Sexagesima Sunday—15 February AD 2009
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
the greatness of the revelations should puff me up,
there was given me a thorn
for the flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.”
devil comes and takes away the word from their heart,
that they may not believe
and be saved.”
readings today speak of angels and of devils. The Church wants us to
understand that both of these have an effect upon us during our life on earth;
and that they are very real, in spite of worldly efforts to dress them up in
lacy costumes with wings, or in red suits with pitch forks and pointed tails.
hear first about St. Paul being given an “angel of the devil” to keep him
from false pride, and to remind him that his strength came only from God.
Scripture scholars are not in agreement about what Saint Paul meant here.
He seems to be speaking ironically, for it seems unlikely that God would have
allowed, so to speak, a “guardian devil” to follow Paul around—although it
is possible that God allowed a demon to inflict Paul, making good come out of
say that Paul's affliction was lameness, an impediment which would have always
been on his mind, because of all of his travels. Others think that he might have borne the stigmata; wounds in
his hands and feet, like those of the crucified Christ. And, yet others
feel that Paul's affliction was blindness or poor sight—perhaps a remnant of
his conversion, in which he was thrown off of his horse on the road to Damascus
and made temporarily blind.
whatever the affliction, we see that God made use of an angelic messenger to
channel Paul's energies in the right direction; to ensure that his great
adventures and experiences in preaching Christ did not “go to his head,” and
cause him to forget the reason for these things.
know from revelation that all of the angels are God's creatures, made out of
nothing, endowed with grace, and intellect and will. Just as we, they were
created to “show forth God's goodness, and to be happy with Him in heaven.”
Unlike us, they were created as
pure spirits, not being hampered by the limitations of a physical body.
They are not, therefore, constrained by distance, or time, or by the need to see
and to touch things in order to know them.
know too, that the Angels were created with free will, just as we are. Both
we and they have to be free, otherwise our activities would give God no more
glory than the activities of a robot. Our free will is the root of our
ability to merit; to do things which are good and praiseworthy in God's eyes.
free will can also be a liability. It
allows both angels and men to do whatever they please. It allows them to
mistakenly believe that the gifts which they possess—gifts like intellect,
beauty, strength, and so on—belong to them independently of God. It
allows them to think that they can revolt against God, eat the forbidden fruit,
become “gods,” and perhaps even overthrow God Himself. In short, free
will can allow the lower instincts of angels and men to overshadow their
intellect and their prudence.
so, just as Adam and Eve forfeited their original justice and grace, and were
thrown out of earthly paradise, so too the angels who revolted against God were
cast down into Hell. Those who think that they are above God; that they
can live without God—they are condemned to live without God forever—to their
everlasting shame, and eternal loneliness.
lest anyone doubt, the devils in Hell are still powerful—they were, after all,
God's greatest creatures. And whereas they were created with great power
to do good, that power is redirected by envy to do evil. If they can't
have happiness in heaven, they don't want anyone else to have it either!
So, they do go about, seeking the ruin of souls. The book of Wisdom (ii:
24) tells us that the devils tempted our first parents and brought about the
fall of the entire race. Sometimes, they just make life difficult, as with
Saint Paul. Other times, they may even take direct possession of human
beings, as we read several times in the New Testament. Sometimes their
effects are physical—more often they are not—but they are always directed
toward the spiritual ruin of those whom they afflict.
there is a bright side to this story, for those angels who remained faithful to
God were confirmed in grace and glory. And just as the fallen angels are
filled with envy, the loyal angels are filled with generosity and compassion for
their fellow creatures who are still undergoing the test of their loyalty to
God. They are God's messengers, bringing mankind the good news of our
salvation—one need only think of the Annunciation to see this.
willingly serve as our guardian angels, helping us to counteract the temptations
placed before us by the fallen angels. This is another example of an
important aspect of our Catholic Faith which has been minimized in the modern
mind. Our Guardian Angels are real and we should call upon them when we
find ourselves in temptation.
brings us to the message conveyed in today's Gospel. We are the seed sown
in the field. What will happen to us is still uncertain. Our seed
may be eaten by the birds, or be choked by the thorns, or may wither away for
lack of moisture. We may “have no root, and fall away in time of
temptation.” We may allow
the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” to choke the spiritual life out
of us. We may allow the “devil to come and take away the word of God
from our hearts, so that we may not believe and be saved.”
there is another way—for unlike seed, which has no control over where it falls
and what happens to it, we have both free will, and the assistance of our
Guardian Angels. We have, at our disposal, all the means of salvation:
The Mass, the Sacraments, the sacramentals, Sanctifying and Actual graces,
prayer, fasting, even the support of the angels and the saints:
CAN HEAR THE WORD,
CAN HOLD IT FAST,
CAN BEAR THE GOOD FRUIT OF ETERNAL SALVATION!