Association of Priests

Vol. XVI, July 2010

The remembrance of the angel in Jacob’s life (cf. Hos 12:4).

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

After the grace of the two years specially dedicated to St. Paul and the Priesthood, we are invited to go back to discover the greatness of what we are accustomed to call “the normal life”. We had concluded the reflections on the angels in the book of Daniel. The first of the twelve minor prophets, Hosea, refers once to the holy angels. He speaks about Jacob and recalls that “he strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with him—the Lord the God of hosts” (Hos 12:4-5). As the prophet looked to the past, so we do well to recall that, already in the Old Testament and by a prophet, the combat of Jacob was understood as a struggle with an angel (cf. Circ. II, Nov.). We first want to ask, why does man like to look back and remember past events as Hosea does here?

1. Facts and reasons

Many former cultures lived by the living tradition of past events; it was a necessity for human life. We recall the strong petition of God—“These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them” (Dt 6:6-8)—in times when people could not read and write. This handing-on of the word was still important throughout many centuries in Christianity, and it is still today an important moment in man’s formation and in Catechesis (cf. General Directory for Catechesis, p. 3, ch. 2).

a) To look back is natural.

We all are marked by our past, having benefited from the efforts and contributions of many other people, our parents and teachers, neighbors and friends. With all that, along with our own contribution, we move into the future. No one can stand alone. Our Holy Father made this very clear:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. ... 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” (cf. Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 48; cf. 13-15, 28-29).

We are influenced by the past and have an inestimable heritage, all that humanity has achieved up till now. But, we do not automatically develop as if we were carried on by time like a piece of wood floating on the river. The Holy Father says: “Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods” (Ibid., 28). We are in time, but free. It is up to us to use our time for good or bad. It is up to us to learn and benefit from the accomplishments of our fathers, spiritual and intellectual more than material. But the first step is to become aware of the past and keep it alive in our memory. To recall the past, in a universal or personal sense, is natural to human beings; in order to be fruitful it requires the most fundamental virtue of humility. Only with humility does man recognize that he received many things in the past, even himself, from God the Creator. On the contrary, the proud do not want to know of their past or of their origin in God, and the first of them, the devil, tries for all eternity to do just one thing, to flee from his origin which is God.

b) To look back is asked by the angels.

The pure spirits, the holy angels recall the past in their instructions to men. After the resurrection of Jesus angels appeared to the women and said: “He is not here; for He has risen, as He said” (Mt 28:6). Or, according St. Mark: “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He told you.” (Mk 16:7). To memorize and then remember is not just a question of methodology as we see with St. Raphael. He asked Tobias, “Do you not remember the words with which your father commanded you to take a wife from among your own people?” (Tob 6:15), and later recommended to Tobit and Tobias to recall the marvelous facts of the past which God had done in their life. “It is good to guard the secret of a king, but gloriously to reveal the works of God.” Then, the angel himself revealed to them the secret of the past to glorify GOD before them and to encourage them to trust still more in the power of their prayer and in the attentiveness of GOD: “When you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you. When you … I was with you. So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, … now give thanks to God,” and “Write in a book everything that has happened,” (Tob 12:6-7, 11-17, 20) in other words, write your memories! Is this not what Hosea did, recalling an incident in the life of one of the Fathers of the Chosen People!

The angel recalls facts from the past and gives deeper insights: he shows the presence of the angels. Then he gives the reasons, why he looked back and why they should look back: First, it leads to thanksgiving towards God. Secondly, they should recall and record it even by writing, so that many others will recognize the marvels of God. Thirdly, they allow us to be guided to the same goal: to praise and glorify God.

c) Jesus looked back and asked the disciples to give testimony of the past.

Also Jesus justifies the events in His life, especially His death and resurrection, with the writings of the past: “’Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted for them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk 24:26-27). And a bit further “He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, … You are witnesses of these things’.” (Lk 24:44-49). This is so serious for the true apostleship that Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit as One Who will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26; cf. 15:26-27). St. Peter stipulated the capacity to witness to the past as condition for the successor of Judas (cf. Acts 1:21-22).

We can say, St. Raphael's command "Write in a book everything that has happened," "echoes" down to our days. Many Saints wrote their autobiography by divine will (cf. The Little Flower, St. Faustina, Bl. Dina Bélanger, etc). One of many reasons for this is given by St. Ignatius of Loyola: He counsels to recall former experiences of consolations in times of spiritual desolation (cf. Spiritual Exercises, n. 318-320: 5th to 7th rules of discernment).

2. Past and present – united in persons

All these aspects and reasons gain force when we distinguish between memories of facts and memories of persons and their actions, and again between persons of the past and of the present. We remember past events and persons involved mainly to learn and become prudent through the experience or history.

Are the persons still alive, then we refer to them either to honor them or to be warned in their regard. If such a person even hears about our grateful memory, then he not only feels honored, but somehow obliged to conduct himself in a similar fashion in the future.

This is especially important in our relationship with God. He is always present, always the same. Whoever He was in the past, He will be so also in the future, and what Jesus once did, He desires to pour out his goodness upon us. The gratitude awakened by recalling his past goodness towards us, disposes us in the present hour to receive more of the same. Our grateful memory pleases Him so much, that He is willing to show Himself again with His love and goodness (that is a secondary but important effect of gratefulness).

The memory of past deeds plays a common role in the prayers of the Old Testament. Let us take for example, what Our Lady said in her Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, … He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Lk 1:47-55). This reference to GOD, first of all, honors Him. It points out His greatness and His goodness towards us. This “makes” Him turn “towards us” in a further outpouring of benevolence: The commemoration of his past goodness proclaims that in truth, even now too He is generous, attentive, faithful and for this reasons, we hope and confide that He will continue to act benevolent in our behalf. - Humanly speaking, this relationship is well expressed in our response to someone who says, “Thank you!” We respond: “You are welcome!”.

This reflection throws a great light upon Our Lord’s command to the Apostles and to priests: “Do this in memory of Me!”, namely: When the apostles repeat in His name and by His explicit order what He had done and explicitly commissioned them to dothrough their ordination, then Christ assures us, that He will do again what the words mean. And, therefore, when Jesus says again the words of Consecration in and through His priests, then He says them again with the same ardent love as He did two millennia ago in the Upper Room, and with the same effect.

3. The priests’ “Spirituality of remembrance”

In his last letter to priests, shortly before his final journey home to God, John Paul II meditated on the words of the Consecration. Perhaps we may understand the entire letter as his (last) will for us priests.

“Jesus said: ‘Do this in memory of me’. The Eucharist does not simply commemorate a fact; it commemorates Him! Through his daily repetition in persona Christi of the words of the ‘memorial’, the priest is invited to develop a ‘spirituality of remembrance’. At a time when rapid social and cultural changes are weakening the sense of tradition and leading the younger generation especially to risk losing touch with their roots, the priest is called to be, within the community entrusted to him, the man who faithfully remembers the entire mystery of Christ: prefigured in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New, and understood ever more deeply, under the guidance of the Spirit, as Jesus explicitly promised: ‘He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (Jn 14:26).” (Letter to Priests, 2005)

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

How great a mystery is the history of Christ’s life – in its historicity in His own heart and in His presence in us. How often He wants to teach, cure, console or listen through us today. He calls us to share in a special moment, and we do not understand it. How often have we left Him alone, did we leave His call unanswered! His nearness should attract us, strengthens us. As His love flows in us and all fear will be expelled. Let us draw nearer to Him that He can draw nearer to us. Only in Him can we find our true self and priestly identity.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC