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.


XXIV, Sept/Oct 2018

"An angel has spoken to him." (Jn 12:29)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Gospel of St. John can be divided in two parts. With chapter 12 ends the description of the first part about the public life of Jesus. The narration of the Last Supper and Passion with the resurrection covers the second part, more than a third of the entire Joannine Gospel. However, still in chapter 12, St. John relates a surprising situation: Jesus says in the midst of his teaching:

"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours." (Jn 12:27-30)

Some people thought it must have been an angel who spoke to Jesus. What justification is there for this position?

1. The Agony in Gethsemane according to St. John

Many commentaries refer these words to the Passion of Jesus in general. Francis Martin and W. Wright make an even more pointed statement:: "Jesus' words here resemble the Synoptic accounts of his agony in Gethsemane." (The Gospel of John, p. 225 f.)

a) The hour of Jesus

There is some evidence in support of this theory.

First, it is a characteristic of St. John's gospel that he recalls Jesus speaking of "His hour", the hour of his Passion and Resurrection, from the beginning, whereas this reference is found in Synoptics only in the accounts of the Passion. Jesus declares: "The hour is coming" (Jn 4:21,23; 5:25,28; 12:23; 13:1), but "had not yet come" (Jn 2:4; 7:20; 8:30); and then, at the Last Supper: "the hour is coming and has arrived" (16:32,25; 17:1).

Second, many have certainly wondered, why — after the extended records of the Last Supper — St. John completely skipped the three hours in Gethsemane. After all, he was one of the three apostles Jesus called to accompany him more closely when he was "sorrowful even to death" (Mt 26:38). St. John begins the narration, saying: "Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered." Then he passed on immediately to Judas: "Judas his betrayer also knew the place, … got a band of soldiers … and went there …" (Jn 18:1-3). Why would he have left out any word about Jesus' agony, when he was the only evangelist actually present there?

b) The trouble of Jesus

Martin and Wright placed the narration of St. Mark at the side of the short text in chapter 12 of St. John to show the parallelism of the two texts and thus justify their interpretation.

Jesus says: "I am troubled now;" and St. Mark recalls: Jesus "began to be troubled and distressed" (Mk 14:33).

Here in John 12 Jesus asks rhetorically if he should turn to the Father, "Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?"; there in Mark he prayed: "Abba, Father, … Take this cup away from me" (Mk 14:36).

However, John adds here Jesus' remark: "But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name" which corresponds to Jesus' words in Mark: "but not what I will but what you will."

Then, in John, "a voice (which) came from heaven, 'I have glorified it and will glorify it again'." Here we may appeal to a particular recorded by Luke: there"appeared to him an angel from heaven to strengthen him" (Lk 22:43).

Note the further parallel: In John 12 Jesus did not ask to be released from this trouble,"the voice from heaven" rather confirmed his mission; likewise in Luke the Angel in the garden did not free Jesus from the "trouble", but strengthened him to bear the sufferings (cf. Lk 22:44).

Some others thought they heard a rumble of "thunder" as God manifested himself in the OT in such a way (cf. Ex 19:16); others, however, "said, 'An angel has spoken to him'." Also herewith, John underscores the parallel to what happened in the three hours in Gethsemane through the presence of an angel.

Finally, John records Jesus words: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (Jn 12:23). This compares to the words of Jesus to the Apostles at the end of the three hours in St. Mark: "It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners." (Mk 14:41) Then Mark continues the narration with the betrayal of Judas, as St. John does in chapter 18.

2. Here in public

According to the Synoptics, Jesus asks the presence of the apostles not so much for his sake than for their own sake: "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mk 14:38) In St. Johns' gospel Jesus has similar words: "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours." (Jn 12:27-30) In Mark he spoke to the apostles in the dark of the Garden, whereas here in John he speaks in public by daylight.

a) Two general statements

Just before this troubling of heart, Jesus gave two general statements. They are placed like a frame around the troubling and suffering of Jesus; due to their general character, we may call them 'Alpha' and 'Omega', beginning and end.

The first is a principle, very similar to what all the Synoptics report (cf. Mk 8:34: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."): Some Greeks came to Philipp and said that they want to see Jesus. Philipp went to Andrew and the two approached Jesus. To them he said:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me." (Jn 12,24-26)

Then, in the last part of this chapter Christ identifies Himself as the light, even as John had done in the Prologue: "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world," (Jn 1:9):

"Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out." … I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness. … Whoever rejects me" will condemn himself (12:31,46,48):

Between the two general statements, Jesus offers his example and, herewith consciously manifests Himself as "the way". He leads the way to the Father through the troubles, the cross, and finally through death. Whoever follows him will find the Father, for "the Father and I are one." (Jn 10:30)

b) Salvation is at stake

Accordingly, what is given as rule and showed with an example, has to become part of our life: "To be troubled" is a consequence of our own weaknesses and sins which disappoint us, and of the scandals which "must come" (Mt 18:7). They are the crosses through which God forms us "like the clay in the potter's hand" (Jer 18:6).

In our troubles we should act like Jesus and turn to God, the Father. The crosses are a "call" to transcend this earthly life, to break through the limited horizon. As the hour of trouble was "the hour" of Jesus, so are the crosses: the difficulties in life are "our hour". In such situations or 'moments' (which can last hours, days, months or even years, as the lives of Saints make clear), we have to make the decision about our eternity, which has to be made by us and is, in its essence the decision for love or against it in hate. The constant "now" of the present moment is, when Heaven turns to us: God with his angels comes to ask for our answer.

3. An angel spoke

Jesus knows the thoughts of men, and so also the thoughts of those present at his trouble, who thought that an angel would have spoken to him. However, he did not refer to the insecurity about the origin of the voice, if it was an angel or the Father. We are familiar with his love for secondary causes and therefore for the mediation of the angels. More so as they are faithful, transparent and can be identified by the same criteria which we need to discern any communication from the Father, or the Holy Spirit or of any heavenly origin.

a) Angels as part of creation

Nevertheless, we may ask: As troubles are a part of man's life, what about the angels? "The angels belong to this creation and work in it" (A. Winklhofer, Die Welt der Engel, 21). They are sent to each man as God assured so often (cf. Ex 23:20; Ps 34:7; 91:11; Heb 1:14 …; CCC 352). They are given as help to salvation, to protect and guide, to illumine and strengthen, and yet, they are not just miracle makers. They respect the free will of man, like their Lord and God does. For this reason, it is so important to be vigilant: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), with prudence, and therefore call for assistance to the good angels who are present.

b) Criteria for discernment

Jesus said: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Mt 6:33). Here the good angels help us. They act like a mother or father or a best friend, while the fallen angels are our enemies, at times acting falsely like friends, 'angels of light'. While the good ones enlighten and clarify, the fallen ones are foggy and deceptive. The good angels lift up and speak of God, the others drag down and show solicitude for self. The good angels point out to our mistakes and want to help to grow, the bad ones cover them up and excuse the dear Ego. The first admonish to conversion to God, the others plunge men into despair. The good angels are always silent and sincere, the bad ones noisy and false. When we pray, we turn to the Father, then the good surround us, and the fallen ones flee from us as they avoid God.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

When we pay attention to the angels in the life of Jesus, we are taken to the crucial points of life. There they are man's best friends: They help in real needs. They do not take always away what is bitter as this may be especially helpful to us. Always, though, they bring graces we need from God and lead us to him. Let's invite them to an even more active share in our life and to speak more forcefully in the conscience of those entrusted to us. They are grateful for any invitation from man for God's sake and man's salvation.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


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