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Vol. XIV, February 2008

 

“A man clothed in linen, His body was like beryl…”
(Dan 10:7)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The book of Tobit is considered the Old Testamentary book on the angels. Nevertheless, Daniel, the “man greatly beloved”, also gives testimony of a great familiarity with the angels and even more concretely, we can say: As we know St. Raphael through the book of Tobit (cf. Tob 12:15), so St. Gabriel is known to us also already in the Old Testament (cf. Dan 8:16, 9:21) and St. Michael (cf. Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1), namely, through the book of Daniel.

In the last meditations, we considered characteristics of angelic communications, the dispositions which Daniel showed and the way the angel manifested himself to this prophet. The following verses offer us some more general characteristics of encounters between angel and man.

1. Communication with the Angels

Daniel records the following detail about the men with him: “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves.” (Dan 10:7)

With regard to himself he recalls: “I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me; my radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength” (Dan 10:8). That was the effect of the vision. Still, greater was the effect, when he heard the angel speak: “Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep with my face to the ground” (Dan 10:9).

a) This effect from a heavenly apparition is not new. We can even make this general statement according the biblical reports: The apparition of an angel in a form which reflects his dignity and greatness always throws man to the ground and makes him powerless. This we saw with Moses (cf. Ex 3) and Josue (Jos 5:13f) and at the end with John Evangelist (cf. Rev 19:10; 22:10), and here with Daniel: Man falls or is even thrown to the ground, he experiences his nothingness; which awareness should be his when he goes to adore God.

When “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Moses “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush,” the Lord “said, ‘Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’.” (Ex 3:2, 5) Joshua, the successor of Moses, saw “a man” who “stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand … said, ‘…as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come’.” By these words “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped” (Jos 5:13-14). Similar was the reaction of John the Evangelist: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’” (Rev 22:8-9).

b) Humility, as love for the truth and fear of the Lord, as the recognition of His majesty, are the basis for every true spiritual life, as the word of God tells us:

The fear of the Lord is glory and exultation, and gladness and a crown of rejoicing. The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life. With him who fears the Lord it will go well at the end; on the day of his death he will be blessed. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; she is created with the faithful in the womb. She made among men an eternal foundation, and among their descendants she will be trusted. To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure; she satisfies men with her fruits; … The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom, making peace and perfect health to flourish. (Sirach 1:9-14, 16)

David additionally assured us: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no want!” (Psalm 34:7-9)

2. The Effects of the Heavenly Visits

The perception of the presence of God “as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2096), but also already the presence of His angels causes in men the perception of the “’nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God” (CCC 2097). This crushes all man’s pride, but also lifts him up, as Daniel describes continuing his report:

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.’ While he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words’. (Dan 10:10-12)  

a) The mere word, “heaven”, doesn’t do justice to the reality. Heaven is life, peace, strength and joy. Therefore, after being shaken to the roots of his being, man is touched by the heavenly powers and ends up stronger than before.

That is what we learn through Sacred Scripture. “’See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” (Dt 32:39). Or: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” (Hos 6:1-2) Therefore, applying the Lord’s rule of discernment: “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16 and 20), we see clearly: While the devil first elevates us and then throws us in the abyss, God and His angels first bow us down, but only in order to transform us into a new creature and elevate us, ultimately, up to heaven.  

b) Of heaven we can understand concretely the persons of the holy angels (cf. CCC 326). God entrusted to them the whole world below them, the whole of material creation as well as all the spiritual-human world. Their influence on human life ought to be up-lifting, guiding us to a virtuous life. A life in sin is manifested in the qualities of the seven capital sins (cf. CCC 1866). Analogically, we may say, the life in grace or union with the holy angels is characterized by the cardinal and theological virtues, as well as by the gifts of the Holy Spirit (indeed, by the twelve fruits, listed by St. Paul, inasmuch as they represent the highest degree of virtue [cf. Gal 5:22 and CCC 1832]). When we chose the life of sin, then we continue in this world of hate and egoism and ugly perversion for ever; if we chose the life of prayer and grace with God, we will live for ever in this climate, the atmosphere of joy and gratitude, of sharing and love.

3. Life with the Holy Angels

Daniel gives us an example, this “man greatly beloved” by God.

a) God loves every one who comes into this world. Then, however, He wants the free response, the choice of His love. Daniel not only chose God. He proved in most difficult circumstances that he had given God His absolute preference. With firm decision he put his trust in God, disdaining the most cruel threats and all human respect. With his trust in God, he confronted the King and the lions, and ended always as victor.  

b) Similarly, our life with the holy angels requires also the clear option, the preference given to God. The Holy Father Benedict XVI made an observation worth citing here: Speaking to representatives of the School for Catholic liturgical Music of Regensburg, he explained a reciprocal influence of angels and men! He said:

Coram angelis—we sing in the presence of [or before] the angels. Benedict certainly wanted to say to the monks, they should be aware, that silently in their choir the angels are present, that they listen and that the song has to be so that the angels are able to listen to it. But there is more—there is not only the fact, that the angels are present and listen. But we sing with them.

(Regensburg, Sept. 28, 2007)

And the Holy Father explains what he wants to point out with this. “We should open the ‘ear of heart’ so wide, that we understand their song interiorly and join in it that we can sing with them. Of course,” the Holy Father concludes, “it is understood that not only the angels should be included in this singing, but the entire Communion of Saints of all places and times should.”

c) When we listen to the Holy Father’s description of the liturgical and prayerful singing, we learn the real way of prayer, the respectful speaking with God with the awareness of His presence and holiness, and our need of listening more than talking. Therefore, our prayer must be marked with interior silence and attentive openness towards the one we speak to. Even if we recite Psalms or other liturgical prayers in the name of the Church, we should do so in a contemplative way, listening into so to speak; as if God wants to speak to us through these words rather than we to Him! The Holy Father tells us, that there should be a reciprocal openness and understanding which leads to real union and common praise of God, a dimension which we are called to according another recent guidance of the Church.

In the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is said: “Devotion to the Holy Angels gives rise to a certain form of the Christian life” (Congregation of Divine Worship, DPPL: Principles and Guidelines, Dec. 2001, n. 216).

 If we reflect more about the example of Daniel and his contact with the holy angels, and take these directions of the Church to heart, we may well expect a change in our life, for “a certain form of” our priestly “life;” for a life, marked by the awareness of the presence of heaven in our life: in the silent disposition an interior man attentive to guidance by the angels, or again, one not immersed in material goods, or caught up in worldly occupations and friendships, but rather one focused on being a mediator of the things of God. This disposition will bring angelic order into our lives: we will find ourselves looking first to the goal, the final goal, and then choosing the appropriate means, for the goal determines the choice of the means.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We cannot understand Daniel’s testimony without adverting to the presence of the holy angels in his life. Let us also be open us for their presence in our lives so that we become more and more priests who live up to our Lord’s expectations. Especially in this Lent let us strive for this spiritual renewal and growth in charity, which will enable us to live constantly in the presence of God.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC