Written by Rachel Kell, a Catholic wife, mother of four, and blogger at www.rachelkell.com
Imagine walking into a bookstore and discovering a shelf laden with thick volumes of world history that have only just been discovered.
You pull a book off the shelf and marvel as a world unfolds before you. A ruler of unmatched greatness leads his subjects in what seems to be a Utopian society. But unrest occurs. There are great battles. Subjects are banished from this perfect kingdom where love is the ruler, and in rejecting the ruler they descend into a nation void of love.
A new species emerges, and both kingdoms want to claim each specimen as their own. There are battles waged and blessings bestowed, and if you kept reading you would eventually find your own name and discover the battles that had been fought on your behalf. You would see the blessings you had received and those you had rejected. You would recognize that your own experience of life on this earth is a mere flake atop an iceberg of spiritual reality.
Alas, there is no such shelf, but only one precious volume containing everything necessary for our human understanding of things “visible and invisible”, “seen and unseen”. In opening the Bible to understand the world we cannot see, we discover three of the most glorious beings in creation history: The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The Archangels: Messengers of God
While a shroud of mystery will always veil the invisible, Sacred Scripture reveals that there are “‘…seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord’” (Tobit 12:15). Of those seven angels, three are given names and missions in the Bible. These three angels are recognized by the Church as Archangels:
Saint Michael (meaning “One who is like God”)
Saint Gabriel (meaning “God is my strength”)
Saint Raphael (meaning “God is my healer”)
As their names suggest, each of these Archangels has a specific role in bringing God’s Kingdom to fruition. As they loyally carry out their mission, we can look to the Archangels for evidence of God’s great love for His people as well as the obedience He desires in return.
St. Raphael the Archangel
We meet St. Raphael the healer only in the book of Tobit, where God sends him in direct response to the desperate prayers of Sarah and Tobit. “… the prayers of both of them were heard in the glorious presence of God. So Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God’s light with his eyes; and Sarah daughter of Raguel, by giving her in marriage to Tobias son of Tobit, and by setting her free from the wicked demon Asmodeus” (Tobit 3:16-17).
Sarah had been praying that her life would end, so desperate was her situation. Tobit, too, was afflicted and accused. How often have we, in our hour of need, wondered if our prayers are even heard? Yet here God reveals that prayers are heard in His glorious presence, and He has angels awaiting His command to answer those prayers.
He is also specific about the reason for healing. Tobit’s eyes were restored not to make his life easier, or so that he could return to his work, but “so that he might see God’s light with his eyes.” Notice too, that Raphael drives out a demon and sets Sarah free, pointing us back to those ongoing battles we would have seen on our fictional bookstore shelf. The war is there, a reality just outside our human vision, and one that we must acknowledge in order to understand the full extent of God’s love and will for us.
St. Gabriel the Archangel
Gabriel (“God is my strength”) is known as a herald angel, bearing news of the future in order to prepare those he visits to accept the will of God. We know most intimately of Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary heralding the Incarnation, but Gabriel also appeared to Zechariah months before to tell him the news that he and Elizabeth would bear a son, John the Baptist.
Like Raphael, Gabriel confirms that our prayers are heard in heaven: “‘…Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.’” (Luke 1:13). Through his visits to both Zechariah and Mary, Gabriel shows us God’s longing for us to be faithful and willing partners in His plan. God sends Gabriel specifically because He knows that Zechariah and Mary will need strength for what is to come.
Similarly, Gabriel visits Daniel in the Old Testament to provide strength for his future and confirm that his prayers were heard. Daniel describes the initial visit from the angel: “As he was speaking to me, I fell into a trance, face to the ground, then he touched me and set me on my feet. He said, ‘Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath; for it refers to the appointed time of the end” (Daniel 8:18-19).
After Gabriel left him, Daniel admits that he “was dismayed…and did not understand it” (Daniel 8:27), but Gabriel returned at a later time to complete his revelation. Daniel recalls: “…while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved…” (Daniel 9:21-23).
Daniel’s prayers were heard, and through God’s love, Gabriel was sent to answer them. Though Daniel was overcome upon their first meeting and perhaps not equipped to receive the fullness of God’s message, Gabriel returned to complete the revelation and ready Daniel for what was in store. From St. Gabriel the Archangel, we learn the importance of our response to God’s will as it is revealed to us.
St. Michael the Archangel
Finally, we come to St. Michael the Archangel. Named the “Prince of the Angels”, he is set aside even from the Archangels through his name and mission. This “One who is like God” is commissioned as the protector of souls and the one who will ultimately battle Satan at the world’s end. “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Revelation 12:7-8).
In the book of Daniel, too, St. Michael is revealed as the defender of souls: “‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book’” (Daniel 12:1).
It is St. Michael who has been commissioned with the destruction of Satan and his demons. What a beautiful relief to know that we are not alone in that battle (or even welcome in it), and what a perfect deception of Satan to make us believe that we are. We are the ones the battle is being fought FOR, and we are asked to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24), not our sword. We are asked to surrender to the will of God, and not to the temptations of Satan. We are told to “be not afraid”; not because there is nothing to fear, but because the legions of angels with St. Michael at their head are going before us to defeat the darkness.
Although it has never been written into tangible volumes, the spiritual history of the heavens is no less real. Through the Saints Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael, we receive a clearer vision of the plan God has for heaven and earth. And though our response to His plan is critical, what He asks of us is simple: Pray, trust, and stand ready.
Prayer of St. Michael
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
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