John 1:47-51 - Angels. Really...?
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this." And he said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Do you believe in angels? Today is a good occasion to ask that question because, if you do, then you can celebrate today’s feast day full-heartedly.
Scripture likes to refer to angels in relation to the vertical movement between heaven and earth - in form of stairs in Gen 28:12, or “ascending and descending on the Son of Man” in today’s pericope of St. John. And it appears indeed that the angels do not belong into “our” world; they are spiritual creatures and live, well, in the spiritual realm, right? But, if it is true that there really is a spiritual realm, then it also relates to our’s.
If we speak of angels, we affirm that the spiritual things are not simply ideas or symbols or phantasy; they are real. Referring to my guardian angel or celebrating the three Archangels today implies that I give credit to the existence of the supernatural. Do I? And, even more importantly, it implies the conviction that this reality relates to me. Is that relation not the meaning behind the “stairs”? Is that not the meaning of the word angel, literally messenger? The spiritual realm actually is a part of our world and its envoys roam our lives. To believe in angels is to believe in a God who reaches out to us, who communicates and sends messages. The angels spiritually carry God's messages into our world.
This became especially significant during the event that changed the course history more than any other. When Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, descended into our world and declared unto Mary the message of the Incarnation, his voice was literally announcing that the spiritual par excellence - the Word - would pour itself into the earthly par excellence - the Flesh. The angels, in as far as they are with us, are witnesses of God’s presence in our world. Where God is, there are angels. And where your faith makes out an angel, there you will be lead to God.
Baroque architecture often expresses this when surrounding the altar with angels. Jesus is present with all His divinity in the Flesh of the Eucharist. Angels surround each of His tabernacles day and night. Here is their principal message in our age: Behold the Son of God. Kneeling among them in adoration, chanting the Sanctus with them, worshipping like them - this is the best way to relate to them.