Association of Priests

Vol. XVI, September 2010

“The angel who spoke with me!” (Zac 1:9)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We mentioned in the last Circular the strong presence of the angles in the prophet Zachariah, not so much in the sense that he discusses a variety of the angels, but rather in his express interaction with them. One reference sticks out: nearly a dozen times he mentioned “the angel who spoke with me”.

1. Angels and Prophets – faithful companions?

From other prophets too we hear about their special angelic companions. The most direct promise of angelic assistance was given by God to the greatest prophet, to Moses in his mission as leader of the people of Israel. The Church reads it in the Liturgy on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. God said to him:

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice..., if you…do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies. (Ex 23:20-22)

God commands an Angel in favor of man, to guard and guide. According the last phrase, God seems to have especially the defense against the enemies in mind, “then I will be an enemy to your enemies….” He does His part and reasonably expects man to do his part: listening and attending the angel’s orientation. In view of the priest’s prophetic and leadership roles in the Church, we may apply the foregoing to the parish and so consider the angel very much part of the “community of the Rectory” – God and angel and priest.

In the prophesy of Ezekiel we find various similarities to Zachariah. One is his guidance by an angel through the sanctuary, the temple of God:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me in the visions of God into the land of Israel… There was a man, whose appearance was like bronze… Te man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you; declare all that you see to the house of Israel”. (Ez 40:1-4; cf. Circ XIII, 2; Dan 8:15-20; Circ XIII, 10-11)

Here the angel’s guidance is prophetic or instructional and is given also for the instruction of the people, who need to hear the Word of God, God’s Will. Witness to this are the prophet and the angel. This dimension of the priestly mission gives the communion of priest and angel another importance (cf. Ez 3:16-21) and makes it very helpful.

Also the prophetical book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse of Saint John, begins with a reference to an Angel: “The revelation of Jesus Christ… made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1). In a former Circular (XV, 11) we linked this text to Christ’s foretelling persecutions, whereby He also promised a special help:

When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Mt 10:19-20)

Recall that the holy angels are rightly considered servants of the Holy Spirit, even as the apostles are servants of Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

2. Divine pedagogy

The repetition of such facts and incidents in many works of Scripture invite us to ponder the matter more deeply and draw some basic conclusions.

a) The theological basis for analogy

We accept that God created all according His mind and will. That is the reason why we find His print in the entire creation. With St. Thomas, we distinguish different traces: in those closer to God a greater and clearer similarity and a less evident trace in lower creatures in the scale of being. All things, though, resemble God and, in consequence, “all things desire God as their end” (Summa Theo. I, q. 44, a. 4 ad 3). This applies to the being of all creatures; and all creatures are to achieve their end in accordance and harmony with their nature. In the case of angels and men, created in the image and likeness of God, and so endowed with intellect and free will, the law of their return to God requires their collaboration, and so this law is necessarily a moral law, requiring choices in love (cf. CCC 311).

Now, God made Himself known to us as “Father” and “Son” in Sacred Scripture: “No one has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). He also revealed Himself to mankind by creating man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-28; cf. Summa Theo. I, q. 36, a. 3 ad 1). Through the father-son-relationship He implicitly reveals to us something from the Bosom of the Blessed Trinity, of the relationship between the first and second Person.

b) Applications

Enriched by the revelation of the Blessed Trinity in the New Testament, fruitfully reflect anew on various truths in the OT. For example, we read in the book of Tobit about Tobit’s fatherly care for His son; this can be understand as a reflection of the Innertrinitarian life of love:

Tobit…called [his son Tobias] and said, “My son…do not neglect your mother... Remember the Lord our God all your days, my son... Live uprightly all the days of your life… Let me explain to you about the ten talents of silver which I left in trust with Gabael the son of Gabrias at Rages in Media…” Then Tobias answered him, “Father, I will do everything that you have commanded me; but how can I obtain the money when I do not know the man?” Then Tobit…said to him, “Find a man to go with you and …get the money.” (Tob 4:1, 3, 5, 20; 5:1-3).

As we know, God helped here and sent the Angel Raphael to help Tobit’s son. – Beyond this historic fact, the story practically becomes a palpable parable of how the FATHER will send His SON on a salvific mission and help Him through the angels. From the Father proceeds eternally the Son and from both the Holy Spirit. And in time, when the Father sent the Son, He will also anoint Him, assist Him by the Holy Spirit. To this we refer when we pray at mass after the Agnus Dei: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, by the Will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit (cooperante Spiritu Sancto) Your death brought life to the World”. Again: as men share in the mission of Christ, so too angels share in a special way in the mission of the Holy Spirit.

c) Confirmation

We find this lesson reflected frequently in the life of Jesus Himself. At the annunciation we read for the first time: "The angel said to [Our Lady]... "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High [the Father] will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). At the beginning of His public life we read: When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. (Lk 3:21). "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil" (Lk 4:1) "And the angels were ministering to him" (Mk 1,13). And again, "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee... He came to Nazareth...went to the synagogue...opened the book and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me'" (Lk 4:14,16-18). And at the end, when He prayed to His Father, He sent Him "an angel from heaven, strengthening him" (Lk 22:42-43).

The repeated link between the Spirit and the angels in the life of Jesus confirms what we observed: God comes to the aid of His prophets and ministers (inasmuch as representatives of the Son) through the angels who are representatives of the Holy Spirit.

3. … in our priestly life

May these short reflections suffice to strengthen our faith and confidence in the presence of the angels in our priestly ministry.

a) The prophet Zachariah spoke of an “angel who talked with” him. The other prophets were assisted. Tobias and Jesus (who became like us in all things but sin) experienced their help and assistance: The Angels point to the steps to make on the way, strengthen in suffering, assist in dangerous confrontations with human or spiritual enemies, confirm the grace of God and assistance of heaven. “God is with us!” We can trust in His assistance through the holy angels wherever we serve Him, whenever we fulfill His holy Will and work for His glory. By His grace we are enabled to correspond to His expectations and live our priesthood.

b) The prophets evidently had received extraordinary “locutions” from God in their day. We too, on a more modest level, are obliged to be attentive to the lights and admonitions of the Spirit which come to us via the Holy Angels. The angelic help is at our disposal both in our prophetic (teaching) ministry as well as in the sacramental (sanctifying) mission. The holy angels will not abandon us, neither in the administration of the sacraments, nor in ordinary priestly services: they bring thoughts to our mind in meditation and in prayer, in the preparations of homilies, they arrange what we call “coincidences”. They help us meeting the right persons in the right moments, unexpected helpers.

St. Thomas, the angelic Doctor, says: “Man’s spiritual life … is fellowship between us and God and the angels, vita hominis spiritualis secundum mentem … est nobis conversatio et cum Deo et cum Angelis, imperfectly indeed in this present state of life, wherefore it is written (Phil 3:20): ‘Our conversation is in heaven’. But this conversation will be perfected in heaven, when His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face (Rev 22:3-4)” (Summa Theo. II-II, 23, 1 ad 1). Let us “seek God through our similarity to the good angels” (St. Augustine, City of GOD, VIII, 25).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

It is not so extraordinary what we read about the angelic assistance granted to the prophets. If we just live in the world but not with it (cf. Jn 17:14-16), and seek God in prayer, our ‘spiritual antennae’ is extended, and so we are disposed to their inspiring light at every moment. Often the origin of these insights goes unperceived; we receive them instantaneously while giving homilies, at in being directed to people in need. We receive thoughts for counseling we never knew before. And aided through the angels, we can respond to dangers in the parish or community. All these things and more occur, if we just call upon the Holy Spirit and His servants, the holy angels. What a life full of adventure we will find! How much more grace filled vocation will become! What an effective we may give of all we say! May the Lord grant this abundantly to all of us through His servants and our brothers, the holy Angels.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC