Association of Priests

Vol. XVI, December 2010

“… sent to patrol the earth” (Zac 1:10)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last letters we took a first look at the particular angel of the Prophet Zachariah; we considered his way of communicating and also looked at the other persons present and how they communicated. Now we want to look at the concrete occasion and what he said.

“I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.

Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with [in] me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’

And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, `We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’” (Zachariah 1:8-11)

We still have to ask more pointedly: who are these individuals and what they were doing?

1. Who is there?

The “Angel who talked with [in] me”, is the heavenly instructor of the Prophet assigned by God to help him in his task or mission. Cornelius a Lapide calls him even his “Custodian”. Then Zachariah saw “a man riding upon a red horse … standing among the myrtle trees in the glen” (Zac 1:8) and different colored horses. It is implicit that it is a question of the symbolic value of the horse by which the quality and mission of the angelic servants of the Lord associated with them may be recognized.

a) The context. To understand the vision, we have to refer to what Zacarias mentioned before. The Lord let the prophet know, that He “was very angry with (the) fathers” (Zac 1:3). But He gave them a chance to convert, and “they repented” (Zac 1:6). It seems obvious that God will check how sincere the resolution was and if they remain firm in it. God does not do this Himself. He assigns this task to some of His faithful and trustworthy servants. Whether this figure is “commander of the army of the Lord” (Jos 5:14), who, in turn, may be St. “Michael, the great prince who has charge of [the Chosen] people” (Dan 12:1) is a matter of speculation. Just as Gabriel received the help of St. Michael and subsequently sent out other angels to purge the City, so here too, the principle angels does not act alone, but has other helpers. Again, we can read in the Book of Revelation where St. “Michael and his angels” (Rev 12:7) were fighting. Thus, Zachariah saw “a man riding” and the horses, three months after the confrontation of God and his people. “These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth” (Zac 1:10), to see if they observed their promised conversion.

b) The group. Such a small group we met already in the time of the prophet Ezekial (597 B. C.), “executioners of the city…six men … every man with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side” (Ez 9:1-2). Here in the vision of Zachariah (520-515 B. C.) we find four angels. Some want to see in them principalities who are in charge of four kingdoms and, therefore, sent to their district, to Assyria and Chaldea, to Media and Persia. However, the Scripture is more generic when it says: “These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” And afterwards they state: “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.” (1:8-11; cf. also 7:2-3) It is not surprising because God has entrusted to their care all material world, that is “all the earth” (cf. St. Augustin and St. Thomas). This seems to be their sphere of activity on other occasions as well: The Book of Revelation speaks of a similar group of four, “standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev 7:1). Jesus asserts that it will be He Himself Who will send out “His angels” to “gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt 24:30-31).

Common to these situations is the call to the judgment: One leading commander sends a group of servants or executioners out into the four directions, finally all over the earth. Here the angels are servants of God’s justice, of God’s sincerity in asking account for man’s decision before Him. This does not refer to the individual man, but to nations, to the whole earth (cf. Gen 2:10; Mt 13:41; 2Thess 1:6-10). Accordingly, it is not a constant task, but one for an appointed time.

2. The patrol

Zachariah received from “the man who was standing among the myrtle trees” the information: “These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” They were sent out by the Lord Himself. In this moment, they returned from their mission and “and they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest’.” This task of the angels and their result reveals much to us about the holy angels.

a) They are present. A patrol passes through its designated territory. The important part is to be present, to show up again and again, to make their presence known and felt. Through their presence their commander is also efficiently present. It is a sign of care, of interest, of valorization and esteem. The responsible wants to be with them and, therefore, offers to dispose his means and power to them. Normally, there is always the good in mind, to prevent evil and to offer help, in short to be present for whatever need there could be. – This we have to say also of the holy angels: They are present. Their presence is a sign of God’s love and care for men. They are present to men’s help.

b) They are controlling. The patrolling has also the task to control the territory entrusted to them. They have to check if everywhere the given law and established rules are observed. That adds to the presence the duty of exact observation. This may be unaccommodating for some, namely those who have wrong intentions; but it inspires tranquility to those who seek what is right. If they pass through their area without remark, one may surmise a kind of approval with respect to the conduct of the people. It is a practical confirmation of the compliance with orders set down by the one in authority. – This is true too about the presence of angels in our life. They are the watching eye of God. The humility in accepting corrections is a very welcomed openness for the angels. Knowing that the angels want to lead us just closer to God, we should desire and ask for their “patrolling presence” in our life.

c) They correct. We should not find it strange when the patrol really stops here or there, starts to talk with one person or another. Disharmony, disorder calls for an investigation; and where it is found, there they interfere and correct. Through their ministerial intervention, neither mistake nor errors, neither misbehavior nor disturbance will last long nor infects many, provided the people collaborate with them. The immediate perception and corrective action will cut off the evil at its beginning. – The holy angels are such patrol in human life. They are, from this point of view, the helping and uplifting arm of God. When we are about to make a mistake, then we will perceive the angels’ warning in our conscience. Where we are too weak, when we have to state with St. Paul: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19), then we need the patrolling angels present, we need to be corrected and helped by them.

d) They secure. A patrol, of course, has also the authority and capacity to act against anything contrary to peace, therefore, their controlling and correcting presence inspires confidence and security among the people. This creates peace in the area. Even if they would never need to interfere actually, their presence alone already prevents situations where otherwise they would need to enter into action or to call for further help. If there is no need to act, not today, nor tomorrow nor the day after, that does not mean that their presence was superfluous, unnecessary and could be dispensed with. Their very presence clears the atmosphere in such a way that the evil will not even grow up. – This we have to say then also of the holy angels: They are present. And their presence has already the effect to keep the good away from bad situations and to diminish the enemy’s power to attack us. Their presence creates peace.

3. The angels attract men

In the mission, to which the prophet refers, the patrolling angels returned with the statement: “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.” (1:8-11) The people had really converted, and there was no reason any more for the Lord being “very angry” (1:2).

It was God who had judged, who was angry, who had call for their conversion and had sent the angels to check things out. The Chosen People, in a way, understood, what St. Paul later wrote to St. Timothy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without favor, doing nothing from partiality” (1Tim 5:21). The apostle reminds Saint Timothy of the presence of God and His angels. Their presence should keep us from sin. Jesus warns: “And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Lk 12:8-9). We should consider what it means, when Jesus will not present us any longer to the holy Angels, namely, when they are actually withdraw from us! Who can imagine our helplessness and mistakes we would soon be falling into!

This presence and mission of the angels should awaken in us, first of all, confidence. Their presence causes security and peace. We may also fittingly recall that not only God sends them out to check and prepare us for the judgment, but also that they are waiting to be called upon by us too. A priest who really lived with the angels, Fr. Lamy, said:

We direct ourselves too little to the angels, we invoke them rarely, often we do not give them thanks when they bring us the help from heaven and intercede for a grace. We have to learn to call upon them as much as possible, at every moment of the day; we have to learn to feel them closer to ourselves, ready to run for our needs, ready to run for our help and to counsel us.

May this experience, described by the Prophet, encourage us to do so.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

We can draw two beautiful lessons from this text: Conversion leads to the union with God; and, in God’s presence we find peace.

The liturgy of Advent invites us to conversion first, then wants to lead us to this peace through God-with-us, Emmanuel. May the Lord grant both all of us on this holy season!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC