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Vol. XIV, May 2008

 

Michael, the great prince, in charge of your people (cf. Dan 12:1)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last letter we were led to ponder some philosophical considerations. The next reference to the holy angels in Scripture, still in the book of the Prophet Daniel, is less complicated. It invites us to simply reflect with growing conviction: God has sent the holy angels, because we need them, because without them we would be lost.

After an extended description of future events, kings and wars (cf. ch. 11:1-45), the author refers once more to St. Michael as patron of the Chosen People. His presence saves the people in the midst of a terrible time.

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. (Dan 12:1)

There follows a short conversation among the angels with “the man clothed in linen”, similar to what we met already in Chapter 8:13ff.: Daniel saw “two others…, one on this bank of the stream and one on that bank of the stream” and “said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, ‘How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?’” Answering, he “swore by Him who lives for ever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time; and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished” (12:5-7).


1. “Who is like God!”

At the beginning of this chapter it is recalled that St. Michael is responsible for the Chosen People, he, “the great prince, in charge of your people”. To this very simple and sober statement follows a terrible prediction. It is said it will be “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (v. 1). The time seems to refer to the end as it is said, that “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (12:2-3). Here is the biblical text which links St. Michael as the patron of the dying and the guide to everlasting life!


a) St. Michael’s “hand” over the people

The calm with which it is said should surprise us: “Your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book”. One of the reasons is surely due to the patronage of St. Michael, whose “hand” over this people, expresses his watchful care. What a grace! It is not by the power of the sword, nor by the strength of their arms; it is not by super intelligence, but by the humble assimilation of the Law and living it virtuously that they come to the resurrection. Since the beginning, St. Michael reminds all of “Who is like GOD!” (cf. on the contrary, Rev 13:4). Consider the maxim: “for the Christian, ‘to reign is to serve Him’ (LG 36)” (CCC 786)! This is also verified in St. Michael: He is a servant, par excellence! Still, St. Jude calls him an archangel, and here in Daniel he is identified as a “great prince”. It is difficult for men to grasp and live according to this “logic” of thought. Yet, it is Christ’s lesson and example: “You call me Teacher and Lord. And you say well: for so I am. But I am among you as one who serves” (Jn 13:13; Lk 22:27b).


b) The coming Judge

The image of St. Michael on our prayer-card, Supplication of the Holy Angels, presents him as a soldier standing over man’s dwelling place, not in the arrogant pride and brawn of Goliath, but in the humble confidence of David. “Taking the shield of [adoring] faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one” (Eph 6:16), he lifts on high the cross, the sign upon which Christ, lifted up in weakness, conquered all evil: “Ecce crucem Domini; fugite partes adversae; vicit leo de tribu Juda, radix David,” (Liturgy of the Hours, Ant. on Sept. 14) and at once: “Per signum crucis ab inimicis nostris libera nos, Deus noster. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen” (Rituale Romanum De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus quibusdam, 1999, App. 2). For St. Michael fights not in his own name, but in the name of GOD, “Quis ut Deus!” St Michael’s confident, tranquil stance illustrates the link Pope Benedict XVI drew in Spes salvi between hope and judgment, designating the latter as “a setting for learning and practicing hope” (cf. 41-49): whatever one may suffer in this life, the Judge whom nothing escapes is coming! Justice will be served, and His friends and servants shall be abundantly rewarded.


c) Through the way of life one benefits of the angelic assistance.

It is a grace to remain calm and at peace, confident of a good resolution in the midst of the physical terrors and spiritual confusion of the end-times. This help comes from heaven: angelic assistance, as is clear throughout the Apocalypse. They live in the eternal bliss of the beatific vision, they communicate the light of confidence, trust in God’s presence and strength to those humbly receptive to their mission. Their example teaches us not to concentrate on what occurs around us or even to us, but to look to God and His angels who care for us. With them, let us confess continuously (cf. Lk 18:1): Who is like God! When we fix our eyes on the angels and through them on God, we shall remain tranquil in the midst of the greatest storms of battle. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ whom St. Michael has faithfully served from the foundation of the world!

To be on St. Michael’s side, it is not sufficient to be a nominal Catholic; we need to be devout living member of the Mystical Body who willingly submit to the Law of God and the directives of the Church. Only such as these have their names written in the Book of Life.


d) Saint Michael chosen as their patron-saint

The People of God, both in the Old Testament and New Testament is placed under the protection and patronage of St. Michael. Nations, shrines, parishes and places have also chosen St. Michael as their patron-saint.1 We have seen in the past letter, that God gives the angels charge over nations. Particularly Saint Michael was chosen by many as their patron-angel. History shows, how often St. Michael was involved in the political situation of a country. France merits special reference through St. Jean d’Arc who referred her mission to the guidance of St. Michael, or, in our days, the end of World War II was finally announced on May 8th, the feast of St. Michael.

We might be able to refer to more events of this kind. Certainly, every generation goes through its own trouble, but the teaching of the Church tells us that every one has his cross to bear, and every one needs the help from heaven to master his part. Therefore, St. Michael is needed in every time, in every place, to help and protect men.


2. “How long shall it be?”

The mysterious description of many terrible events in Daniel 11 and the order to “shut up the words and seal the book” (12:4) makes one curious and ask with Daniel: “How long shall it be till the end of these events?” This was Daniel’s question. The “the man clothed in linen” answered, saying it will still last “for a time, two times, and half a time”.

This answer refers neither to lunar time nor to solar time. It is spiritual time, that is, it refers to “chapters of history” focused upon some significant event. Along these lines St. John said: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn 2:18). This “hour” entails the final decision of all mankind for or against Christ! Similarly, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council affirmed: “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, …from the very dawn of history until the last day” (GS 37; cf. CCC 409).

We may think of a psychological or spiritual meaning of these “times”. The division in three and a half “times” is generally seen as the half of seven and so interpreted as broken union of perfection. But may the sequence in three periods not also indicate some development, like becoming free from sin, the one time; working on virtues together with God and His grace, two times; and finally, being transformed into union with God, remains just a half time, fulfilled through eternity? Understanding the answer in this way does not create anxiety; it leads individuals, subjected to spiritual or physical turmoil, to the conviction necessary for salvation.


3. We do not know when and what but how!

St. Michael was with God’s people, and this people was spared. This knowledge shows us how we too ought to prepare or defend ourselves. One way, surely, is to draw near to the holy angels, our fellow servants in witnessing to Christ.

This is especially fitting for us priests. Like St. Michael and all the holy angels, the priest is a mediator between heaven and earth. Benedict XVI referred to this commenting on “the briefest description of the priestly mission”: “Jesus appointed twelve to be with Him and to be sent out” (3:14). To be with Jesus and being sent … belong together…. Pope Gregory the Great, in one of his homilies, once said that God’s angels, however far afield they go on their missions, always move in God. They remain always with Him. And while speaking about the angels, Saint Gregory thought also of bishops and priests: wherever they go, they should always ‘be with Him’” (Benedict XVI, Sept. 11, 2006 in Altötting). Therefore union with God is paramount. Both in the holy angels and in holy priests the faithful want to find God, come into contact with His salutary action. Our principal ministry, therefore, is that of the Sacraments, by which we open the spiritual doors to union with God!


4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Let me pass from the Sacraments to one sacramental. Oda Schneider, a widow and then famous Carmelite in one of her books on the Priesthood tries to reconcile the tension between our intense call to action and our duty to constant presence before God. This difficult, delicate and yet crucial balance “has its symbol in the cassock” (About the priesthood of the woman, Abensberg 1992, p. 56). We live in an era in which is declared the “death of metaphysics” (Kant), the loss of being and damnation to activity (Sartre). Could the angelic constancy of standing in God’s presence, even while exercising their ministry, not be a call for us priests to rediscover our central place of mediation (standing before GOD on behalf of an mankind), and to embrace the sacred garb as its visible sign, a sign which causes so much peace in souls, so much trust in God and His caring presence?


~ Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC


1 Patron of France, Japan, patron of Mariners (Normandy), patron of the Police (Italy), patron of the Nile, patron of the sick, of radiologists, Knights of the Wing [of St. Michael], all the dioceses of France, of the diocese of Sherbrooke, Canada, of shrines all over the world [Monte Gargano, Mont St. Michel], patron of the Passionist Fathers, of the Congregation of Clerics Regular, of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, of the Michaelites, second patron of the Legion of Mary, etc. etc.