Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Body: Today is Michaelmas.

It is also the feast of the three Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

You can read more about it here.

One of the wonderful ambiguities of religious tradition is the way that what may seem from the outside to be a simple "symbolic" allegory is, in fact, multivalent and complementary. Michael is most popularly considered as a warrior and in a military light. He led the angels against Satan and threw him from heaven. Yet earlier traditions associate Michael with curative powers and healing, and to this day he is the patron saint of the sick. This is conflated with the role of Raphael, whose name means "God has healed," and who is cited in the book of Tobit which features miraculous healing. In that same book, Raphael accompanies Tobias on a great journey, which has caused him to be associated with travel and critical junctures. We might think that these qualities would be better suited to Gabriel, who is the messenger and angel of the Annunciation, who first proclaimed: "Hail Mary, full of grace..." But while Gabriel is both a traveler and a messenger, his own work does not stop there. Gabriel's own name means "strength of the lord" and he has been associated with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

It would seem, then, that the qualities and roles of these three angels are somewhat mingled, and I believe that this is a reflection of the interaction of their themes in the real world. You cannot really separate testimony from struggle and from healing. They all combine and take each other on.

To step for a moment into a "political" issue, I want to consider the current health care debate here. It is political but it also touches on religion and spirituality. The Health Care debate might fall under the province of Michael, since it is a question of healing. But healing itself is a fight and a struggle; the body fights off infection. Right now we are in the midst of a great fight for the health of our nation, and too many Christians (and too many Catholics) are looking at the issue within the closely inscribed boundaries of their own self-interest. They may sincerely ascribe their views to concerns over abortion or patient rights, but these issues have been resolved for the discerning witness and listener. And isn't that our responsibility? Isn't that an aspect of the faith we are called to observe? To be a discerning witness?

So I call on my fellow Christians to consider the sharing of roles and responsibilities of these three angels, and to take a stand for the public option in today's debate. This is a case where our faith must enter into the realm of politics, but the argument that faith should make, based on both tradition and scripture, is solidly on the side of robust reform.

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