Interest in angels crops up in unexpected places. Not long ago I was in a store and a man came up to me and asked, “What angels are named in the Bible?” Although the Bible mentions angels often it names only three of them: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. After that incident I started to wonder why only those three angels are named Biblical names are important because they express something about the person. They also often say something about the special work God calls them to. As I pondered this, an idea came to mind that might offer some light about why three and only three angels are named in the Bible.
This idea flows from what can be called “Way, Truth and Life” spirituality. This is based on what Jesus says about himself at the Last Supper: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except though me” (John 14:6). The founder of the Daughters of Saint Paul and the whole Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione, made this idea the cornerstone of his spirituality. Much could be said about it. But to condense it a bit, Jesus’ definition of himself as Way, Truth and Life concisely expresses how he makes us holy. Holiness involves the complete person — mind, will and heart. Jesus himself is the Truth that enlightens our mind; he is the Way we must follow; and he is the Life who raises us to life of grace with him.
The aspect of Truth speaks especially to the human quest for meaning. What is the purpose of life? Why am I here and where am I headed? These are the most profound questions that human beings can ask, and people have always pondered them. In the Gospel we find Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). As Pope John Paul II said so often, Jesus is the one who reveals us to ourselves. In Jesus the Truth, our minds find the fullness of truth.
The aspect of the Way brings us into the area of how to live a fully human life. Knowing the truth is vital but not enough. Unless it is translated into action, it could remain sterile, like a bookshelf crammed with unread books. As the Way, Jesus shows us how to live a fully human life. Ultimately, this is the way of love. The secret of finding happiness is to pour ourselves out in a loving gift of self. This may lead to suffering, as Jesus himself experienced as he hung dying on the cross. But resurrection follows. In Jesus the Way, our wills find the strength of virtue.
The aspect of Life leads us to the fullness of grace and the spiritual life. Through prayer, te sacraments, and the Word of God, Jesus nourishes us and fills us more and more with his divine life. As this life takes root in our souls and grows, our whole lives are transformed into a hymm of praise to God. In Jesus the Life, our hearts find the fullness of grace and love.
So how is all this related to the angels? The three angels — Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — can be seen as part of the Way, Truth and Life spirituality. Michael, who stood for God and overcame the devil and his angels, leads us along the way of virtue. Gabriel announced the Good News, the truth of the gospel. And Raphael, the angel who brought healing to the family of Tobit, can be seen as representing the fullness of life that God desires for us. So we can find in these three angels a good summary of the Christian life. Perhaps the names of only three angels were revealed because the three of them together express in some way that Jesus meant by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.