At Matins the Carthusians, on this feast of the Archangels, reflected on the most edifying words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Here’s an excerpt from that discourse:
We celebrate today, dear brethren, the feast of the holy angels. Poor little worm I am, how can I speak about angelic spirits? I believe by faith that they enjoy the intangible presence and vision of God and are flooded with endless happiness in contemplating those things that eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). But can a mere mortal speak of this topic to other mortals? In the first place, I haven’t the faintest idea about these realities; moreover, you are not in a position to hear them.
The words ascend from me, yes, overflowing from the heart, but I had better remain silent, because I lack the adequate concepts for dealing with angels. The heavenly spirits are conspicuous by their admirable dignity and loving regard. It’s obvious that their glory exceeds our poor understanding. We tie ourselves, then, closer to their mercy.
In the Book of Daniel we read a description of the angels before the Throne of God: ‘Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and myriads upon myriads attended Him’ (Daniel 7:10). Do you think it is an unworthy thing for the angels to serve? Consider, then, the Creator, the King of angels, Who came not to be served but to serve and gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Saint Matthew 20:28). None of the angels are scorned as servants when He Whom they serve with inexpressible ardour and felicity preceded them in this same ministry. The psalmist, speaking to God of His Son, said: ‘You have made Him a little less than the angels’ (Psalm 8:6). It was fitting, therefore, that One Who exceeds the angels in dignity, surpassed them in humility. The Son has lowered Himself below the angels, because He wanted to lend an inferior service to theirs, but His is far superior to the angels because He has by inheritance a Name more excellent than theirs.
The angels love us because Christ loved us. As you know brethren, that proverb which says: ‘Whoever loves me, loves my dog’. Are we not, O blessed angels, the little dogs that the Lord surrounds with much affection? Little dogs, desiring to eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their angelic hosts. I used this image, brethren, to increase your confidence in the angels. We must call upon them in our every need with love, every day trying to conciliate their favour, be captivated by their benevolence, asking them to mercifully reveal themselves to us.
Allow me, dear brethren, to offer reasons why the angels are reminders of our poverty. We know that the human soul, endowed with reason and capable of blessedness, is linked by a bond of kinship with the angelic nature. Holy angels, could you ever disdain visiting us, against the precept of charity, even though we are precipitated by an extreme baseness? Are we not all a part of the same family? If you love -- as in fact you do love – the beauty of God’s house, then manifest your zeal to these living stones, and rationalize that we are the only ones that could contribute to the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem.
There are three reasons, brethren, why we are, like ropes that pull at us, from the sky, the pre-eminent love of angels. They come to console us, to visit us, to help us because of God’s love for us. Because of God, the angels visit us, to imitate the infinite mercy of God. Because of us, the angels come to console us, because they have compassion for those who have a certain similarity with them. Because of themselves, finally, the angels rush to our aid, because they hope to recruit among us, men needed to fill the gaps in their ranks. Indeed, the praise that is given to Almighty God, at the end of time, is given both to angels and men. As of now, the angels are celebrating the first fruits of that praise which fills them with the highest delight. But we, men, we are still like infants sucking the milk, even if one day we will make complete and perfect the praise of glory. The angels, therefore, attend to us with eagerness, driven by a desire for the ultimate day.
Consider the angels, dear brethren, and think that there must be at heart, worthiness for their friendship. Do you realize that we must live life in their presence, and not offend the sanctity of their pure gazes? Woe to us if our sin and neglect render us unworthy in the eyes of the angels to receive their visitation and enjoy their company. In that case, all we do is cry and complain like the prophet: ‘My friends and my neighbours have drawn near, and stood against me. And they that were near me stood afar off’ (Psalm 37:12). It would be a shame if those who should protect us with their presence instead left us, when they can defend from the enemy and repel the attacks.
We are in dire need of assistance from the angels my dear friends, thus, beware of offending. What, then, are the virtues that they appreciate and are pleased to see in us? Sobriety, chastity, voluntary poverty, the constant longing for heaven, the prayers of extreme repentance and of vigilant affection. But in priority, these messengers of peace have come to expect from us peace and harmony. What could there be more to rejoice about? When they find peace and harmony between us, which is a prelude and sketch of the heavenly city, they seem to be admiring a New Jerusalem. All parts of the holy city are perfectly welded together. The same compactness must reign in our thoughts and in our conversations; there are divisions among us, but we remain united in one body in Christ Jesus.