Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Because Heaven is Closer than We Think

I nearly busted a gut helping Father Barnes lug St. Michael the Archangel back and forth from the sacristy so that the great heavenly warrior could preside from the top step of the high altar at mass this morning. I always thought angels were light, airy beings, but this guy's enormous—10 stone if he's a pound.

It got me thinking, on this Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, about just how real angels are for me. As I wrote in my very first post, I came to the Catholic Church understanding very little about it. I was drawn almost entirely by the saints, their example, and the thought, If it was right for them, how did I get to be so smart that I have a better idea? That and early grounding in the Christian faith at the side of my parents were the decisive influences in my formation.

But I didn't understand the Eucharist. I didn't "get" Mary. And I'm not sure I believed in angels. I'm still not sure I believe in angels, especially now that I know Michael's a heavy son of a gun.

Yet Father Barnes's homily this morning spoke to me, and like all of his homilies, it took off from the scripture readings, which today were about angels, of course. Our beloved pastor noted that this is a particularly beautiful time of the liturgical year as we move toward All Saints and All Souls, a period that reminds us that "heaven is closer to us than we think." Think of the joyous feasts and memorials just ahead: Thérèse of Liseux, who promised she would drop flowers from heaven after her death; The Guardian Angels; St. Jerome, who translated the Bible, bringing the Word from heaven to earth; the mystics Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila; Our Lady of the Rosary . . .

If angels don't exist, then something else pretty extraordinary is managing the ladder from heaven to earth. "We only see a portion of reality," Father Barnes said, and this I do believe. Freud said the same thing, of course, when he wrote of the unconscious. I always wondered about Freud: just where are the id, the ego, and the superego located?

I don't have to wonder where Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are located. They are in heaven, in which I do believe. And if they are only symbolic, as Freud's Latin "organs" certainly are, then I'll take the archangels any day—as far more positive, inspiring, and, yes, substantial. I learned that this morning.