The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 6:1,4-7 + 1 Timothy 6:11-16 + Luke 16:19-31
September 25, 2016
“When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”
Brothers and sisters spend a fair amount of their childhood trying to be different from one other: to distinguish themselves. Knowing this, my own parents gave the same middle initial to all five of their children. In fact, they gave the same middle name to both their daughters: Marie; and the same middle name to each of their three sons: Michael.
In religion class when I was a boy, whenever we were asked to study one of our patron saints, I always chose my first name. Maybe I didn’t want to learn about the patron saint that I shared with my brothers. Not until I was older did I become grateful to my parents for giving me St. Michael the Archangel as one of my patron saints.
St. Michael’s feast day is this coming Thursday, September 29. He’s a saint whom many of us do not turn to often enough. He’s a saint that many of us might not know much about. When I recently asked the members of the Altar Society to offer suggestions for homily topics, the saints of the Church was by far the most common request. St. Michael is a great saint to begin with in reflecting on the saints. At the end of today’s homily we’ll pray together the Prayer to St. Michael, asking his protection for ourselves and our loved ones. But first, consider some of the Church’s teachings about this great saint.
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Sacred Tradition identifies St. Michael as the one who led the good angels against the evil angels at the beginning of creation. Sometimes those who don’t understand Jewish and Christian tradition, especially those influenced by New Age teachings, think of God and satan as opposing forces, similar to the Eastern notion of yin and yang. Maybe these ignorant people have watched too many Star Wars movies, and think that God and the devil are equal in power, balancing each other as forces in the universe.
In truth, God transcends all of creation, including all of the evil angels and all of the good angels. If the devil as the chief fallen angel has an opposite, it would be St. Michael the Archangel. A few weeks ago I mentioned the literal meaning of the name “Michael”: it literally is a rhetorical question, meaning “Who is like God?” The answer, of course, is “No one”, yet all the fallen angels in their pride refuse to accept this truth. Each of us does the same each time we choose sin over God.
Four times in the Bible St. Michael is mentioned: twice in the Old Testament Book of Daniel, and twice in the New Testament, in the Letter of Jude and in the Book of Revelation. The last of these occurs in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Just as St. Michael had contended with satan “in the beginning”, so this vision in Revelation 12 describes the two of them contending at the end of time. Listen to three verses from this chapter:
“Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. [Revelation 12:7-9]
This battle at the end of time reflects the battle before time began. But we in the 21st century need to be mindful that evil never rests in this world: neither human evil, nor the evil perpetrated by the fallen angels. Evil is active today as it always has been, and will be until the end of time.
In the Middle East today, the persecution of Christians is routine: so routine, unfortunately, that many of us Americans pay little attention even to reports about the murder of Christians there.
Several weeks ago a priest in France had his neck slit as he was offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. No doubt many Americans were shocked by this news, but other than perhaps offering a prayer for those affected, it didn’t change our lives directly.
When such actions become more common in the larger cities of our own country, very likely we’ll tell ourselves that New York and California are bound to experience those sorts of attacks. Then, when it happens for the first time in Wichita, we’ll be happy that we live in the country or in a small town. And that’s not to mention attacks on the Christian Faith that are coming now from within our nation, including from the government. The point is that evil never rests in this world: neither human evil, nor the evil perpetrated by the fallen angels.
This brings up two good reasons for offering up the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. As you know, in 1886 Pope Leo XIII decreed that this prayer be offered after Holy Mass. That’s one reason that you’ll find this prayer on the back cover of the missalette used in this parish: you can pray it as the servers extinguish the altar candles. It’s also good to offer the prayer to St. Michael at the end of each rosary that you pray, and also to include it with your night prayers.
But as far as the two good reasons for praying the Prayer to St. Michael, the first is to ask for his defense and protection. Each of us individually, and our families and our parish family collectively, need the protection of the holy angels. That’s one of the reasons why God created the angels in the first place (the other reason being to praise God in the Heavenly Liturgy).
For several decades now in the Church, the angels have largely ignored. Some even consider a belief in angels to be a quaint custom from the Middle Ages that’s best ignored. However, you likely noticed, in 2011 when the new translation of the Roman Missal started to be used, that the holy angels were more prominently mentioned once again. For example, in several of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest in the new translation concludes his prayer to God the Father saying: “And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the Hosts and Powers of Heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory….”
Every Christian ought to know about the nine Choirs or Orders of angels. Every Christian ought to pray to the holy angels, including St. Michael and each person’s Guardian Angel. But in addition to praying to St. Michael for the sake of his protection, we also ought to pray to him to remember that each of us ought to imitate those holy angels who serve mankind. As an illustration of this, consider today’s Gospel passage, and Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus.
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At first hearing, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus might fool us, in just the same way that the Parable of the Prodigal Son can fool us. When St. Luke the Evangelist narrates his account of Jesus teaching the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the evangelist makes clear that Jesus is teaching this parable to the scribes and the Pharisees. So who in the Parable of the Prodigal Son symbolizes the scribes and the Pharisees? It’s not the Prodigal Son. Nor is it the Prodigal Son’s father, who prodigally—that is to say, lavishly—bestows mercy on his prodigal son. No, it’s the older son who symbolizes the scribes and the Pharisees: the older son, who refuses to enter the feast thrown by the father for the prodigal son. So then, if we were to name this parable after the audience to whom Jesus was preaching it, we might well call this the “Parable of the Miserly Son”: that is, the son who was miserly when it came to showing mercy.
With that in mind, consider today’s Gospel passage. Here Jesus teaches what’s commonly called the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. But that name for the parable, like all the names of the parables, are modern inventions. Jesus never gave a name to any of His parables. But in the first line of today’s Gospel passage, the evangelist tells us that Jesus preached this parable to the Pharisees. We need to remember that the same dynamic at work in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is at play here, also. The Pharisees are not symbolized by either the rich man or Lazarus. Who in today’s parable symbolize the Pharisees? The five brothers of the rich man symbolize the Pharisees. When Abraham declares, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead”, the clear reference is to the Pharisees not being persuaded by Jesus’ future resurrection from the dead.
Jesus is wanting the Pharisees to accept now the graces that God is offering them, even if God’s graces come to them through simple and humble messengers sent by God. Just as the rich man during his life on earth failed to lead his five brothers to God, so each of us has a choice about whether or not to be a messenger to others. Or in other words, each of us needs to be a human angel—metaphorically speaking—because the word “angel” literally means a “messenger”. Whether we intend to or not, we send messages to others all the time. But are the messages we send others of God’s kindness, mercy, compassion, and forbearing?
Here is the secondary reason to pray to St. Michael: as a reminder to us to be angels in our own place in life, messengers to others of God’s goodness, as the rich man in today’s parable failed to be. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman penned a meditation stressing just this calling, and the faith needed to live out this calling. Here are just two sections of it:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it—if I do but keep His Commandments.”