Everyone loves babies, especially the baby’s Mother and Father. However, no matter how much they love their tiny baby, as he or she is at that moment, they expect and want that baby to grow and mature. God our Father loves us too. He even loves us more than our own earthly parents. And in the same way that parents expect their babies to grow and mature God our Father also expects us to grow and mature. However, the area of growth and maturity he’s looking for is in our spiritual life. He doesn’t want us to stay where we are at. It’s a pity that so many adults have the spiritual life of a second grader.
Today’s Gospel is quite graphic and it really gets our attention, its meant too, millstones around necks, the cutting off of hands and feet, and the plucking of eyes. In a literal sense it’s not a body part that causes sin. It’s the human will that’s responsible for sin. Before sin ever happens it first occurs in our will, when we consent to sin. Sin happens first within our will. Jesus isn’t advocating physical self-mutilation what he is advocating, however, is a ruthless action against all our sinful drives, a ruthless action against our temptations, and a ruthless action against our attachments. Sin is not to be entertained; it’s to be rooted out of our spiritual life. Our Lord is advocating a deep conversion; he’s advocating a call to holiness. And so strong is his call to holiness he uses this graphic language to get our attention.
At the Second Vatican Council, in one of their documents, the Council Fathers devoted a whole chapter on our call to holiness, our call to be saints. They wrote, “Each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and with the help of his grace carry out his will with good and just deeds; each of the faithful must also take part in the weekly liturgy; they must constantly apply themselves to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the practice of all virtues, each of the faithful must also frequently partake of the sacraments.” Especially the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Sometimes we refer to this call to holiness as a battle, a spiritual battle.
And it is a battle, but we don’t do it alone. We have the grace of the sacraments, the very life of God within our soul. We have the Church; we have our brothers and sisters, in the Confiteor we ask for each other’s prayers. And we have the heavenly aid of angels. This week we celebrate two great Angelic feasts of our church calendar. Thursday is the Feast of the Archangels and Saturday is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. The Catechism tells us that, “The Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels. In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore God. The Church invokes their assistance in the Eucharistic prayer; in the funeral liturgy we call on the angels to lead the deceased into Paradise. And from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to eternal life.”
As we know the angels are spoken of often in Holy Scripture. At the birth of Jesus all heaven breaks loose. A multitude of angels bursts into ecstatic song and praise, extolling the goodness of God who has descended not only to forgive the sins of humanity but to even raise humanity up to God’s own divine life. They must have marveled at how low God stoops to save man and woman, their song of praise and adoration rose to Heaven with the words, “Glory to God in the highest!” Words we sing at every Sunday Mass. These words remind us of that marvelous moment of the angels’ joyful wonder at our salvation. God raises us up to His own divine life and glory, to a place that’s even higher than the angels.
That the angels rejoice in the gift of salvation given to us is a testimony to their great humility. In saving us, God raises us higher than the angels. According to the natural order of creation, angels are vastly superior to us. As pure spirits, their intellects far surpass our own. Yet God wants to divinize us, and not the angels, he has destined us to partake of his own divine nature. We receive the Eucharist, Angels do not. We take God into ourselves, the Angels do not.
Some theologians believe that our glorious destiny was a scandal. They say that the revelation of man’s destiny is what caused at the beginning of time, the fall of one-third of the angels. Theologians speculate that before the creation of humanity, the angels were given a test. They were shown that the Word would become flesh, that he would become man, and that by doing so, he would raise up human nature even higher than that of the highest angels. This struck the pride of the greatest of the angels, we know him as Lucifer. Isaiah in the Old Testament writes:
“How have you fallen from the heavens,
O Lucifer, son of the dawn!
How are you cut down to the ground,
you who mowed down the nations!
You said in your heart: I will scale the heavens;
Above the stars of God I will set up my throne:
I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds:
I will be like the Most High!
Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit!” (Isaiah 14: 12-15)
In this passage from Isaiah Lucifer keeps repeating in his Heart, “I…I…I.” He is saying not humanity but me! I want to be the one to ascend to the divine nature, I want to exalt my throne above the angels, and I want to be the raised up to take part in the divine action. And then according to one tradition of the Church, Lucifer made one further “I” statement before being banished to hell: “I will not serve.” He wouldn’t humble himself to serve a creature of a lower order of creation than himself, even if that creature were really the Incarnate God himself. And a third of the angels (who are now demons) went down with Lucifer (who is now Satan).
The lesson of the fallen angels is a gift for us. It should help us realize just how good and generous God is to us fallen human beings. It should remind us that Satan and his demons hate us with hellish envy. It should remind us that in their rebellious rage, they would like nothing more than to have us lose the gift that they once coveted. It should remind us that they would like nothing more than to drag us down with them “into the depth of the pit,” that they’d like nothing more than to get back at God by preventing him from raising us up to the thrones of glory. It is part of Satan’s strategy to make us never realize the good that God offers us.
Our call to holiness is a spiritual battle, and our Lord wants us to grow in our Spiritual life, to grow in holiness, to root out sin, but we don’t have to be afraid, we have God on our side, we have His grace, we have His Mass, we have His sacraments, we have His Scripture, we have His saints as examples and intercessors, and we have His angels. Develop a relationship with your Guardian Angel. Your Angel is right there with you, always. Talk to him, ask for advice, ask for guidance, and ask for prayers. They are our companions forever. I call my angel, “Angelo.” The very first prayer I learned was the “Angel of God” prayer. I was probably 3 or 4 when I learned it. Every night after reading to us Mom would kneel us down, me and my brothers, in front of the crucifix and we prayed it together.
Angel of God
My Guardian dear
To whom God’s love
Commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
Let your Guardian help you grow in holiness. They are our friends and they will see us home safely.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley