I DRAW my inspiration today from the song GOD WILL MAKE A WAY, WHEN THERE SEEMS TO BE NO WAY. The title of this homily for the Feast of the Holy Archangels is ACCESS ROADS. It is one way of understanding the function of angels in our lives.
There are many times in our lives when we are confronted by barriers, when, in spite of all our efforts we are unable to find a way through. This is a good description for situations of conflict, such as when people cannot communicate with each other anymore, when nobody wants to listen, or when they shut their minds and hearts to each other.
The best known images for barriers are WALLS, like the Great Wall of China, or the Berlin Wall that used to divide East and West Germany, or the so-called 38th Parallel between North and South Korea. Barriers can also be oceans, or mountains, or deep chasms defining territorial boundaries, separating people from each other.
This is how the relationship between God and humankind is portrayed in the book of Genesis. The narratives are about us humankind, willfully separating from God, distancing ourselves, creating barriers, making ourselves inaccessible. This barrier between God and humankind is what we call SIN.
Our Gospel is alluding to a famous passage in Genesis 28 about a stairway, or in simple language, an access road to heaven, which the patriarch Jacob saw in his dream. I call this dream the revelation of Jacob’s vocation and mission in his life before he becomes the ancestor of the people of the covenant. Later he is renamed ISRAEL, meaning, “one who wrestled with God and won”. He won because he found an access road that made it possible for humankind to traverse the barrier of sin.
The story of Jacob’s dream has a context. The narrator tells us he could not avoid crossing paths again with his estranged brother, Esau. He was of course terrified about the thought itself of meeting his brother again because their conflict remained unresolved. Remember, he had stolen his brother’s birth right, the blessing that was supposed to go to Esau as the real first born. After that treacherous act of deception, his brother had sworn to kill him if they ever crossed paths again; so, Jacob ran away.
Now he could not avoid meeting his brother again. It is in that kind of a situation that he falls asleep and God speaks to him in his sleep. In his dream, he has a vision of a stairway to heaven. It is a reassuring dream; it foretells the reconciliation that is about to happen between him and his brother. Sure enough, the following day, all it takes is a little gesture of humility and good will that will open an access to his brother’s forgiving heart, paving the way to their reconciliation.
In short, Jacob had discovered the access road, not just between himself and his estranged brother, but also between heaven and earth, between God and humankind, and it will define the mission of the whole nation that will come from him. They will become the PEOPLE OF THE COVENANT.
In his dream, he also saw angels, ascending and descending on the stairway. It is a good analogy that defines the biblical function of angels. Their main task is to open access roads where there are barriers, to make a way for God where there seems to be no way, when there is a dead end.
“Dead ends” are a good metaphor for seemingly hopeless or no way-out situations. They can be caused by misunderstandings that alienate people from each other. Gabriel’s role as an archangel was to facilitate understanding, to dispel doubts to clear up the clouds of unknowing, to open lines of communication. That is what he does for Daniel when Daniel is unable to understand the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel chapter 9). That is what also he does for Mary and Zechariah in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke chapter 1). I call him the angel-interpreter.
Sometimes, the dead-end is an illness or a disease. And then you have the agent of healing and well-being. He is called Raphael in the book of Tobit. He is the patron of the health care workers, those who serve as instruments of God’s healing.
Sometimes, the dead-end is human arrogance, such as when humans are tempted to play god. They end up getting expelled from paradise. The only way for them to regain access is to discover what it truly means to be “like God”, which is what Michael’s name means. That if hubris leads to a downfall, kenosis leads to exaltation. No one but he who totally emptied himself on the cross for love of us can give us the true secret of becoming LIKE GOD.
I hope you understand now why I call the archangels we celebrate today as “facilitators of access”. It is what Philip does in the Gospel—he leads Nathaniel to Jesus. I am sure you have also played the angels’ function in your life many times, without realizing it.
(Homily for 29 Sept. 2020, Tuesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Feast of the Holy Archangels, John 1:47-51)