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.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron for whom certain chapels, churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So, he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course, since the time of the Reformation, Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in fear of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is needed when the truth of the matter is that Jesus -the everlasting Word of God, has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us also! We do well to remember that God the Father sent the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration, He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a conversation which Jesus had with them concerning the Redemption of the World. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as He indwells His creatures, they share in His goodness and truth. Thus, we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greek aggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that we might join them and resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture, we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, 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. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of their companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from these rational, free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin is found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created since He had not yet made the sun and the moon. St. Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness which hovered over the deep must be an image of willful ignorance and bad-will that characterize the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs all of creation. Because the good angels are wholly informed by the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
Sin is a spiritual problem. It originates with the pure angelic spirits who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that the bad angels envied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination depended always on the Light of God’s Power, Wisdom, and Love, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Self-absorption is always and ever darkness because it refuses to find its meaning in the Creator’s Light. Thus, the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels are everything that God intends for them to be. They fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels embrace God’s Light alone and cannot endure the presence of the malevolent ill will and darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are the first Created Light, in and through them we find the meaning and truth of all creation. They are the Created Light that illuminates the creation. In them, we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. They embrace Christ the Word and His Redemption for fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they surround us with Heavenly protection and assistance.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Arcistrategoς, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his army desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their vocation is to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Christ. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) From Jesus Christ they bear the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and union with our Heavenly Father. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. The desire of the Holy Spirit moves them to bring to us what Christ hears from the Father. What they see of the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit they share with us as that Divine Desire that should stir us to adoration and imitation.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, there will be war on earth until the Second Coming. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels reveal to us the victory of God’s first Created Light over darkness in Heaven. The pattern has been established in Heaven and it extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to strengthen us in our war against the powers of spiritual darkness in high places. They lend us their unceasing submission to God with courage. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
William Blake reminds us that, It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only. This holiness alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must become as little children.Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew xviii. 3,4) The angels are the first Created Light. They are the first offspring and children of God who depend upon Him wholly and completely for their safety, goodness, and happiness. They lend their childlike wonder, awe, wisdom, and love of God to us. So, with the poet:
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons