Day one of our “Novena to the Mother of God for the Nation” gave us a very insightful homily from his Eminence, Bishop James D. Conley. Significant is the call to see our roles in spiritual warfare include the “behind the scenes” spiritual cover of prayer, fasting and sacrifice for those who actually step out onto enemy occupied territory.
I contend that this has been the missing link in all of our efforts to turn back evil in our times. We need this “combined effort” (confrontation ‘and’ cover) going forward. I’ve even instituted such practices as placing a prayer warrior before the Blessed Sacrament in church during our Parish Council meetings. What if, for example, we had people out in front of Planned Parenthood while we had, at the same time, others in front of the Blessed Sacrament in church … scheduled together?
Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L.
Bishop Conley: My brother priests and deacons, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we begin our Novena of prayer for protection of our religious liberty and freedom of conscious through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God for our nation.
Mary is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” She is the tabernacle of freedom for she bore in her virginal womb “the One Who sets captives free.” Mary’s Immaculate Conception insures that we can come to know and love Her Son, Jesus Christ. Mary is a perfect intercessor for this great nation of ours, a nation consecrated to her under the title of Her Immaculate Conception. Further, we should remember by virtue of the immaculate conception God prepared Mary for the work of bearing Our Lord.
Her preparation began with her own sinless conception. God, too, is preparing us for the work He calls us. Like Mary, let us trust in His preparation; let us trust in His divine providence and like the Lord Himself did, let us place our trust in the blessed Mother herself as we consecrate our country to her. Our novena begins on the Feast of the Archangels; — Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Therefore, it is fitting to reflect on the angels on this day and it is most fitting day to begin a novena of prayer for the protection of religious liberty.
Angels are those spiritual beings created by God who have freely chosen the good. Angels are intelligent creatures who have the capacity to choose freely and they’ve done so. St. Augustine reminds us that the angels are the same kinds of creatures as demons. The difference between an angel and a demon is choice – the choice to serve God or to serve sin, vanity and pride. Angels are the original exercisers of religious liberty and freedom of conscious. The Lord Himself gave them the freedom to choose. The Lord Himself respected their choice. Angels are real creatures and they’re engaged in real work, the work of building up the Kingdom of God. They struggle against the evil one in a real battle, as we heard in our First Reading from the Book of Revelation.
Blessed John Henry Newman the recently beatified 19th century British convert, considered that the angels are not only the ministers employed by the Creator but he said, “as carrying on the economy of the visible world.” “Angels,” Newman wrote, “are the real causes of motion, light and life. And of those elementary principles of the physical universe which when offered in their developments to our senses suggest to us the notion of cause and effect and of what are called the laws of nature.” So for Newman angels are the driving forces behind the visible world. And their battle against the evil spirits is palpable. For Newman thunder storms and other natural phenomena are the physical manifestations of an ongoing celestial battle against evil (Hmmmm … How interesting as the monster hurricane “Sandy” approaches in the closing days before this “monster election.”).
Our vocation is to join the angels in their spiritual battle against evil. Our call is to share in their work. St. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to remember that our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers, against the spirits of wickedness in high places (this is the premise of my book, Church Militant Field Manual).
So, our work to defend and promote religious liberty and the protection of conscious, freedom is not merely a political battle. It is not even a cultural battle, primarily. Our today’s Christians is most especially, a spiritual battle and our enemies, as Peter Kreeft has recently put it, “our demons, fallen angels, evil spirits” (again, the emphasis I call for in the book I wrote).
Those people, our fellow citizens who threaten our religious liberty or slaughter the unborn or seek to destroy the Church are not our real enemies. Our hope for them is redemption in Jesus Christ. Our enemies are the demons who entrap them and who seek to entrap us. Our enemy is sin and the father of sin, the evil one.
My brothers and sisters we are called to join in this heavenly and angelic battle. The archangels whom we celebrate today are especially instructive in the battle we fight (this is leading to a VERY important concept we must embrace!!!). Scripture, and especially the Book of Tobit, tells us that there are 7 angels “standing before the throne of God.” Only 3 of them are named in scripture – Raphael, Gabriel and Michael. 4 of the archangels are unnamed in Scripture and unmentioned in the economy of salvation.
This fact itself is an important lesson (VERY MUCH SO …). Of the 7 archangels in heaven more than half of them work in anonymity, quietly going about their important mission. In the Christian life the most important work we do is done in secret. Our prayer and our sacrifice are fasting and mortification – this is work that advances the Kingdom of God before all else. Too often we are eager to jump into battle with the world by our external actions. But even among the angels more than half are called to be hidden witnesses. If we want to buildup the Kingdom of God, we must begin with the hidden things – with prayer, with fasting, with sacrifice (THIS, I contend, is the “missing link” in all of our “efforts” at building up the Kingdom of God – we have been so indoctrinated in secularism that we don’t find it “useful” to do the “spiritual warfare” necessary – yet, with the Archangels, “more than half” were devoted to this “spiritual cover” for the three Archangels who ventured out onto enemy occupied territory. You see? It needs to be a combination of both!!!). Offering up a small sacrifice in the quietude of our heart may do more to buildup the Kingdom than all of the world’s preaching and teaching combined.
We need to get serious about the spiritual dimension of the Christian life. This is the first message of the archangels. The 3 named archangels serve very different roles in the Scriptures. We can learn from all of them in the battle to buildup the Kingdom of God (See if you do not recognize how their roles coincide with the offices we receive in Baptism: Raphael = Priest (healer), Gabriel = Prophet (herald), Michael = King/Prince (leader/defender)).
The Archangel Raphael appears primarily in the Book of Tobit. Many Catholics are unfamiliar with the Book of Tobit. Parents should read it with their teenagers. It is a fantastic story which is at once epic, funny and deeply insightful into the love of God. The Archangel Raphael, whose name means “Divine Healer,” helps Tobias find medicine that will heal Tobias’ wife and his father. The medicine comes from a monstrous fish which attacks Tobias in which he wrestles to death. I told you that Tobit is a really cool Book. With the help of Raphael a man is cured of blindness and a woman set free from a demon. But here is the part that’s instructive. Raphael takes the medicine from a horrible monster, an evil and attacking beast. Raphael helps Tobias find the good in the monster and this is our task as Christians. If we reject the monster of contemporary culture we will not be affective. The task of the new evangelization is to find what is good and to use it for God’s glory to seek the conversion of our neighbor and thus, the transformation of our culture. We need cultural healing in this country. We need to buildup a culture redeemed by Jesus Christ. If we find the good and use it for God’s glory, we will be divine healers in our culture.
Gabriel is a messenger. Gabriel appears to Daniel, to Zacharias, to Elizabeth, to St. Joseph and to the Blessed Virgin Mary for one reason, one reason only – to proclaim the Word of God. To buildup the Kingdom is to proclaim the Word of God. In fact our forefathers were enthusiastic to proclaim the Word of God in this country. Many, if not all of them, came to these shores seeking religious freedom. Among them Protestants to New England, Catholics to Maryland and Jewish people to the Carolina’s. And they expected that America would be a place where the Word of God was sacrosanct and could be freely lived and proclaimed. As we pray together for religious liberty, let us recall a simple fact. The role of religion in America will be respected when religion is lived with enthusiastic and infectious vitality. When we proclaim Jesus Christ with joy in authentic freedom, the world will listen. Let us imitate Gabriel the Messenger.
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we address St. Michael the archangel. St. Michael is called in the Book of Daniel “the Prince of Angels.” In the Book of Revelation, which we heard today, St. Michael leads the Heavenly Host in battle and victory against the minions of Satan. St. Michael as you know is our “protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” The snares of the devil on the issue of religious liberty are the temptations of relativism, of dangerous immoral equivocation and an aggressive objectification of women, an objectification that robs them of their dignity. We must engage in battle with these elements of wickedness. We must not be afraid to engage what is evil in our country. The scourge of abortion is our national shame. The efforts to redefine marriage in law, violates our religious liberty. These are the fruits of “the wickedness and snares of the devil.” To pursue truth and to reject the lives of Satan – this is our call as Christians. We must not be afraid to fight evil with our minds, our hearts and all our strength. St. Michael’s stance as defender comes from a higher place. St. Thomas Aquinas says that St. Michael is the “breath of the Redeemer’s Spirit.” St. Michael makes the Lord present and through that he defeats evil. Let us make the Lord present in our nation. Through the Redeemer’s Spirit let us defeat Satan.
The archangels in the primacy of the spiritual life and as healer, herald and defender serve as a blueprint for us in our efforts to defend religious liberty and the freedom of conscious in this country. Let us call upon the intercession of the mighty archangels and let us imitate their work lived out in the freedom of choosing what is good. Sts. Raphael, Gabriel and Michael, pray for us.
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