" With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word".
330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.Christ "with all his angels"
331 Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him. . " They belong to him because they were created through and for him: "for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him." They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?"
332 Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham's hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.
333 From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God "brings the firstborn into the world, he says: 'Let all God's angels worship him.'" Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church's praise: "Glory to God in the highest!" They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been. Again, it is the angels who "evangelize" by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.The angels in the life of the Church
334 In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.
335 In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli. . .["May the angels lead you into Paradise. . ."]). Moreover, in the "Cherubic Hymn" of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
336 From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.
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