26th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013
September 29, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
I know today’s Gospel is a very powerful story,
and I would really like to preach on it.
But I hope you will excuse me if I preach about something else instead.
Because you see today /tomorrow is
the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
And although we don’t celebrate their feast this year because it falls on a Sunday
—the Lord’s Day—
I don’t think the Lord would mind if we talked about them,
and especially one of them: the great and glorious St. Michael.
You may recall the historic scene about 3 months in July
when Pope Emeritus Benedict joined Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens
to consecrate Vatican City to St. Michael.
So let’s talk about this St. Michael, who is so important to these two Popes,
and to us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells that us angels are:
“purely spiritual creatures angels [with] intelligence and will:
they are personal and immortal creatures,
surpassing in perfection all visible creatures.”
The word that keeps coming up in that description is “creatures”
angels, like us, were created by God.
Now, Scripture is silent about how or when they were created,
but we do know that they were already around before Adam and Eve.
In fact, there are 2 angels in chapter 3 of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve.
The one most easily recognizable is, as it says,
“the cherubim [with] the fiery revolving sword”
that God set as a guard over the gates of paradise
when he cast Adam and Even out.
But there’s another angel also, who’s much harder to recognize
—at least as an angel.
That’s because he is a fallen angel,
—he is the serpent—also known as the devil.
So in first chapters of Genesis we see the basic division of angels
between glorious angels and fallen angels
—or what we commonly call “angels” and “devils.”
And this points back to the ancient Jewish teaching
recorded by St. Peter in the New Testament,
that sometime before the creation of the visible world,
some of the angels sinned and were cast out of God’s presence.
Tradition tells us that God created the angels to glorify him by their service,
but also by their beauty or greatness—or their “glory.”
And here was one angel who out-shown all the rest.
So magnificent was his glory that he was described as a bright shining light
and named “the bearer of light”— or in Latin: “LUCIFER.”
Yes, the greatest angel in heaven,
the prince of the heavenly hosts, was the one we call today Lucifer.
Now, as the Catechism teaches, angels, like human beings,
have both intellect and will.
And Lucifer—being the greatest of the angels—
had the greatest intellect as well,
and his magnificent intellect told him
that he was in fact the greatest of all creatures.
But tradition tells us that at some point
God called all the angels together to tell them
that he was going to create man, and create him in his image and likeness.
And then he told them, not only was he going to create man,
God the Son was going to become a man.
This was impossible: Lucifer understood serving God,
but if God became man, he Lucifer would have to serve a man as well,
a measly sub-angelic earthbound creature.
How could God do this?
It made no sense to Lucifer’s great intellect, as it became blinded by pride.
And so he uttered those works as the Fathers of the Church attribute to him:
“non serviam”: “I will not serve.”
He refused to be man’s servant,
and so he refused to obey God and be his servant.
And so by his own free will, he set his mind and will against God and man,
and was cast out of heaven into the fires of hell,
creating that great irreconcilable division Jesus refers to in today’s gospel:
“between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”
Now the prince of light, had become now the prince of darkness.
His angelic wings turned to the scales of a serpent, a dragon.
No longer the humble servant of God,
but now the prideful “enemy” of God—and that became his name:
“enemy”, in Hebrew “Satan.”
He is God’s enemy—and man’s as well.
Because he sees man as the cause of his fall.
And so he has set himself to destroy man,
and to keep man and God apart forever.
And we see this right in the beginning of the creation of man,
as the serpent lies to man about God,
and causes man to sin and to also be thrown out of paradise.
So that is the state of affairs:
and there is the spiritual battle waged through all of history.
But is there no one to stand up for God, for man,
and for the God-man, Jesus Christ?
Is there no one who will meet this terrible and powerful fallen angel in combat
as God’s champion?
Lucifer was not the only magnificent angel in heaven.
And right behind the bright and proud Lucifer
stood another who was humble and strong.
This is the angel that God chose to send to lead his angels
as they cast Lucifer and his angels out of heaven
—as the Book of Revelation tells us:
“Then war broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels
battled against the dragon…and its angels
….He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
…and threw it into the abyss.”
“Michael”!—the Hebrew name which means “Who is like God.”
Now, there is some debate over exactly what the significance of this name is.
Most scholars say that it proposes the question: “who is like God?”
and implies the answer “no one is like God”—least of all Lucifer.
But some suggest that it proposes the question “who is like God”
and implies the answer “Michael is like God.”
I think both these meanings are correct.
Unlike Satan, who in his pride tries to make itself God’s equal,
as if the answer were “Lucifer is like God”,
Michael, humbly serves God by fighting against that pride,
and in his humility doesn’t seek to be God’s equal,
but to be good, “like God” is good
—Michael is not a god, but he is godly.
In fact in his humility he is very much like God the Son who became a man,
and came to earth “to serve, and not to be served.”
The humility of Jesus eventually led him to die for our sins on the Cross.
And it is this humility that conquers the pride of Satan, and Adam and Eve.
Elsewhere in the Gospels we read that Jesus said:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth;
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
I mentioned earlier that when God banished Adam from paradise
he placed an angel with a fiery sword in his hand to protect the gate.
Who was that angel?
Several of the early fathers of the Church say it was none other than St. Michael.
And what was his sword?
It was, I think, none other than the sword of Christ himself:
the sword of humility, which Christ wielded on the Cross
to defeat the pride and sin of the devil.
On the Cross Christ won the war,
but the enemy refuses to admit defeat, and the battles continue.
There is no peace on earth today
—there can be no peace as long as, in the words of St. Peter:
“Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for (someone) to devour.”
And so, Michael continues to fight the battle.
Just as he has from the beginning when he drove
Lucifer and his cohorts from heaven,
and as he stood—sword in hand—at the gates of paradise,
and as he defeated the enemies of Israel—as the book of Daniel tells us,
and as he will until the end of time as the Book of Revelation tells us.
Look around at the world, and you see the battle joined.
The enemy—whom Jesus calls “a liar” and “a murderer” “from the beginning”—
is frantically busy sewing lies and death at every corner.
The last century saw more death by wars than all of recorded history.
At the same time even more were killed by genocide,
10s of millions in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russian, and Mao’s China.
And today millions more stand to die
as evil men plot to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
But even more terribly,
how many 100’s of millions have been killed in the last 40 years
God told created Adam and Eve as male and female
and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”
What lies Satan spreads today about this great gift of sexuality.
Lies that lead to 41% of all babies in America being born out of wedlock.
Lies that lead to men trying to “marry” men.
Lies that lead priests to fail in their vows of celibacy,
and even commit the most heinous crimes.
The Lord also told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it.
But the Father of lies tells us that means it’s okay to be greedy,
or fixated on possessions.
God created us love each other
and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourself.
But the father of lies tells us to ignore the those who are in need
or who can’t help themselves,
that they are someone else’s responsibility, not ours.
The battle of Michael and Satan goes on.
But it’s not just Michael and the angels who are called to fight—so are we!
As St. Paul’s tells us in Scripture:
“Fight the good fight.”
And: “Put on the full armor of God,
…to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”
But how do we fight this battle?
We fight it by yielding the same sword as Michael: Christ’s sword of humility.
We fight it by being humble before God
by being his servant, obediently keeping his commandments
—all 10 of them, even if it means we suffer as He did.
And we fight it by being humble before our fellow man,
by serving our neighbor,
whether our neighbor is a family member,
a fellow parishioner, our coworkers,
“the poor man …covered with sores…
who would gladly eat his fill of the scraps
that fall from our table.”
Today at this Mass,
in the company of St. Michael the Archangel, with Gabriel and Raphael,
and all the heavenly hosts of Angels: [the Virtues, Powers, Principalities,
Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim….]
let us enter into the humility of Jesus Christ, God the Son,
who became a man to serve us,
and who continues to serve us under the humble disguise
of a piece of bread.
Let this bread of angels make us like the angels.
Let this Body of God the Son make us like God the Son.
Let this sacrifice of Christ’s obedience make us humble servants
of the Father, and of each other.
Let us enter into the battle with the sword of humility
—the sword of Christ our Savior,
the sword of St. Michael the Archangel.