British Pilgrims entering the Cathedral at Chartres

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Sermon of Pentecost

Pilgrimage is this year dedicated to the holy angels. On this Pentecost Sunday, we will meditate on how the holy angels prepare us to obediently receive the motion of the Holy Spirit who makes us live the beatitudes.
According to a very ancient tradition, which goes back to Denys the Areopagite, interpreting the list of angelic choirs given by Saint Paul, the good angels, these pure spirits created by God before the corporeal world, are divided into nine choirs . These choirs are grouped, three by three, in three hierarchies . Each hierarchy is assigned a specific function in the government of the world and of men. The first hierarchy purifies men, the second enlightens them , and the third unites them to God.
We can relate each of these three hierarchies to each of the three groups of beatitudes. The purifying angels of the first hierarchy help us to live the first three beatitudes, those of the flight from sin: blessed the poor, the meek and the afflicted. The illuminating angels of the second hierarchy guide us in the implementation of the beatitudes of action: blessed the hungry for justice and the merciful. The angels of union with God in the third hierarchy support us in the practice of contemplation: blessed are pure and peaceful hearts.
The angels purify us by announcing to us the joy of the spirit
Man's first experience with happiness is that he desires it and cannot achieve it. His heart is never satisfied by the goods of this world. The world is too small to feed its thirst for bliss. The human soul is a fragile flame, vacillating between two infinite abysses: the mystery of God and the enigma of its own spirit. God, "He who is" (Ex 3:14), dwells, at the top of the holy mountain, the Burning Bush which burns without being consumed. Man scrutinizes the deep abyss of his soul united to the corporeal world, his soul distressed by infinite desires ... and he never finds the bottom 
Angels show us the existence of the pure spiritual world. They remind us that we are spirits like them, but embodied spirits, that sin has hurt and that the jealous demon. The good angels, on the other hand, are spotless mirrors of the Joy of God. Their light comes to make a breakthrough on our darkness… upwards! They purify us by detaching us from the illusory kingdom of our insatiable Self, and by announcing to us the fundamental joy: the Savior wants to inscribe our names in Heaven, he wants to write our Name of eternity (cf. Rev 2:17) in the Glowing hearth of God!
Yes, the angels purify us, by erasing from our forehead the stigmata of deadly sins, as Dante saw in the Songs of Purgatory. At each level of the purifying climb, an angel erases one of the seven "P" that the poet wears on his forehead and which translates the defilements of his soul, while singing the beatitude opposite to the vice which is purified! (1)
The angelic light is that of finite spirits, it filters into our injured soul. It intrigues us, tames us to good, and attracts us to the infinite Joy of eternal Light. “Rejoice, you can leave the deadly and boring trilogy of money, violence and sex. Rejoice, the poor, the meek, the afflicted! Under the guidance of Christ, the true Light who comes into this world (cf. Jn 1: 9), you come out of the Kingdom of shadows, you already have in you the invisible Kingdom, more real still than matter ”.
Warning ! The angels are our friends, our helpers, our "deacons" (2) . But they are to lead us to Christ who is their King and our only Savior. It is always around the mystery of Christ that the purifying angels fly: at the Annunciation made to Mary and that made to Saint Joseph, to the shepherds near the Nativity in Bethlehem, to the saving announcement of the flight to Egypt.

The angels light up the steps of our walk towards this joy
Not content with helping us to live the beatitudes of the flight from sin, by revealing to us the joy for which we are made like them, the angels accompany us in our walk towards this joy, by helping us to practice the beatitudes of action . Blessed are those who are hungry for justice, blessed are the merciful! What do angels do? In the First Covenant, Jacob saw in a dream a mysterious ladder: "Behold, a ladder was placed on the earth and its top touched the sky. And […] upon it angels of God went up and down, and above stood Yahweh ”(Gen 28:12). Jesus revealed to us that he was himself this ladder that leads to the bliss of heaven: Son of man ”(Jn 1, 51).
Where is this Son of Man for us on this earth? Jesus taught it to us: they are our brothers. "Whatever you do to one of these little ones, you will do it to me ..." (Mt 25, 40. What a wonderful perspective: each time we do a good work for the next, especially by justice and mercy, it is to the Son of man our Savior that we do it! By the comings and goings of justice and mercy, we are in full supernatural action in grace, we go up and let us descend "upon the Son of man".
The illuminating angels of the second hierarchy make us dance this ballet of Christian life, with love steps, advancing towards the Joy of God, which is supported at the top of the ladder. They throw the light of Christ's face on our neighbor, so that we may recognize him. If we "know" others, if we see them and if we serve them as images of Christ, we will be "known" to Christ! To help us exercise the force of justice, the angels serve us as they served Jesus after the temptation in the desert. To help us go to the end of mercy, they console us, as they comforted Jesus in the garden of agony.

Angels unite us to God by making us sing this joy.
What is Heaven? It is seeing God and being “one” with him in Christ who opened the doors of praise. It is to be happy that God is happy and that we stand with his Son before him, singing his glory and his mercy. In worship here, we anticipate Heaven. It is by worshiping that we are at the highest point, says Saint Thomas, in the luminous image of God (3).
The angels of union with God, those of the highest hierarchy, remind us of this. They sing for us the beatitudes of contemplation: "Rejoice, pure hearts, and you who spread peace ... Not only will you see God and you will be called his sons in glory, but already you will see God and are truly his son in praise of grace ”. It is the angels who invite us to sing and we respond to their invitation (cf. Rev 5: 11-13). "The being of man, transcended by a higher order of nature, that of the angels, awakens to his own praise only through the praise of the spirit world". (4)
The angels associate us with the song of the Sanctus, or Trisaghion  : "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the Almighty God, who was, who is and who comes!" »(Rev 4: 8) and they teach us to sing before the throne of God the New Song (cf. Rev 14: 3). It is especially in the liturgy of the Mass that we are carried by the song of the angels. "We who mystically represent the Cherubim and who, in honor of the invigorating Trinity, sing the three times holy hymn, deposit all solicitude of this world in order to receive with dignity the King of the universe who comes invisibly escorted by the angelic armies " (5)
The role of the angels is important in the contemplation of the Trinitarian mystery, in the prayer which unites us to Christ through the redemptive mystery, and also in the expectation and the consoling hope of the new heavens and the new earth. The angels were present during the resurrection of Christ, they surrounded him during his Ascension, they will be present in the Parousia around the victorious Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom.

In a famous painting, Fra Angelico represented a graceful "round of the elect". What is striking is that the angels and the men alternate fraternally. The round goes towards a mysterious door of light, which symbolizes Paradise. Pure spirits lead us, we spirits united to the material world. Certainly, they are of a nature superior to ours, but it is in our nature that the Word was incarnated.
Under the gaze of his Mother, the Immaculate, it is for him that the angels purify us, it is to him that they guide us, it is to him that they unite us. The Intangibles consider it an honor to serve us as the brothers of their King. There is reason to be confused with gratitude and love for these beings of light ... and for God who gave them to us as ministers of our salvation.

Fr. Louis-Marie de Blignières
Prior of the Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier

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