Angelic Witness: Uniting Heaven and Earth
Jean Galot, S.J.
Feasts of the Archangels, 29 September, and Guardian Angels, 2 October
The existence of angels and the reality of their mission are truths of faith, even if they may not be as important as other truths, such as the divinity of Christ or the virginal motherhood of Mary. Nor is there any reason to neglect or ignore angels in Christian life.
We cannot forget that certain Gospel texts acknowledge the value of the presence of angels in our life and highlight their cooperation with the work of salvation for humanity's benefit.
After affirming the eternal origin of the Word in the prologue of his Gospel, St John has recorded for us the words of Jesus that serve as an introduction to the narrative of his public life and draw attention to the role of angels: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (Jn 1:51).
His reference to angels is typical for it occurs in a declaration that seeks to instill appreciation for the mystery of the Incarnation. Mention of this mystery might prompt some to think that the existence of angels had lost much of its value. Angels and archangels are messengers who serve as intermediaries between God and human beings.
Yet the mystery that unites divinity and humanity in the person of Christ seems to exclude the need for recourse to intermediaries between the divine and human worlds. The Son of Man is as perfect in his humanity as in his divinity, and the union of both natures in a single person seems to render any other mediation for a rapprochement between God and man superfluous.
Nonetheless, in this explanation of his earthly mission Jesus desired to insist on the role of angels. He makes it plain that it is a matter of true revelation: "amen, amen", which has been translated as: "truly, truly".
He also uses the verb "to see": "you will see", to indicate that witnesses of his earthly life will be able to grasp directly the truth of his affirmation; all are invited to see with their own eyes heaven opening and the movement of angels, ascending and descending, who will establish a continuous exchange between heaven and earth based on the mysterious figure of the Son of Man.
This son of man, according to the representation of him that Daniel gives us (7:13-14), seems to have a divine personality and is described in the company of angels.
A heaven-and-earth exchange
The importance of the Gospel affirmation is clarified in the light of Jacob's dream in Genesis of "a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!" (Gn 28:12ff.).
When Jacob awoke from his dream he recognized the divine presence in the place where the ladder had been set up: "Surely the Lord is in this place: and I did not know it". He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (7:16, 17).
The movement of angels on the ladder, therefore, is linked to the manifestation of the divine presence on earth.
In the Gospels, this manifestation is no longer seen veiled in a dream but is conveyed through the development of a human life. Jesus fulfils in himself what Jacob's ladder had symbolized: the Son of Man stands on the earth as One whose head touches heaven. The angels going up and down enable us to understand the continuous exchange between heaven and earth that is fulfilled in the mystery of the Incarnation.
By virtue of this mystery, not only are angels neither excluded nor rendered useless, but they contribute to its fulfillment. They witness that the whole world of angels serves to unite heaven and earth, and this union is expressed in the coming of Christ.
Weekly Edition in English
14 September 2005, page 4
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