The Association of Priests in the Opus Angelorum is for those who feel called by God to pastorally assist the faithful of the OA in their region and/or for those who want to find some spiritual support in their priestly ministry through clerical reunions of prayer and retreats. The monthly Circular Letter with meditations on the angels in Scripture is intended as an (unofficial) instrument of common formation and as a help towards deeper communion with the holy angels and among ourselves. It is directed to all bishops, priests and deacons who are particularly interested in collaborating with the holy angels and to the members of the Association itself.
Our next text on the angels in the Gospel of St. Luke is found in the famous parables of God’s most generous mercy towards sinners. God’s forgiving mercy and love flow down to all: they transform the repentant tax collectors and sinners, who receive it will gratitude; they are blocked by the judgmental and self-righteous Pharisees and scribes. “The tax collectors and sinners” were drawing near to listen to Jesus, and “the Pharisees and scribes” complained and criticized Jesus because He “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15,1-2). With these parables Jesus wished to make us understand His and the Father’s mercy. Only the second parable makes an explicit reference to the angels. The short parable is this:
What woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Lk 15:8-10)
The mercy of God is a constant challenge and aggravation for the Pharisees (cf. e. g. Lk 5:30-32). Let us divide this parable into three circles in order to understand it better: 1) the coin is lost and the woman searches for it; 2) having found it the woman wants her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her; and finally 3) there are the Pharisees and scribes on the one hand and the jubilant angels on the other.
In the center of the parable we find the one lost coin and the woman who is seeking for it.
To appreciate the greatness of mercy and forgiveness, it is necessary to understand the terrible effects of sin. Everything we do affects our relationship with God, with our neighbors and, of course, ourselves.
What initially appears as a gain, ends up bringing this threefold loss:
- Sin is a disobedience to the Will of God with the consequence that men disassociates himself from God as we read: Adam and Eve, “the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God” (Gen 3:8).
- Whoever withdraws himself from God or is against him ends up moving away from others as well and is against them. We see this in Cain, whose unworthy sacrifice did not stop there, but “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4:8).
- And finally, sin isolates the sinner within himself, like the coin that is lost somewhere, and no one knows where; St. Raphael said: “Those who commit sin are the enemies of their own lives” (RVS Tob 12:10).
Sin means the loss of God; it brings separation from men and eventually leads the sinner to the isolation of himself!
c) Saint Ambrose comments briefly on the three parables of mercy in this vein: Jesus Christ, as Shepherd, carries you upon His body; the Church seeks you, as the woman does; and God receives you, as the father: the first is mercy, the second help, the third reconciliation (cf. St. Thomas, Catena aurea, in Lk 15).
Therefore, it is the Holy Spirit in and through the Church who is seeking for the sinners. Jesus said: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold”; we may specify, who do not only “not yet” belong to this fold, but who belonged to it, at least, originally in Adam, and then separated themselves from it. And “these also I must lead, and they will hear my voice” (Jn 10:16). Pope Benedict was very firm when he insisted: “In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ.” (Verbum Domini, 95; cf. Gal 6:10). Each one has infinite value. He or she is not just one of many who could be forgotten as in the parable, where there are still nine coins left. No, each one is unique and with an immortal soul. When St. Paul asked: “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hb 1:14), he did not count how many there were to be saved. Everyone that is lost is an eternal loss.
According to the parable, the woman found the coin which was lost. And this should be cause of joy!
To have found the coin meant such a joy to the woman that she went and called “together her friends and neighbors and (said) to them, ‘Rejoice with me…’” It is a mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ for “if (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26), for “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” (Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 48). The responsible woman, like the God of love and Mother Church, reached out, sought and found what has been lost and wants all to join in her joy. We priests are Servants of Mercy and, therefore, the first messengers of joy in this darkening world and time of growing depression; we are ordained to be messengers of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
In this time of mercy all of us are filled with joy about the great love of God which is particularly manifest in the sacrament of forgiveness.
GOD’s forgiving love and the mercy which the Son of God merited on the Cross want to bring the grace of forgiveness and the joy of life into the thrice sad effect of sin. We servants of mercy were certainly often allowed to perceive, even in the confessional, behind the screen ( behind the screen), the joy in the hearts of the faithful after the absolution from their sins. Sins are a burden on the soul. Grave sinners are often helpless like a “paralytic” or blind. Forgiveness takes the sin away and brings life and joy like that of a sick person who can get up again. Through forgiveness sinners can, “somehow”, breathe again and even find joy in the presence of God. And we priests are the ministers of this ‘miracle’. Even though God alone can forgive, we priests are honored to say each time we absolve a soul from sins: “God, the Father of mercy, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” Then we continue “in the person of Christ”: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the descending love of God to the lowly, the poor, the sinners which brings forgiveness and the joy of new life in union with God.
It needs a Saint to make the following statement, as it seems too great for us to say it: “Priests have received from God a power that he has given neither to angels nor to archangels. ... God above confirms what priests do here below.” (St. John Chrysostom; cf. CCC 983) Herewith we come finally to the circle, the one gathered around the entire parable, as it were: to the stubborn Pharisees and scribes whom the Lord addressed the parable, and to the rejoicing angels of God in Heaven.
The immense grace of God’s mercy falls upon stony hearts in the case of the Pharisees. They set righteousness against goodness, justice against charity, law against life. Jesus makes this still clearer in the third parable which is taken from human life: the younger and the elder son plead their case in terms of justice: “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” And, “all these years I served you… yet you never…” (Lk 15:12.29). The father could just answer: “Everything I have is yours. But … your brother was dead and has come to life again” (v. 31-32)! It is true that the Lord said: “Do not give what is holy to dogs” (Mt 7:6); but, he also said: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
How much more vigorously could the angels have argued along these lines: Yet, how often do they knock on the door of sinners, asking them to open their hearts to God’s mercy! With untold labors far exceeding our own, they are indefatigable servants of God’s mercy, but are rejected in behalf of sinful mankind! They do not plead the case of avenging justice before God but simply plead for mercy: “the angel of the Lord spoke out and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you be without mercy for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that have felt your anger these seventy years?’" (Zech 1,12)!
When finally, for whatever reason, a soul opens up to God in repentance, even if it is late, that is a cause for joy among the angels. Yes, it is like a reward for their long effort, but this aspect is really secondary to the angels. The main reason for their joy is rooted in God Himself! From the very beginning of mankind, the angels see in man the image of their God! They look at man’s life always in relation to man’s call to be an image of God. Man’s every moral action renders man more brilliant or less beautiful; more splendid or darkens him. They see sin especially in relation to the Beauty and perfection of God, letting it shine more or covering and deforming it before the other creatures. Repentance, followed by divine forgiveness cleanses the image of God in man through the blood of Jesus, the divine Redeemer, and even brings forth the new and even newer splendor of God in the soul. And this causes the angels to rejoice over God’s restored presence in the souls!
We priests can easily fall into the pharisaic attitude too, asking for justice and reward for our effort. The holy angels correct this view: They turn us first to God and remind us that He is the source and goal of all. They seek to motivate us in view of God’s goodness and merciful love, (and not to ask for more reward than he himself received while on earth). They recall to mind the words of Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). To the “seventy (-two) who returned rejoicing… Jesus said, ‘… rejoice because your names are written in heaven'.” (Lk 10:17,20)
Temptation is always close by, as “sin is a demon lurking at the door” (Gen 4:7). If we keep close to the holy angels and faithfully seek the lost souls, be it by prayer and sacrifices, be it by visiting and calling, being available for forgiveness in the confessional, we will not fail to rejoice, already, with the angels, for he who works for the Lord rejoices over the increase of His kingdom. Moreover, this joy itself will draw souls near to Jesus. May this be your great experience in this Lent!
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