“In my old age, ‘angels,’ as I call them, have come to me,” a 95-year old woman named Erminia told Pope Francis when he was visiting Naples, Italy. Her angels included “young and not-so-young people,” she explained. They “help me, visit me, support me in my daily struggles.” Erminia found herself “alone, increasingly fragile and in need of help” after her husband died. But she encountered a Christian community “where affection and gratuity are lived,” and where her angels brought her “strength and courage.”
Why did Erminia think those aiding her resembled angels in their generous friendship? Possibly she just found them God-like. Psalm 91 speaks of angels God sends to guard people. “With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone,” it confidently states (vv. 11-12). Did Erminia welcome her angels because they so hospitably welcomed her, not considering her age an obstacle? Hospitality, a virtue often judged especially timely today, is linked in Scripture at one point with an incident involving angels.
The patriarch Abraham demonstrated generous hospitality in Genesis 18 when three strangers stopped outside his tent. We learn that this threesome actually included God and two angels. Abraham’s hospitality prompted the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews to advise early Christians not to “neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Heb 13:2).
Angels appear in Scripture a remarkable number of times, good angels who remain close to God and some bad angels, whom Scripture says warred against God (Rv. 12:7-9). Sometimes, Scripture’s angels keep silent; only their actions are witnessed. Other times, angels announce tremendous news. Typically, Scripture’s angels bear some kind of message. Scholars observe that the Greek and Hebrew roots of our word “angel” signify a messenger of God.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, the archangel Gabriel delivered astonishing news to Mary, an as-yet unmarried young woman. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Indeed, “Of his kingdom there will be no end,” Gabriel told Mary (Lk 1:31,33). When Mary asked how this could be, Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35).
Where will you find angels in Scripture? Think of the time after Jesus’ ascension when the apostles were jailed in Jerusalem. “The angel of the Lord” came at night, unlocked the doors and led the apostles out, according to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:19). Also, as St. Paul sailed toward Italy, aiming to bring the Gospel to Rome, a fearsome storm arose at sea, threatening all on board. Nonetheless, Paul urged everyone to keep their courage, saying: “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong stood by me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You are destined to stand before Caesar.’” What’s more, “God has granted safety to all who are sailing with you” (Acts 27:22-24).
Sometimes an angel spells out a great event’s meaning. This happened the first Christmas. Announcing Jesus’ birth to shepherds “keeping the night watch (Lk 2:8), an angel clarified the new child’s identity. He is, the angel explained, “a savior” and “Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:11). Then, suddenly, that angel was joined by many, by a multitude of the heavenly host” (Lk 2:13)
Angels are on hand at key moments that illuminate the connection between divine and human life. Pope Francis suggested as much recently. He recalled the angels of Genesis 28, who appeared in a memorable dream the patriarch Jacob had. If you have heard of “Jacob’s ladder,” you know something about Jacob’s dream. The translators of the New American Bible insist, though, that the term “ladder” be translated instead as “stairway.”
In Jacob’s dream “a stairway rested on the ground,” its top reaching toward the heavens. “God’s angels were going up and down” it (Gen 28:12). Awakening, Jacob declared this place “the gateway to heaven (Gen 28:12). The angels on Jacob’s staircase were unheard. But with them was “the God of Abraham” and “of Isaac,” Jacob’s grandfather and father (Gen 28:13). “In you and your descendants all the families of the Earth will find blessing,” God promised in the dream (Gen 28:14).
Since the angels on Jacob’s staircase moved “up and down” it, they were not ascending only out of this world. The staircase “represents the connection between the divine and the human,” Pope Francis affirmed. He delivered his homily on the sixth anniversary of his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, a southern Mediterranean island. His hope there had been to alert the world to the tragedy of countless desperate migrants who drowned while attempting a voyage in unsafe or overcrowded crafts from African coasts to European shores. Climbing Jacob’s staircase “requires commitment, effort and grace. The weakest and most vulnerable must be helped,” said the pope.
He connected Jacob’s staircase with the life of the world to come, yes, but with faith’s expression in this world as well. “I like to think,” he said, “that we could be those angels ascending and descending, taking under our wings the little ones, the lame, the sick, those excluded,” who otherwise might never experience “in this life anything of heaven’s brightness.”
If you have ever watched the TV series “God Friended Me,” you can see how the writers regularly suggest that often things may seem to be coincidental, but they imply that it could very well be God working in the world through angels in the form of humans stepping in to solve a variety of situations. Let me also say that during this pandemic there are countless angels who continue to step up to assist the sick, the suffering, the first responders, the lonely and the many people like Erminia I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We never know if they just might be “God in disguise.”
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Today’s Gospel reading vividly reveals the transformative power of an encounter with the Risen Lord. Two bitterly disappointed disciples are leaving Jerusalem, where their hopes have been destroyed. Jesus, “the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word” and whom they believed had promised a new kingdom, had been crucified, died, and was buried. All their hopes and expectations have come to nothing. Along the road to Emmaus, a stranger joins them, and they share with him their frustrations.
The stranger’s words help the disciples realize that the Scriptures did indeed teach that the Messiah had to suffer before he entered “into his glory.” Their invitation to this stranger to spend the evening brings them a deeper awareness. Jesus takes bread, “said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” In these actions, the disciples recognize the Risen Lord with the eyes of faith, and their encounter sets their hearts on fire: “Were not our hearts burning within is while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
This Gospel reading contains a remarkable message for us and every generation. Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, we encounter the presence of the risen Lord every time we gather to hear the Scriptures proclaimed and witness the bread of the Eucharist broken. “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation #21).
In today’s reading from Acts, Peter tells of the work of the Father and the Spirit in the resurrection. He explains, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured them forth.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection clearly reveal the Trinity, the fundamental mystery, and our destiny. The Catechism states, “Christ’s Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history. In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father’s power ‘raised up’ Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as ‘Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead’” (#648).
We hear in the Second Reading that Christians are to conduct themselves with reverence. The author of this letter speaks of the love that Christ’s followers should have for others. In the encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI says that “a pure and generous love is freely given and that “a Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.” Such an outlook should be encouraged, the pope said. “It is the responsibility of the Church’s charitable organizations to reinforce this awareness in its members, so that by their activity—as well as their words, their silence, and their example—they may be credible witnesses to Christ” (#31).
For Your Reflection: What does Jesus’ Resurrection mean in your life? How would another know that your faith is in God? When have you been aware of Christ in your midst?
MEMORIAL OF ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER
Friday, May 1, 2020
To foster deep devotion to Saint Joseph among Catholics, and in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. This feast extends the long relationship between Joseph and the cause of workers in both Catholic faith and devotion. Beginning in the Book of Genesis, the dignity of human work has long been celebrated as a participation in the creative work of God. By work, humankind both fulfills the command found in Genesis to care for the earth (Gn 2:15) and to be productive in their labors. Saint Joseph, the carpenter and foster father of Jesus, is but one example of the holiness of human labor.
Jesus, too, was a carpenter. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II stated: “The Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide social changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.” The Church has been a beacon of hope and a guide for the relationship between employers and workers through its many instructions on social justice over recent centuries.
Saint Joseph is held up as a model of such work. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, “The spirit flows to you and to all men [and women] from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work.” This silent saint, who was given the noble task of caring for and watching over the Virgin Mary and Jesus, now cares for and watches over the Church and models for all the dignity of human work.
+BR. HERB REMPE, O.F.M.
Many of the people who come to St. Peter’s on a regular basis I’m sure remember Br. Herb, who was stationed here for eighteen years (2000-2018). He was the Guardian of the friar community 2002-08 and the Business Manager for the church for most of those eighteen years. After he left St. Peter’s, he went to Blessed Giles Friary in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to retire. Br. Herb died there on the evening of April 14 from complications of pneumonia.
Br. Herb was one of those people we are always pleased they had the privilege to meet and get to know. He was born in Lawrence, Nebraska, joined the friars in 1954 and made his solemn profession in 1961. He was multitalented and used all of them for others. His first ministry was as an electrician at St. Paschal’s in Oak Brook, where he assisted in building our Trade School for training lay brothers in all kinds of trades for the good of the Province. He later worked at Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Quincy as Dean of Lay Students and Vice Rector and then in the maintenance department at Quincy University.
For fifteen years he served as the Provincial Treasurer in St. Louis, where he and I served together on the Provincial Council and in Provincial administration. He was a hard worker, but he always had time for prayer and for relaxation. He loved the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nebraska Cornhuskers and followed them faithfully. One of his greatest frustrations when he moved to Chicago was not seeing them so often on our TV channels. He himself had been a good athlete, and he brought this prowess to the golf course whenever he had the chance.
Herb was both a treasurer and a treasure. We loved him here on earth and we love him now that he has passed into the hands of the Lord. Please remember him in your prayers as well. May he rest in peace.
WORDS OF POPE FRANCIS
At the end of his Easter Message to the world, having indicated the many places that suffering and division were present rather than peace and joy, Pope Francis prayed the following. May each one of us try to put into practice what he has spoken:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Indifference, self-centeredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words forever! They seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelms us, that is, when we do not let the Lord Jesus triumph in our hearts and lives. May Christ, who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of his glorious day, a day that knows no end.