The following is Sr. Mary Jeremiah\’s beautiful talk for our Solemn Chapter (or, as we like to refer to it, our Big Chapter) on March 24. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
The first words we hear every day are–“The angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary….” And we return to this moment of the Incarnation countless times throughout the day.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee…to a virgin…and the virgin\’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, said, “Hail, full of grace\”….
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be…”
And the angel said to her in reply…
Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
We heard last Sunday morning at Office of Readings in the Letter to the Hebrews that angels are “ministering spirits…sent to serve [human beings], those who are to inherit salvation”! What a statement! These tremendous spiritual beings are sent to help us.
And, every year on the feast of the Archangels we hear St. Gregory the Great tell us that angels are messengers. The word Angel means “Messenger” in Greek, and Archangel means “Great Messenger” or “Super Messenger”. As Gregory continues, “We must also know that the term Angel means a function, and not a nature. For if the blessed spirits of the heavenly homeland are always spirits, they cannot always be called angels; they are Angels only when they announce something. Angels announce things of lesser importance. Archangels are those who announce the greatest, most important things. This is why it was not an angel, but the Archangel Gabriel whom God sent to the Virgin Mary. In such a ministry, indeed, it was fitting that the greatest of the angels should come and announce the greatest news.
“Michael means ‘who is like God?’ Gabriel, ‘Strength of God’; Raphael, ‘Medicine of God’. Whenever extraordinary power is needed, the Scripture tells us that it is Michael who is sent: his action and his name make it clear that no one can boast of doing what is reserved for the sole power of God. To Mary, however, it is Gabriel who is sent. It was thus necessary that it was by \’Strength of God that the Lord of the Armies, powerful in the fight, was announced who came to make war with the powers of darkness.”
The Angel Gabriel is mentioned in the Bible several times, all of which were events that would change the course of history in alignment for the fulfillment of God\’s Will in the world. So, I like to think of Gabriel as the Messenger of the Incarnation and Redemption.
The first time Gabriel is mentioned in the Bible is in the book of Daniel. He comes to help Daniel and God\’s people several times.
The next instance of Gabriel coming to convey a message is to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Luke tells us, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him…the angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.'”
Gabriel is last mentioned when he is sent to speak with Mary. Mary was a young Jewish girl who was engaged but still a virgin. Gabriel comes a few months after he appeared to Zechariah, to reveal to Mary that she will be the one to carry the Savior of the World, and the one to fulfill the prophecies promised centuries earlier, of the coming Savior being born of a virgin.
In all of these examples, the people that Gabriel visits are at first frightened to see such a majestic being, but Gabriel not only brings messages of hope, he also comes in kindness.
We do not know if Gabriel’s “coming” to Mary was an external or internal vision, or only a locution, an inner word. Perhaps we should reflect more on the fact that the message is far more important than the Messenger, for as Hebrews says, “[The angels] are ministering spirits…to save us.”
Unlike Michael, Gabriel is not referred to as an Archangel. The Bible does not specify in depth what is rank is as an angel, but what he is called to do is of more importance than his title. When speaking to Zechariah he reveals that he stands in the presence of God, which emphasizes God\’s unwavering trust in him. It is also his role to convey knowledge of the coming Savior, exceedingly sacred messages to the people of God from God himself. As we said before, Gabriel means, “God is my strength” and it is evident that he lives up to his name, in relying on God to fulfill the messages he is given to deliver.
Gabriel is always a messenger of God\’s redemption of humanity. But we too are messengers, especially as nuns of the Order of Preachers. Our original title was “Preacheresses”. We usually do not preach the Word of God, the message of God\’s love for the world and the individuals in that world, but we proclaim it by our lives. We do use words with anyone we come in contact with–in the parlor, through letters, on the phone, when we go out to the doctor, and so on. But we especially resemble Gabriel and the angels when we PRAY. This is our vocation, our mission and our message.
The angels are spiritual, intellectual creatures. They can think of going some place or doing something and they are there–instantly–doing or inspiring it. We, through our prayers, can reach any place and any one in an instant, in a metaphorical sense.
As the angel is always before the face of God, in his Divine Presence, while even o mission–so are we, in a way, as we keep our adorations, attend Office and Liturgy, and engage in interior prayer throughout the day while going about our duties insofar as they give space for spiritual thoughts. But, even if we are writing letters or talking to guests, we can do this as ministers of Christ, in union with the Trinity. Therefore we must be focused; striving for unceasing prayer and union with God. We should keep guard over our thoughts so that we are not dragged off target by the logismoi, which is like falling into a swamp or quicksand. We need to be attentive to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
A good messenger is one who gives her heart and soul to the message, that is, she has enthusiasm an proclaims that message with enthusiasm. The greater the One sending the message, the greater should be our efforts to be one with that message.
St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, and he says to us today, \”…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.\”
As Our Lady controlled her thoughts, for she was pure and immaculate of heart, so should we. May Mary and all the angels be with us today and always, leading us, and all our prayers, to Paradise. Amen.