Sept. 29 commemorates the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, while Oct. 2 honors the Guardian Angels. My service to parishes dedicated to Michael (2016-19) and to the Holy Guardian Angels (2008-14) engendered interest in these forces of super-nature.
The saints we honor in their meantime, St. Jerome (Sept. 30) and Thérèse of Lisieux (Oct. 1) also bear personal significance: my late mother attended the former’s former parish in Tamaqua, and I sent my seminary application on the latter’s memorial 29 years ago.
The archangels enjoy unique biblical attestation, owing to their extraordinary assignments: one defended the hosts of earth and heaven amid cataclysmic calamity (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 12:7-12); another announced divine interventions to a prophet and a devout damsel (Daniel 9; Luke 1:26-38); the third interceded for a harrowed but holy family (Tobit 3:16-17, 12:1-22).
Then and now, the Lord’s trustful little ones have suffered in this life, though not outside the notice of “their angels in heaven” (Matthew 18:10), who sharpen the blades that the virtuous employ to sever whatever in them would otherwise cause sin (Matthew 18:8).
Who isn’t a “little one” in the sight of God? Certainly, the beneficiaries of archangelic assistance needed it to persevere through their trials, and the rest of us need not outgrow our dependence on the One who, if sought, promises deliverance from “hidden faults and presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:12-13).
Angelic, human, and divine operations were sometimes hard to distinguish in Scripture: Abraham and Sarah entertained “three men,” one of whom granted the aging couple a son (Genesis 18:10); Jacob struggled with “some man” for a blessing (Genesis 32:35).
St. Jerome (342-420) had a few “angels”: one Roman friend named Bonosus helped him to turn from lust to a life of holiness. Another friend, Rufinus, helped channel Jerome’s linguistic skills toward the translation of sacred texts. Pope Damasus hired Jerome as his secretary and gave him space to develop his program of ascetical formation.
Not devoid of imperfections, Jerome wielded a sharp tongue in theological discourse. The death of Damasus exposed Jerome to suspicions of impropriety with a student (Paula, eventually canonized) and polemical sparring with the likes of St. Augustine. Both scandals thankfully resolved in the favor of God’s Kingdom.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) was as sedentary as Jerome was itinerant, but deemed no less worthy of becoming a Doctor of the Church. Her childhood was marked by grief, anxiety, and emotional delicacy. Several Martin sisters ended up in the same Carmelite convent; her “second mother” Pauline, now the novice master, decided Thérèse should remain a novice to quell the notion that the Martins would take over the place.
Not to pass on a slice of humble pie, she went on to write of the “little way” of spiritual childhood, the lift that could bypass the “steep stairs of perfection.” Her simple system? Bold confidence in the Father’s love, undergirding the accomplishment of small daily tasks. You would think her final task was to unite her suffering and death of tuberculosis, but Thérèse promised her good works would continue as so many roses from heaven.
I think of a favorite hymn verse from my days of playing the organ for the United Methodist Church in St. Clair: “Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love, One holy passion filling all my frame; The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove, my heart an altar and Thy love the flame.” May these four feasts energize us to a fully-human, heroic love.
By Father Christopher Zelonis, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul, Lehighton. Read more articles by Father Zelonis at www.shipwrackharvest.blogspot.com.