The holy angels, especially our Guardian Angels, are involved in every aspect of our spiritual lives. "From its beginning to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession" (CCC 336). The Opus Angelorum has been publishing for many years spiritual meditations considering different aspects of the spiritual life lived in union and collaboration with the holy angels.
Lent is a special time of grace, a time of salvation; it is a time to overcome our habitual sins, to learn to compassionate and unite ourselves with Jesus in His expiatory suffering, in order to reach the goal: the victory of Easter. The path leads us through forty days, which should be for us a desert – an emptying of ourselves from everything superfluous, and becoming free from attachments, desires and weaknesses. In this desert (the beginning of every retreat is modeled on this image of the desert), JESUS waits for us as Teacher. “If in the holy Season of Christmas we were immersed in His life, His birth and childhood, if our heart was content because of this fullness of grace in the simple poverty of the shepherds, so now in the Season of Lent we should experience the desert, His hunger and thirst, His loneliness in trial. We should feel for Him and consciously go through with Him, what He took upon Himself for us” in the mystery of His life, Passion and death. (Mother Gabriele)
In the spirituality of the Opus Angelorum, three figures are set before us: the Child – the Priest – the Angel
“The Child walks on the path of simplicity. Here all the power of the infernal powers is in vain: against the childlike trust, the childlike openness, his cheerfulness.
The Priest walks on the path of discipline of will, of mortification and penance, of zeal for the salvation of souls.
The Angel lead leads the way, carrying the light; he is the mediator of knowledge and grace, help and strength.
MARY unites them all: the child and all youth, the priest and his large congregation, the Angel and all those watched over by the Angels, the small and the great.” (OA)
Each of these figures represents a way of BEING before God. They can further be related to the three great feasts of the Liturgical Year: At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Our Lord, His poverty and childhood. During Lent and Easter, we commemorate the Lord’s Passion, His high priestly prayer and victory over death for the salvation of souls. While on Pentecost, we celebrate the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church, who sends the efficacious help of His special ministers, the Holy Angels.
At the hand of Mary, every soul that seeks union with God will walk along these paths to holiness. Each is a way of love, a way of following the Lord Jesus in the different stages of His life. In our Advent/Christmas Circular, we already contemplated the being of a child: the path to childlike simplicity through poverty of spirit, simplicity, detachment and trust. We gladly looked to God as our loving Father, who gave us His Son for our Redemption, and were pleased to rest in His love, contemplating the Divine CHILD in the manger, who made Himself totally dependent on the providence of His heavenly Father and His human parents.
During Lent, we now want to follow Jesus, the High Priest, who makes expiation for His people, becoming for us both Priest and Victim for the salvation of souls. Just as in Advent we contemplated the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”, so now in Lent we look to the word of Jesus: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” These are priestly souls, persons who bear in themselves the hunger and thirst of the Lord for the salvation of souls. Through penance, they wish to atone for their own sins and strive to follow the path of holiness. They further offer themselves to the justice of God in expiation, in order to implore for sinners the love and mercy of God.
The ministerial priesthood is one of the great gifts of Christ to His Church on the eve of His death. Jesus consecrated the Apostles to carry on His mission to preach the word, to forgive sins, to make His sacrifice present in the Holy Eucharist, and to govern the newborn Church. Every ministerial priest today continues to participate in this mission of Christ, representing Him as Head of the Church. Yet every baptized Christian, as a member of His Body, also participates in the priestly office of His Body, praying, sacrificing and mediating for the salvation of souls.
Whereas the child nestles securely in loving dependence in the arms of the Father, pursuing holiness with childlike trust, simplicity and cheerfulness, the priestly soul is united with Jesus in His thirst for all souls, in His burning longing to save those who are falling, and in the Opus Angelorum, especially in His concern for His struggling or tempted priests. Here, on the foundation of poverty, detachment and trust, which we learned in Advent, the Angel wants to form us into strong, sacrificial souls, instruments of God’s mercy for our family and community, for the Church and the whole world.
Two of the chief ways in which the laity exercise their common or “universal” priesthood is through prayer and sacrifice. The greatest way we can do both of these, of course, is attentive participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, daily if possible, offering to the Father the expiation of Jesus on the Cross made present on the altar, and uniting ourselves to His sacrifice. True participation in the Eucharist, accordingly, goes beyond prayer; it has a transforming power to conform us to Jesus in His sacrifice on the Cross. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving” (Deus Caritas est, 13). In the Eucharist, Jesus calls us and offers us the grace to become, like Him, a “gift” offered to the Father for souls.
Becoming a “gift” for God means that we offer Him our lives, all our joys and sorrows. It means also accepting and offering to Him all the little sacrifices of daily life, our struggles, toils and labors. It can also mean making extra little penances or sacrifices to prove our love for God and to add efficacy to our prayers. Mother Gabriel writes, “It does not suffice when we resolve in the morning: ‘I do want to make expiation; indeed, I am going to Holy Mass; then I will have done more than enough.’ Today the Lord demands that to His deed, we also add ours. At Holy Mass and Holy Communion, we receive the proper strength for the sacrifice of expiation from Christ, the Redeemer. We must work with this strength as long as it is day. We do not know how long we will be able to work. Let us begin therefore immediately after the Holy Mass in the morning to convert this strength of expiatory sacrifice, which has been given to us, into the deed. Let us ask our holy Guardian Angel to open our eyes in this matter. We will be astonished how many things around us are waiting for us!”
Thus, to this Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, God wants us to add our own, all the little hardships throughout our day, the many little acts of kindness or helpfulness which we can show to others, the patience with difficult persons or situations, and much more. During Lent especially, we also want to impose upon ourselves a small penance or fast. These small penances and acts of self-denial which we impose on ourselves can be offered in expiation for sin, first for our own sins and then for others. It is important that we add also the intention, as we learned from Our Lady at Fatima: for love of God, in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners. We can add also the particular intentions in our heart, “In reparation for my lack of charity this morning”, “In expiation for my son who no longer practices the faith”, or “In expiation for this priest who is causing scandal in the Church”.
We can be sure that our small offerings, sacrifices and works, as little as they appear in our own eyes, have a real effect in the Church and for souls. If there had only been ten virtuous souls, God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah. St. Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). Pope St. John Paul II, commenting on this passage says,
Insofar as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings — in any part of the world and at any time in history — to that extent he, in his own way, completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world. Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension — the dimension of love — the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a sense constantly being accomplished. (Salvifici Doloris, 24)
We see that it is through love, then, that we can transform any human suffering into redemptive grace for souls, by offering this suffering out of love, making a gift of it to the Father, in union with the sufferings of Jesus. “The crowning of love is the sacrifice offered to God out of love!” (OA, Maxims). At Holy Mass, we receive the love and strength of Jesus to do just this.
While the way of active sacrifice and penance is very important for our growth in the spiritual life and meriting for others, much more efficacious is the acceptance and offering up of those sufferings which GOD in His wise and loving Providence sends us. For here, there is no admixture of self-will or self-congratulation on our spiritual or physical feats! Clearly, accepting from the hand of GOD the sufferings He sends can also be more difficult.
Moreover, when we speak of our “sufferings” and “sacrifices”, we do not limit this to grave illnesses or tragic situations. All the little annoyances of daily life can become an opportunity for sacrifice, for offering God a “gift”, transforming this small moment into an act of love in order to win grace for souls in need. Certainly, we do not “feel” like we are loving when we are tried in patience and having a hard time not answering back, giving like for like; it is at these times that we need to call upon Jesus for strength to make that act of will, to deny oneself and to offer it up. Then it is suddenly transformed into love. And these little acts of love can transform the justice of God towards sinners (my son, my husband, this soul in need) into mercy and love, forgiveness and healing! Because these acts of love are so essential for our spiritual growth and for the good of the Church, the holy Angels want to teach us, therefore, how to accept the trials and sufferings God sends us.
In Holy Scripture, we have the example in the Old Testament of one who was extremely tested by God, Job. Job was an upright, “righteous” man, whom God allowed to be sorely tempted and tried by Satan. “Job is not just a biblical figure. He is for all time the image of the natural, righteous man, who is severely tried by GOD” (Mother Gabriele, Readings). Job was not a Jew, not of the Chosen People of God, but like Melchisedek, we do not know his lineage. “And just as Melchisedek was an image of Christ as High Priest, so Job was an image of Christ as sufferer” (ibid.). First, he was deprived of all his possessions through “natural disasters”, caused or instigated by the Satan, which also killed all his children. In the second trial, Satan afflicted Job with ulcers and putrefaction on his whole body and he became “like a worm and no man”, and his soul suffered bitterest torments; he is mocked, accused, and besieged with thoughts of abandonment by GOD. Since Job was a righteous man, the question naturally arose in his heart, “Why?!” Having raised his lament before his friends, who had come to console him, they ended up trying to convict him of sin. “All are zealous for GOD, but without love, without understanding” (Mother Gabriel, Readings).
While Job could not find the reason for his suffering through those who came to “console” him, nevertheless, by the grace which comes through Christ, transcending all time and space, he learned the proper attitude towards God and his suffering. “Jesus Christ takes into His abandonment by God all the “Why’s?”, from the time of Job unto our own days, and through Him, Job also finds his way to that attitude, which will become a legacy for us” (ibid.). We want to let Mother Gabriel, therefore, continue her exegesis of the Book of Job, showing how he left us his “legacy”, having learned the proper attitude in suffering.
“Job was the first to call out in the midst of all pain: ‘God Himself will be my Savior… I know, that my Redeemer lives, and I will rise on the Last Day, I myself will see Him and my eyes will gaze upon Him’ (cf. Job 19:25, 27). This is the first legacy of Job for us, this unwavering trust in God, even in the midst of the most difficult physical and spiritual trials” (ibid.).
When in trial, it is difficult to see beyond our own suffering. We do not think of an eternal reward, or how this suffering could possibly be good for me! Here, we must hold fast to that attitude of the child, who trusts in the wisdom and love of his father, blindly and unwaveringly. We have the promises of God, we know that He accepts our sacrifices for ourselves and others. In darkness, we must cling to this belief and not throw away our opportunity for merit out of cowardice or lack of trust. Perhaps a loved one needs a special grace at this very moment! If we just hold out a little longer, again we will see the light. After three days (that is, some pre-determined measure of time), always comes the Resurrection. And Jesus Himself promises us, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the Last Day” (Jn 6:40).
“Already long before the trial, Job had made the idea of expiation living and effective in himself. Always open for God, even in his wealth he never forgot God and had taken upon himself in expiation the sins of his children who may have turned to the world. ‘And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and …offer burnt offerings for every one of them; for Job said, “Lest perhaps my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did’ (Job 1:5).”
“This is the second legacy of Job for us: that we never forget our brothers and sisters who are turned to the world and stand in for them before GOD.” Pope Benedict also reflects upon this truth in his encyclical, Spe Salvi:
We should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. … No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. ...As Christians, we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them, too, the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well. (Spe Salvi, 48).
God will one day ask us: “Where is your brother, your sister?” He tells us to ask and to knock, so that He can open and give to us. “For all who, righteous and GOD-fearing, want to take the right path to GOD at the hand of their Angel, both this readiness for expiation as well as trust in GOD are a sacred duty and a glorious treasure, which Jesus Christ brings to light by His pierced Hands” (Readings). That is to say, Jesus Himself goes before us as an example, stretching His arms out on the Cross for His brethren.
“But now comes the apprehensive question: [If I offer myself in expiation,] will I be so abandoned, so abused, so misunderstood, so ridiculed as Job once was, and as Our Lord was in His passion?” (ibid.). God has His plan for every soul, and only the most generous souls, like St. Padre Pio, are called to the martyrdom of crucifixion. Yet nevertheless, God challenges each soul to walk in dark faith, in surrender and trust, in the measure that he is called. And the trials and temptations he experiences are ordered to the degree of holiness to which God in His providence has called him. Accordingly, we will also have the corresponding grace in every trial. “The Father in Heaven veiled Himself from Job, and He also veiled Himself from Jesus in His passion. So we will surely have to take the path of dark faith in the time of trial, abandoned by men, yet not exactly like Job, for now we have a Mother who never and nowhere abandons us, we have Angels at our side, and in front of us we have the footsteps of JESUS, who has already trod this path before us.” (ibid.)
Even in all his suffering, Job continued to say: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the Name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). “This unconditional submission and subordination to the will of God is the third legacy of Job for us, and truly, God does not make it easy, neither for him nor for us. (Just consider the remark of the great St. Theresa to God: “I believe You have few friends, if You treat them the way You treat me!”) If God treads the grapes, then fine wine will also flow. And this wine of purified virtues demands a great deal of holding still under the weight of oft-inexplicable trials.”
Under the weight of trial, even the good man is often tempted to accuse God of betrayal. Job senses that, too. It is hard for him, who was always kind, generous and understanding, now to find no love and understanding anywhere. With the increasing severity of his suffering, a person might be tempted to sink from the brightness of his communion with God to the bitter accusation against God: “If only I had never been born! What have I done to You? To what purpose have I striven to be good? Why am I so punished?” Job never accused God, as one may be tempted to do in such intolerable trials (cf. Job 42:7), yet still he asked “Why?” and mourned the day he was born (cf. Job 3:3). How many people today look to suicide to escape their sufferings? With the light of the Angel we want “to look into the depths of all Why?’s: Why does Job suffer, the just one? Why does the devout person suffer?” (ibid.)
Here again, we find the answer in atonement, if not for our own sins, then for those of others. And the more we grow in grace and holiness, the more our sufferings will bear the mark of vicarious expiation. “One stands for the other, no one stands alone: in the state of grace, everyone has intercessory power, and thereby the strength to help one another. Mary, the Immaculate, the much-tried one, with seven swords piercing her heart, is she not given to us as the greatest Mediatrix of Grace? If the sinner suffers, God thereby gives him a time of grace to find his way home again. If the good man suffers, then the martyrdom of his fidelity will also be his glorious palm of victory in heaven. The greatest defeat of hell is the person who is steadfast in suffering. Thus, by his confession of God despite bitterest suffering, also Job was the victor over the world and the devil, and a radiant example for all times.”
“Now this struggle of Job with God during his tragedy is more powerful than was the struggle of Jacob from evening to morning with the Lord in the person of the Angel. God wrings the strength out of Job in order to allow his confession of God to be drawn out of his last remaining stammer into golden bowls by the Angels: ‘These things have I suffered without the iniquity of my hand, when I offered pure prayers to God’ (Job 16:18). ‘My foot has followed His steps, I have kept His way, and have not turned away’ (Job 23:11). ‘As God lives…So long as I still have life breath in me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips shall not speak falsehood, nor my tongue utter deceit!’ (Job 27:2-4). ‘And He said to man: Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom (for you): and to depart from evil, is understanding (for your intellect)’ (Job 28:28)”. (ibid.)
“May this courage of fidelity, albeit shaken from our tears in the darkest hours, be the fourth legacy of Job for us, which we want to take with us, not only during Lent, but also in all the coming days, if God should once set up His winepress. Even if we cannot bring light to the darkness of “Why?” and “How long?”, in this way we will go at the hand of the holy Angels through all our bright and dark days, as once the People of God walked through the Red Sea – just as surely as once Job was justified and abundantly rewarded – and just as surely as Our Lord Jesus Christ has opened and prepared the heavenly glory for us through His Passion and death. We do not want to run away from any trial from God, but we want to pass all trials with the grace of God and with the help of our great, heavenly advocates.” (Mother Gabriel, Readings)
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