The celebration of St. Michael and All Angels is one of my favourite ones because it invites us into the mystery of God that Scripture talks openly about, but which our rational modern minds may explain away as ancient misunderstanding or allegory.
The fact is, that angels are spoken about in Scripture — both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — a lot. Roughly translated, the Greek word for angel, angelos means “messenger”, or “one that announces.” Angels in the New Testament are often doing just that. So, angels are not these fairy-like winged babies that art and popular culture have made of them, but rather otherworldly beings who are emissaries of God’s own self. Angels are a separate order from humans and although we often imagine them as having a human-like form, their descriptions in the prophetic books make them sound fearsome indeed. Is it any wonder that most biblical figures who were visited by an angel reacted with fear?
The archangel Michael is one of the patron saints of artists, and as such, holds a special place in my heart. Having an angel looking after you seems a bit like having a private bodyguard, doesn’t it? We may speak about having a “guardian angel” and folks who do good works are often referred to as being “angels.”
But there is no “proof” for any of this, is there? So our rational selves, at some level, may have dismissed the idea of angels as being entirely imaginary, and a product of ancient superstition. However, I think we do so at the expense of an important insight into God.
There is, indeed, very little we can say about God definitively. Most of our understanding of God is conjecture and must necessarily change over time, as we deepen in relationship with our faith community and Christ himself. Therefore, a large portion of God’s nature remains a mystery and — it is my conviction — that angels may well fall into the reality of that mysterious realm.
Would it be such a bad thing to allow the spirit of wonder to overcome us when we meditate on the Divine? If contemplating the role of angels helps us do that, I say, so much the better.