Feast of the Archangels

I’ve been doing some research for this homily. I’ve been visiting bookstores—Borders, Barnes and Noble, Cody’s—looking for angel books. The things you do for ministry! Well, I can report that interest in angels is at least six feet long! And, you know, all but an inch or two is extraordinarily self-centred. If you believed what’s written you’d think that angels were around just for our benefit. There are manuals for talking to them, for recognising them, getting them to do what you want, persuading them to find you a partner. There’re books on angels and astrology, angels and tarot, angels and your inner child, journaling with angels, jogging with angels … OK I made that last one up … but it all seems a terrible betrayal of angels … and of humanity for that matter.
For two reasons. First, those New Age angels are all so nice … and they all sound like Roma Downey. But Jewish and Christian tradition has it that angels come in two varieties. There’s a battle in the heavens and angels are on both sides, good and bad. But even apart from evil ones, angels do not make good company. I for one would not like to meet Saint Michael on a dark night! … If angels are anything they are unsettling and if they are unsettling it’s precisely because they’re not human. And that’s the second reason the current fascination betrays them. In the Christian tradition they’re cosmic creatures. In the creed we name God as maker of both heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen. Well, the unseen, the invisible, those created spirits that our tradition calls angels … they had been around for millenia, for aeons, before human beings turned up on this little planet and they will no doubt persist long after we’ve vanished. And their agenda is not ours. What stars they sail by we can hardly imagine; their desires an enigma.
What we celebrate today is the unseen richness of created reality, far beyond us, above us, beneath us. Our first reading was a vision and our gospel is all about vision too, about seeing, about seeing the unseen. We have an invitation to gaze in wonder at the natural world—physical and spiritual—and discover the fullness of reality. Of all the angel books I looked at, only one seems to grasp this—a book by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake called “The Physics of Angels.” Well there’s the idea! The physics of angels. The natural power of created reality to speak of God. The power of the cosmos to protect, to communicate, and to heal. But not just to protect human beings, to address us, to heal us, but to do all that, and more, for the cosmos, for the whole.
And that’s important because in our corner of the cosmos the human power to make or unmake the world has grown grand and perilous. Life is at stake: ours, yes, but other lives too. How many species are lost each year? How much topsoil? How much beauty?
Our cosmic identity is in the balance: are we, humans, makers or un-makers? Are we on the side of the angels or against them? Because it’s quite possible that in Raphael’s healing of the planet lies our scourge, that Gabriel’s voice might be raised to announce death not birth. It’s quite possible that the war cry, terrible from Michael’s mouth, might mark us as enemy.
Let it not be so!