By Caitlin Bootsma
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs
What kid with any imagination can fail to be enthralled by stories of angels? Sent from heaven, they appear and act in human history for the good of all mankind. And do you know what the best part is? They are real! Stories about the archangels, whose feast we celebrate on September 29, are an excellent entryway to teaching children about just how much God loves us.
The word "angel" is used in a variety of ways that do not necessarily represent who angels really are. They are not cherubs on Valentine's cards or even the "angel" of a neighbor who always does nice things for your family. Angels are, according to Church teaching, non-bodily spirits created by God to be "messengers of his saving plan" (Catechism, 332). The Catechism tells us that angels have been present since creation and have been serving God and His Divine plan ever since (CCC, 333).
There are more angels than we could possibly name, but there are three archangels that particularly demonstrate the role for which God created them: Michael, Raphael and Gabriel.
St. Michael is easy to recognize in Sacred Art: he is the angel wielding a sword and often crushing a demon under his feet. St. Michael is the first angel we hear about in salvation history. It is said that when Lucifer rebelled and many angels followed him into hell, it was St. Michael leading the charge against the powers of evil. He has continued to defend us and has long been considered the patron of the Church. If you teach young people, there are few prayers more powerful than the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel wherein we ask him to "defend the wickedness and the snares of the devil." Whether the youth find themselves in situations that bring temptations or praying for deliverance from some sort of oppression, St. Michael is a powerful intercessor.
If the children you serve are anything like I was as a kid, they will be captivated by the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament. This book of Scripture reads more like a folk tale as it describes how the Angel Raphael was sent to accompany the young Tobias on a journey. Raphael is a companion to Tobias, leads him to his future wife (who is freed from demons during the story), and teaches Tobias how to cure his father's blindness. The name Raphael means "It is God who heals" and the book of Tobit is worth reading aloud in its entirety to teach children about God's compassion and healing power in our lives.
The third archangel is probably the one who is the most well known both to you and to children: the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel is, of course, the angel who appeared to the young Blessed Virgin Mary asking her if she was willing to become the Mother of God. He was tasked with bringing the most important news in salvation history to earth: that a Savior would be born to redeem the world! This is not the first time Gabriel was sent to earth with a message: he also appeared to the prophet Daniel as well as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
It is no wonder that the archangels are the patron saints of communicators. They certainly brought the love of God to earth. They show us that God's love can be seen in different ways. Through St. Michael we see that His love will defend us against evil and temptation. Through St. Raphael we learn that it is God who brings healing—both spiritual and physical—into our lives. Through St. Gabriel we learn that it is only God who can save and redeem us.
It can be hard for children (and adults!) to understand the enormity of God's love for us. As we learn about the angels and rely on them for guidance, however, we will glimpse more and more of God's endless affection for each one of us.
Saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, Pray for Us!