Angel: anyone who is a mediator of God’s tenderness
In the collective imagination, the angel has a well-defined character and those who paint him must adhere to certain pre-established canons. An angel with hippy traits, tail, tattoo on his arm and jeans would have little chance of being accepted, not only by the more traditionalist parish priests but also by the less bigoted faithful. The angel has to radiate a bright light, has wings, flowing hair and the soft features, but still male because no angel has a woman’s name. Painting an angel with shoes would be the grossest error a painter would commit: an angel flies, not walk.
To us heirs of the Enlightenment and positivist culture, this ethereal figure appears more than a real being, a naive, archaic pre-modern legacy; a regression to the world of childhood fairy tales where gnomes, fairies, and elves enter the scene. In the era of science and technology, faith in angels would seem destined to a rapid decline. However, here it is re-emerging and fashionable again. Surveys show that 60% of Italians are convinced to be assisted by a guardian angel, 50% say they talk to him and 6% calls for their protection from accidents.
“You are an angel!” We all have heard this compliment at least once: from a friend to whom we have given a hand at a difficult time; from an office colleague, delighted in seeing us react to an offense with a smile and calm words, by a married couple we helped to reconcile; by a wife to whom we brought coffee in bed caressing her as she sipped it.
“You are an angel.” Is it just a figure of speech, an image, a metaphor? No, it is a reality—today’s readings tell us.
The angel was born to fill a distance. The Hebrew word mal’ak comes from the root la’ak that means to send and is attributed to anyone who is sent to convey a message, gather information or take a specific action in the name of an agent. The Bible does not make any distinction between people’s envoys and God’s. Anyone who goes between people or between distant communities or between God and people is called mal’ak—angel.
Even when the sacred text gives a name to the messengers of God, it is difficult to determine whether it points to real characters, to spirits who assumed human forms, or if one uses an image, a personification to describe the ineffable experience of divine intervention in people’s favor.
The feast of the archangels is an invitation for us to turn around and to recognize the angels who are at our side. They do not move with wings, but guide with caution; they are serene and kind even when the traffic is not flowing. They do not wear a bright robe, but the sari of Mother Teresa, the gown of the doctor, the worker’s suit or jeans of a young priest of the Oratory. And if they do not have shoes it is because they removed them to offer them to the poor.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Lord—that I may be your angel.”
The Bible never says that Abraham entered into a shrine to pray, and yet he is considered not only as the father of believers but also as a model of the man who prays. If it is necessary to believe in order to pray and to believe one needs to pray. His whole life is marked by prayer. He initiated things only after he heard the word of the Lord; he took steps after having received from his God an indication of the way.
His story is marked by a constant dialogue with the Lord. “The Lord said to Abram: go…then Abram departed” (Gen 12:1,4). “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision … and Abram said: Lord, what will you give me?” (Gen 15:1-2) “Then the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre and he bowed down to the ground” (Gen 18:1-3). “God put Abraham to the test … and Abraham answered: Here I am!” (Gen 22:1) This dialogue has fueled the faith of Abraham; it prepared him to accept the will of God. It made him believe in his love despite appearances to the contrary.
Many events of our life are enigmatic, incomprehensible and illogical and seem to give reasons to one who doubts whether God is present in and accompanies our history. In these moments our faith is put to a hard test and we would naturally cry out to the Lord and implore: “Listen to our voice, understand our lament.” He always listens to our voice though it is difficult for us to perceive his voice. “Make us listen to your voice, O Lord”; it is the invocation that we must address to him: to open our hearts, help us to renounce our longings, securities and plans and instead make us welcome Yours. This is the faith that saves.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Make us listen to your voice, O Lord.”
There was a time when God seemed an ally of the rich. Well-being, luck, abundance of goods were considered signs of his blessing.
The first time the Hebrew word kesef (which means silver or more commonly, money) appears in the Bible, it is referred to Abraham. He “was very rich in cattle, silver and gold” (Gen 13:2). Isaac “sowed crops and in that year harvested a hundredfold” (Gen 26:12-13). Jacob owned countless “oxen, asses, flocks, men-servants and maidservants” (Gen 32:5). The Psalmist, too, does not know better than to promise to the just one, saying: “Abundance and wealth will be in your home” (Ps 112:3).
Poverty was a disgrace. It was believed to be the result of laziness, idleness, and debauchery. “A little sleep, a little drowsiness, a little folding of the arms to rest, poverty will come” (Pro 24:33-34).
A change of perspective comes with the prophets. One begins to understand that the assets accumulated by the rich are not always the result of their honest work and the blessing of God, but often of cheating, violations of the rights of the most vulnerable.
Even the wise men of Israel denounce the rich; “But the rich man who has had his fill cannot sleep” (Eccl 5:11). “Gold has ruined many” (Sir 8:2).
Jesus considers both greeds of goods of this world and honestly earned wealth as almost insurmountable obstacles to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The deceitfulness of wealth chokes the seed of the Word (Mt 13:22); it tends to gradually conquer the whole human heart and leave no space for God nor for the neighbor.
Blessed is he who makes himself poor, who is no longer anxious about what he will eat or drink, who does not worry about clothes and does not get restless for tomorrow (Mt 6:25-34). Blessed is he who shares all that he has with the brothers/sisters.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Christ, though he was rich, became poor to make us rich.”