Browse by Topic: Angels

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

What's in a Name?

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Saint Michael, icon at Prince of Peace Monastery"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it." --Revelation 12:7-9

Any brother who visits my room will find images of Saint Michael throughout: on the door, next to my bed, on the bookshelf, above my desk, and so on. Although most of these prayer cards and icons have been gifts that I’ve received since entering the Order and receiving Michael as my religious name, the fact is that I have had a great devotion to the captain of the heavenly hosts for many years.

My affinity for Saint Michael began in college, when I began to learn more about our Catholic faith and discovered that Saint Michael’s feast day -- which he now shares which the other archangels -- is on September 29, just a few days after my birthday.  Tradition teaches us that on this date, during the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Michael appeared to the pope in a vision. Saint Gregory was leading a penitential procession and praying for the end of a plague that was decimating the population of Rome. As he and the other pilgrims made their way across the Tiber River, suddenly the sound of an angel chorus could be heard. Saint Michael appeared above what is now known as the Castel San’Angelo, and sheathed his sword -- which was dripping with blood -- a sign that the plague was finished.

A lesser-known story says that it was on this date that Saint Michael defeated Satan, as described in the reading from the Book of Revelation above. After being cast out of heaven, the devil was hurled towards earth and finally crashed, landing on a thorny bush. The bush’s berries took on the color of the vanquished dragon’s blood, a dark violet that, at first glance, appears black. Seething and outraged, Satan cursed the bush and its blackberries. As a result, tradition holds that one should only eat blackberries harvested before this day, otherwise they will be too bitter.

Now as much as I love these stories and traditions associated with Sept. 29th, they are not my primary reason for venerating Saint Michael. The real reason I honor this archangel is because of what his name signifies. Despite the fact that “Michael” is often translated as a statement, it as actually a question – the question asked by this noble prince of heaven when Satan refused to serve and worship God. Michael means: “who is like unto God?” It is a rallying cry for the faithful, that causes the devil to tremble in fear, reminding him of that fateful day when he, in his pride, rebelled against God and lost his place among the heavenly host. At the same time, it is a reminder to all us that we must practice humility, for the answer to the question “who is like unto God?” is no one.

Let us pray, then, that Saint Michael, by the divine power of God, will help us to grow in virtue, and in humility, so that we may turn from sin and overcome the evil spirits who prowl this world seeking for the ruin of souls.

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Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Ignite Your Torch

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Ignite Your Torch…Conquer for Christ! This was the rallying cry of those attending Ignite Your Torch (IYT), a youth conference which made its way to the Pacific Northwest earlier this month in order to evangelize and inspire 200 teens from Oregon and the state of Washington. IYT offers something unique in the way of youth conferences.  Frequently the accent at youth ministry events is on fun, games, and music, with a dash of catechesis and preaching that goes only so deep.  IYT also allows teen to participate in beautiful and reverent liturgies, and learn about the Catholic faith and how to put it into practice. In addition to being Eucharistic-centered, Marian, and pro-life, IYT invites priests, religious brothers (Br. Peter, myself, and Fr. Stephen Maria represented the Western Province of Dominicans) and sisters, and many others to come together and offer catechetical presentations and workshops on a number of topics.

Some of the highlights from the conference, in my opinion, included Br. Peter’s talk on natural law, and a presentation by Sister Angela Marie, O.P., who spoke about the human person and love, referring to St. Thomas Aquinas as she distinguished between the emotion of love and love as an act of the will. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on a vocation panel for young men discerning the priesthood and/or religious life, and to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Below are some excerpts from my presentation:

Even if we are vigilant and have the best intentions, resisting the devil is not an easy task. Satan is tricky. He appears as an angel of light, but is really the father of lies. His purpose is to thwart God’s plan, and to consume as many souls as he can, by any means necessary. He tried to do this 800 years ago with a young man named Thomas Aquinas, but thanks be to God, he failed. 

At the age of eighteen, Thomas had decided to join the Dominican Order. But his family was fervently against it. Because the Order of Preachers was new in the early 13th century, it had no prestige. Thus in order to keep him away from the Dominicans, Thomas’ family held him captive in one of their castles. After a time, his brothers came up with a plan that they were sure would cause Thomas to abandon his religious vocation. They hired a prostitute to seduce Thomas, but the plan backfired. When the prostitute entered the room and began to undress, Thomas grabbed a searing hot poker from the fireplace and drove her out, chasing her from the room! He then slammed the door and fell to his knees, praying to be preserved in chastity and in his intention to live the vocation of religious life. His prayer was answered in a vision. Two angels came to him and tied a cord around his waist, saying “On God’s behalf, we gird you with the cincture of chastity, which no attack will every destroy.”

This event, which was made public after Thomas Aquinas’s death, is the foundation of one of the oldest groups associated with the Dominican Order, that of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity—a fellowship of men and women, bound to one another in charity and prayer, dedicated to pursuing chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Members throughout history have included: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and many others.

As I’m sure you all know, the pursuit of chastity is often a battle with the world. It is a battle against the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion, who works to devour and destroy the true beauty of our sexuality. Because he cannot create anything himself, the devil mimics God’s power by trying to corrupt everything the Lord has made. Thus the beauty of the human body and the gift of our sexuality is misrepresented in art, television, film, advertisement, etc. People are turned into objects, and love is replaced by lust. What’s sad is that this has occurred so gradually over time, many people don’t even notice it any more. They’ve become desensitized to the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Now, immodesty and promiscuity are practically deemed normal.

As human beings, affected by original sin and concupiscence, we are weak; tempted to act on sexual desires outside of the proper time and place. But we do not have to be controlled by our sexual impulses. God wants us to be free, and to pursue true happiness in a way that avoids the false and counterfeit loves the devil sets before us. Pursuing a life of chastity helps us to do this, for when we practice self-discipline in our thoughts and actions, this in turn leads to self-control, which ultimately leads to self-possession. And it is only when we truly possess ourselves that we can give our whole being back to God and find the happiness we seek.

This is just one of the benefits of joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, but there are many others. In addition to having Saint Thomas Aquinas as a personal patron, one is also strengthened in their resolve to resist temptation, especially as the prayers of hundreds of thousands of other Confraternity members, both on earth and in heaven, come to our aid each day. And on certain days, one may receive a plenary indulgence if the usual conditions are met…

As you begin to discern if you want to make this commitment, I offer one final thought. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is not a magic wand. Members promise to strive for chastity, but you still might fall into sin. We are not perfect. The point is to grow in chastity, and to pray for others as they do so. God granted to St. Thomas Aquinas a purity that infused all his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life. As we pursue chastity, let us seek his intercession and remember that our Lord Jesus Christ calls each of us to be happy and holy saints-in-the-making.

For more information on the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and how to enroll, please visit angelicwarfare.org

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

A Little Lower than the Angels

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"What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet: All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!" – Psalm 8:5-10

There is perhaps nothing quite as perplexing, or important, in our contemporary age as the question, "Who am I?" This can be seen, if only implicitly, in the often existential, if not openly nihilistic, lyrics in popular music; in the various sub-cultures among teenagers searching for their identity; or behind heated political debates about freedom and rights in our own country. Yet not often, in public, is the question asked directly: What does it mean to be a human being? What is man? The psalmist asks this very question, noticing both man's humble stature and his glorious destiny. He is a little lower than the angels, yet crowned with glory and honor. Yet even in pointing out his humble stature, we can see an insight into human nature's dignity: the human being is, indeed, "a little lower than the angels" or "less than gods,"1 but this very comparison is itself telling: the Psalmist does not say, "He is a little greater than the beasts;" rather, the comparison is made with angels or gods. The comparison itself speaks of our rather high stature. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on this Psalm, notes how it is that angels and human beings are both similar and different:

"The image of God is found in the angels by the simple intuition of truth, without any inquiry; but in humans discursively: and therefore in man only in a certain small degree. This is why humans are called angels [in Malachi 2]... And, man is corruptible, but in a certain way; since, at a certain time, man will know all things without discursive thought in his homeland (heaven); and he will be incorruptible in the way of his body."2

So we are comparable to the angels in bearing in ourselves the image of God via our intellectual powers, although we differ in the limited, temporal way that reason works, and – of course – by our 'natural' corruptibility.

In a similar vein, in my metaphysics class I recently read an article by James Lehrberger commenting on Thomas Aquinas' account of human nature as seen in one of his earlier writings, De Ente et Essentia.3 Lehrberger argues that Thomas does not see the traditional Aristotelian definition of the human being – a "rational animal" as the final word or the most complete description of the human being. Instead, he argues that this physical definition (pertaining to the natural philosophy of Aristotle), stands alongside a more complete metaphysical account of the human being which holds that man is an incarnate spirit. That is, while the soul of man can be logically or physically categorized, on the one hand, with the souls of living things (and, more generally, with the forms of material bodies), it can also be (metaphysically) categorized with "separate intelligences" (i.e., angelic beings). In the first case, we see man as another being in the material world; in the second, he lives in the realm of spiritual beings. Yet we can see that neither account alone suffices; man does not belong only to the earth; nor, simply, to heaven. He dwells between heaven and earth, with a foot, so to speak, planted firmly in each realm.

We are, in fact, incarnate spirits, "links" or "bridges" between the merely physical realm and the purely spiritual realm. We live among rivers, rocks, trees, and cattle; yet we also live among – and have powers comparable to – angels. We are a little less than gods. If only we might recognize this unique role we fill, and try neither to be simply angels, or beasts, but rather incarnate spirits, embodied intelligences, displaying the image and glory of God in a bodily form, connecting heaven and earth. If we live as such, and recognize our place in the created order, we can look both at the earth as our natural mother, and heaven as our intended home.

And then we can see Christ, "crowned with glory and honor", having been given "all authority in heaven and earth" (Matt 28:18), as the one who has has brought about that most marvelous union between heaven and earth which is proper to man, but had been hindered by sin; the one who has done even more than this – for in heaven this glorified man is no longer "a little lower than the angels", but now is "far superior" to them (Heb 1:4). It is to this exalted state that our Lord has raised our nature; and it is to this exalted state that we are invited, if only we humbly accept our lot, and His mercy.


Notes:

1. The Hebrew could be translated as "less than gods"; the Greek Old Testament and the Latin have "a little less than the angels."

2. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 8. Available online in Latin and English at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/PsalmsAquinas/ThoPs8.htm. 

3. James Lehrberger,  'The Anthropology of Aquinas's "De Ente et Essentia,"' The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Jun., 1998), pp. 829-847 (available on JSTOR for those who have access to that resource); Thomas Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia ("On Being and Essence"), available online at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeEnte&Essentia.htm.