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Circular Letter: Lent 2023

Joining Forces with the Angels

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These days, we often feel helpless in the face of so many evil forces rising up in the world, in politics, in society, and even in the Church. How can we stop the flood of evil which seems to be winning in every quarter? Although we must always do our part according to our state in life to better the society around us, we must remember also the fact that this battle is not merely “with flesh and blood”, but is a spiritual battle “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). Therefore, our savior cannot be a politician and our goal is not a kingdom of this world, but our Savior is Christ and we are called to build up and defend the Kingdom of God which has begun on earth, that is, the Church, and reaches perfection only in heaven. To fight effectively in this battle, therefore, we must first “put on the armor of God so that [we] may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Our Lord Himself tells us, “Without Me you can do nothing!” (Jn 15:5). This word is also a promise: Jesus does not leave us alone, He fights with us and for us, and yes, in us!

The help of the Angels in spiritual warfare

While the spiritual forces of the evil spirits are rising up so presumptuously, God sends us His help especially through the holy Angels in this ever more spiritual conflict. This ‘military assistance’ is one of the main purposes of the Work of the Holy Angels, which is ultimately ordered to the salvation of souls who will adore and praise God eternally. Already in 1956, Mother Gabriele, the human instrument God used in the founding of the Opus Angelorum, wrote,

The ‘Work of the Holy Angels’ …is more than a familiar intercourse of a soul with the supernatural spirits. It is a very powerful and clear wakeup call of the Angels for a coming battle, which is to be waged with all the weapons of the spirit to the glory of God, and whose unambiguous warning signs one indubitably hears and sees and feels in the enslavement by the Godless movement…and the moral decline everywhere on earth. (On the Development of the OA)

The Opus Angelorum is not a peace corps of social workers, but a fighting community; therefore we, as members of the Work, are called to engage in this battle. The Angels call us, enlighten and train us, lead us on the ways of purification and transformation, and only then are we fit to unite with them in the battle for souls, for the Church and the Kingdom of God.

“The reasons for calling for a more intense veneration of the Angels are twofold:

  1. 1. The increase of bad, dangerous influences in the spiritual realm of mankind calls upon all the forces of the Holy Church to the defense and protection of her members. The forces of the Holy Church, however, lie higher than in purely human ones; they are anchored in God and in the supernatural. The work of the evil spirits is countered by the help of the Angels (cf. the St. Michael prayer). The more the evil spirit rears up, therefore, the more the Angel’s battle and the Angel’s help must be engaged for our sake.
  2. 2. Since for a long time the Angel has been played down, derided, distorted and depicted as harmless before the eyes of men, as a kitschy art figure, a genie or naked cherub, a fairy tale figure (a little Guardian Angel), it is high time to restore the honor of the Angel as the strong and powerful one of God, the bearer of the message and justice of God.

The goal of the veneration of the Angels is:

a) the unleashing of the help of the Angel that is as powerful as it is necessary;

b) through this help of the Angel, the awakening of an intensified spiritual life.” (ibid.)

God gives grace to the little ones

Though this battle is worldwide and of enormous, eternal consequence for all souls, the frontline is not on the battlefields of the Ukraine or any other war zone. We do not read about it in the media, nor is it planned in the war rooms of our generals. This battle takes place in the inconspicuous situations and trials of everyday life. Though seemingly insignificant, too little to be detected by the “radar” of the enemy, it is precisely our little [but oh so difficult!] victories of self-conquest, patience, generosity, humility, self-giving love, active charity, etc., that fill the hands of the Angels with strength to defeat the enemy and win souls for God. Again and again we read in Scripture, God gives grace to the poor and lowly, to the contrite and humble (cf. 1 Pet 5:5, Prov 3:34, James 4:6, Ps 34:18), from St. Michael who cried out “Who is like God?”, to the poor shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, to our Blessed Mother who always lived and taught, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38); “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

It is a sheer outpouring of the love and mercy of God. It is truly so: The Lord passes over the rich and great and powerful ones of this world and stands still before very little, insignificant, common men of daily life, who with good will and with as much love and fidelity as possible fulfill their duty. He can act in this way, for He is sovereign in His holiness and majesty, in His omniscience and omnipotence. (Confraternity Letters)

Our daily trials, large and small, are therefore not indifferent. It is God, who in His wise and loving Providence, sends or allows these trials in order to give us an opportunity to prove our faith, fidelity and love for Him, and to gain merit for the good of the Church and souls (cf. 1 Pet 1:6-9). Whenever we accept the Cross out of love for God and souls, when we react properly to adversities and annoyances, we gain a victory for Christ and His Kingdom. Thus, the Holy Angels help us in this battle by training us in the spiritual life and in carrying the Cross. They enlighten us in the knowledge of God, His majesty, His mercy, His love, but also regarding His justice, and the necessity of prayer and penance; and they strengthen our will to live for God, to hear and obey His word, to accept His will and to commit ourselves to living for His Kingdom. They make us conscious of how we treat others, whether our tone is loving or perhaps angry, whether we are generous and giving or perhaps selfish. Mother Gabriele writes,

The light of the Angel enlightens man. It thus becomes light in the spirit of man, and he sees divine realities better than before, his knowledge of God becomes sharper, clearer, more living, more real. This clearer and greater knowledge of God awakens in man a greater reverence, humility and love. In this way, a fortified angelic help is unleashed for men against the pride and materialism of these times. Thus, through the Angel, man is led to a greater love for God and neighbor, to fidelity of faith, to humility, to striving for the truth and to a greater zeal for the salvation of souls. The Angel is an enemy to all sensation, to all that is extraordinary and blinding. He is the servant of God and obedient. He teaches this to man, and thus helps man to build up and consolidate the Kingdom of God. (Development 1956)

Through the consecrations, first to the Guardian Angel and then to all the Holy Angels, and our conscious living in communion with the Angels, they can more easily form and train us to cooperate with them in this great spiritual battle. We learn ever more to imitate them as our “elder brothers” who have already passed their own test, and want to help us to pass our “life test”. Out of their own great love for God, they want to lead us, above all, to our eternal goal, to union with God, to love Him with all our heart, to live for Him according to His will, to His glory and in His love. It is a great joy for the Angel to be able to present a soul to God at the end of its life, which has been saved also through the Angel’s own arduous efforts, in cooperation with the graces and mercy won by the one Mediator, Jesus Christ. For this purpose, the Angel was sent to earth as a Guardian, and those Angels who lose their protégés suffer in a certain sense a martyrdom (though they still eternally praise the justice of God). Thus, the Angels eagerly want to teach us from their own experience how to pass the great decisive trial of life, for or against God, and how we ourselves can cooperate in the salvation of other souls.

Learning from the Angels: reverence and prayer

One of the first lessons the Angels teach us is reverence before God Most Holy, in holy Fear of the Lord. Our reverence is expressed both exteriorly and interiorly in our manner of prayer. Man is body and soul. Our posture, especially before the Blessed Sacrament or at Holy Mass and Holy Communion, is an expression of our interior attitude toward God and of our faith in His real presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. But more importantly, our interior attentiveness of heart during prayer, being aware of the presence of God and speaking to Him from the heart, is at the essence of a prayer which stems from living faith.

If we love God, then we will also love to speak with God, then we will gladly speak with Him. If we have reverence before God, then our prayer must also be reverent. If we pray, then we must also think about what we say with our lips….

Holy God must always remain before our eyes as the One loved with longing, contemplated with awe, adored with most profound reverence. In this, the holy Angel is a model for us. How much the majesty and holiness of God is reflected in the reverence of the holy Angels! …Let us open ourselves wholly for the working of the holy Angels as mediators between the holiness of God and the striving for perfection of man in the fundamental attitude of being before God and of acting before God! Like the holy Angel, we should stand before God in adoration and let Holy God radiate from our heart like a light; let us be a model of the Fear of the Lord before a world without faith.” (Confraternity Letters)

Thus, our prayer, when arising from living faith, is a silent witness before the world of the existence of God. Prayer must spring from faith and it will also then strengthen our faith. The holy Angels want to lead us to greater interiority and recollection in prayer. Our living contact with God and the Angels is always through the gateway of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a beautiful exposition of the paths of Christian prayer, which is well worth reading in its entirety, perhaps as a Lenten resolution (CCC 2558 – 2865). It points out that in the Gospels, Jesus Himself teaches us to pray with the filial prayer of the New Covenant, which involves not only faith, but also conversion of heart.

From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one’s brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else (cf. Mt 5 and 6)…

Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to ‘seek’ and to ‘knock,’ since He Himself is the door and the way (cf. Mt 7:7). (CCC 2608-2609)

The willing surrender of Jesus to the Father

Thus, praying as sons in the Beloved Son, we pray with faith and trust that God will give us all that we ask through the merits of Christ, provided we are first surrendered to His will after the example of Jesus. For the union of our will with God is prior to, that is, more important than all our other petitions. Thus, in the Agony in the Garden Jesus prays, “If it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me…” This petition sprung from His natural, sensitive appetite which shrank from death, but His will was always united with the Father. Thus He adds, “Father, not My will but Yours be done” (cf. Lk 22:42; cf. St. Thomas commentary on Heb 5:7). “Before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One [the Father] who in giving, gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift” (CCC 2604).

Though the prayer of Jesus was seemingly unanswered because He did indeed suffer and die, to the contrary we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that the prayer of Jesus “was heard for His godly fear. Son though He was, He learned [i.e. experienced] obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb 5:9). That is to say, the prayer of Jesus was answered by the Father not by saving His earthly life, but by the gift of eternal life and glory in the Resurrection, first for His own humanity, and then also, for all who are united to Him in faith and love through grace. By His death, He merited their salvation and ultimate resurrection, which was the true petition and will of the Father in the Garden. This was the much greater gift that the Father gives in answer to the prayer of Jesus, according to His loving plan for humanity.

Just as “the whole prayer of Jesus is contained in this loving adherence of His human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father (cf. Eph 1:9)” (CCC 2603), so too we want to learn to pray. The holy Angels who always behold the Face of the Heavenly Father in heaven and read from there His will (cf. Mt 18:10), are in this also models of prayer for us. They teach us to pray not only with confidence, but also with faith that the Father hears and answers every prayer according to the most wise and loving ways of His Providence, even though perhaps not in a way we expect. He always gives us what is best, though it may not seem “best” to us in our limited vision. Thus, “the prayer of faith consists not only in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father (Mt 7:21). Jesus calls His disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the Divine Plan (cf. Mt 9:38).” (CCC 2611).

Surrendering to God’s love in dark faith

Yet, this conformity with the divine will is often a very hard battle, which requires a spiritual dying to self. And this battle against ourselves, so to say, must be fought often in our prayer, just as Jacob wrestled with the Angel (Gen 32:25-31) and Jesus Himself sweat Blood from the intensity of His struggle in the Garden (Lk 22:44). The Angels help us in this battle by reminding us of God’s very great mercy and love, of His wisdom and foresight. In one way of the Cross which Mother Gabriele herself experienced when pleading for the life of her husband, which was not the will of God, she too is discouraged and feels she cannot go on, she cannot follow Jesus as He carries the Cross before her (and hiddenly, with her!). It is too hard. She stays behind.

Then the Lord turns around. He too remains standing; He looks at the helpless soul and says lovingly, “Do you not believe that I will help you? Do you believe that I would leave you alone in your affliction? Do you not know what fidelity is? Have you forgotten that I love you?” (Struggling with God, 3rd station)

The Lord is patient with our struggling to accept His will, and the Angel leads us step by step to see beyond our own suffering and to believe in His love, to believe in the eternal values for which Jesus asks us to carry the Cross with Him. When we, for example, plead for the physical life of a loved one, God in His providence perhaps wants us to accept the sacrifice to save a soul from a grave sin or eternal damnation, perhaps the soul of someone very dear to us, or the soul of a priest or bishop. Perhaps by taking one family member to Himself, the Lord wakes up the others to the state of their soul. The Lord invites us,

“Offer yourself for them to the heavenly Father. Wherever you find spiritual affliction or death, walk with Me on the Way of the Cross for them, fall over them with Me, in that you hold out your life to God for them; offer My Blood to the heavenly Father for them, in that you do not shrink back from any sacrifice in order to help their souls. Do you want this?” (8th station)

But we are not so easily convinced, and the renunciation of self is hard, being silent, for example, when accused, giving in during an argument, or forgiving something which has deeply wounded us. Moreover, in our struggle, the enemy is always near at hand to remind us of our “rights”, of our advantage, of what we stand to lose. He whispers so convincingly according to human prudence, “Are you crazy? Do you want to expiate yourself to death, and what for? …What do you gain by it? Do you think you can save even one of these people with your little strength? Perhaps you do not know what habitual sins are” (9th Station).

Struggling through to God

It is a struggle in dark faith, which often demands a dying to this world, a heart-wrenching sacrifice, that we may live more and more for God alone. The grace is there, but we must accept it, we must pronounce our “yes” to God’s will in full trust and surrender.

Then the voice of the Lord is near the soul, “Why are you weeping? Is the sacrifice I require of you too great? What is more important to you, God or man? I shall wait for your answer.” The eleventh Station is a dying and becoming silent before the will of God.

In human wisdom, we think that in sacrificing, in giving-in, in forgiving, in dying to self we are the losers. But our Angel wants to open our eyes for the wisdom of God, which leads us through death finds eternal life. We can ask him to open our eyes, to help us see things in God’s light! “Holy Angel, help me to act as Jesus would have me act, to respond as Mary would!” Our Lord teaches us, “He that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it. For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (Mt 16:25-26) Only when we struggle through to accept personally the will of God concerning us will we find the consoling peace and joy of union with God, already in this life! Mother Gabriele often said, a half-sacrifice only burns and hurts. We must give all with a generous yes!

The twelfth Station is the “Yes!” “SOLI DEO!” (For God alone!) It is the victory of God in the struggle and the opening wide of His Heart, from which Our Lord Jesus Christ covers and floods every “Yes” of man with His infinite fullness of grace, love and consolation!

Practicing silence of heart: the Yes of Mary

Mary is our model of this filial prayer of the New Covenant, which begins with holy surrender to the will of the Father. The ‘yes’ she spoke at the Annunciation was spoken in the obscurity of faith; similarly, she “died” with her Son spiritually beneath the Cross. Only in this way did her sacrifice bear fruit, only in this way did she become the co-Redemptrix and the Mother of us all in the order of grace. “In the faith of His humble handmaid, the Gift of God found the acceptance He had awaited from the beginning of time. She whom the Almighty made ‘full of grace’ responds by offering her whole being: …“Fiat!” This is Christian prayer: to be wholly God’s, because He is wholly ours” (CCC 2617).

In teaching us how to pray, the Angel therefore calls us first to silence of heart and desire, to listening for the will of God, to accepting and adhering to His will, even in the face of the Cross. It is precisely through the Cross, that he leads us according to the plan of God to heaven. “The nearer we come to the Angel, so much more inexorably but lovingly does he lead us to the Cross. The Cross is our guide, our secure ladder, to heaven. The Guardian Angel leads us along this way. The Angel as well as man are before the Cross learning, contemplating, proving themselves” (Readings, Fall 1962).

In order to be able to accept and follow our personal way of the Cross, however, we must regularly allow time for holy silence of heart, for resting in God in prayer.

Room should be made for this silence, a time and place, for each of us without exception. It is not possible to form a norm, because every life follows a different course. But in the daily life of each, there should be room for holy silence, preferably before the Tabernacle, where the Lord has wrapped Himself in the silent Bread…. In this silence, we will become clear-sighted for what God wants to communicate to us, we will become sharp-eared for what God wills of us. God wills that we become Saints, each in his place, but everyone at the hand of Mary and the Angels, through holy silence. (Mother Gabriele, Texts on silence)

Especially now in this season of Lent, but also throughout the whole year, our Blessed Mother and the Holy Angels want to lead us in this way of prayerful silence which listens for and struggles with the help of God’s grace to accept the will of God in dark faith, so that His will may be the rule and measure of our life.

O heavenly Mother! Let us learn the secret of the way of the Cross! Let us learn, that passing the trial of one’s life consists in dying – also dying in spiritual self-renunciation. Let us understand, that there is only one Will – that of the Father; that there is only one Truth – that of the Son; that there is only one Light – that of the Spirit; that there is only one answer – the ‘Yes’ of the Mother, who said it for us all, and will say it for every single one of us at the hour of our death. Amen. (W of C, Under the Veil of Mary)   

(SMB)

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