Crusade Meditations: Winter 2011
The Mission of the Angels and the Priestly Ministry
The holy angels, servants of Christ, are deeply involved in the work of Redemption and the battle for souls on earth. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14). For this reason, there is a very close relationship between the ministry of priests and the mission of the angels. For priests, too, “have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest, that they may be able to carry on in time His marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above” (Vatican II, Presbyterum ordinis 12). Since they both share in the Redemptive mission of Christ in a special way, the angels are particularly concerned to protect, defend and assist priests. Together they work for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. In our efforts to support priests in their divine mission, therefore, it is most fitting and efficacious to call upon the holy angels to aid them, to enlighten, strengthen and protect them.
Let us consider first, who are the angels? We know from Jesus that the “angels in heaven always look upon the face of My heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). The angels are continually directed towards God, living in and for Him, praising Him and intent upon doing His will. “Bless the LORD, all you angels, mighty in strength and attentive, obedient to every command. Bless the LORD, all you hosts, ministers who do God’s will” (Ps 103:20-21).
The priest, too, is by his ordination consecrated and “set apart” for God and to continue the work of Christ on earth. He is called first and foremost to belong to God, to be “a man of God” who lives in His presence and draws his light and strength from God and His word. For this reason, the first duty of every priest is to cultivate an ever more profound union with Christ, through prayer and the Sacraments, and most of all, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. His “pastoral charity flows out in a very special way from the Eucharistic sacrifice. This stands as the root and center of the whole life of a priest. What takes place on the altar of sacrifice, the priestly heart must make his own. This cannot be done unless priests, through prayer, continue to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of Christ” ( Presb. ordinis 14). Like the angels, therefore, the life of the priest is already on this earth totally oriented toward God and the supernatural, for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Yet priests are men, not angels, and so a certain tension is already “built in” to their lofty vocation: they must live in this world, but not be of it. They must remain men, but live as angels.
Priests of the New Testament, by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person; but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than earthly life. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men. Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids that they be conformed to this world; yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men. (Presbyterum ordinis 3, emphasis added)
The angels can be a special aid to priests, helping to keep their minds and hearts raised up and fixed upon God in the midst of their earthly affairs. As members of the Crusade for Priests, therefore, we want to send the angels out to help priests, especially those who are entangled in many administrative concerns and have difficulty in finding time to pray and remain with Jesus.
Further, as their very name indicates, angels are “messengers” or “ambassadors” on behalf of God. They bring God to man, His word, His will, His love. The greatest example of this ministry of the angels as messengers is of course that of the Archangel Gabriel who brought to Mary the message of God’s will to become incarnate in her. St. John of the Cross writes that normally divine inspirations come to man through the mediation of the angels (cf. Dark Night, Bk 2, Ch. 12, 3-4). Man lives in a certain darkness in this world, behind a “veil” which does not allow him to see except by faith into the true realities which exist in the supernatural world of God, His angels and saints. Even when these realities are “brought down to earth”, so to speak, as for example in the case of the Incarnation and birth of Christ, man is completely unaware of the great mysteries which take place very near to him, like the shepherds who were sitting outside in the darkness of night. It was an angel, for example, who announced to Joseph the mystery of the Incarnation, and to the shepherds and the magi the birth of Our Lord. In general, the angels help man to receive God’s revelation in Christ Jesus, protecting the “seed” from being snatched away by the devil (cf. St. Thomas, De veritate, 12.8.2).
This ministry of the angels did not cease after biblical times. The angels are still very close to man, bringing him messages from God, and enlightening and guiding him in the ways of God. The Catechism states, “The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC 334). St. John of the Cross says that the angels “bring God’s messages to our souls, feed them as good fathers with delightful inspirations and communications from God, and this they do by their spiritual mediation.” And Pope Benedict states, “They bring God to men, they open heaven and thus open earth. Precisely because they are with God, they can also be very close to man” (Homily, Sept. 29, 2007). Being pure spirits, the angels can remind us of our intimate, spiritual nature and our higher calling to strive for God and the things of the spirit rather than those of the earth. “The angels speak to man of what constitutes his true being, of what in his life is so often concealed and buried. They bring him back to himself, touching him on God’s behalf” (Homily, Sept. 29, 2007).
Like the angels, priests are also messengers of God. Drawing upon the graces of their ordination as well as their personal union with Christ, the priest is called to be a living presence of God among men. “The people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of “seeing’’ Christ in them (cf. Jn 12:21)” (John Paul II, Letter to Priests, 2005). Like the Apostles before them (literally, “ones sent”), priests and especially Bishops, the direct successors of the Apostles, are sent by Christ to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments and to bring to men the word and love of God. Like the angels, priests are called to be a light pointing to the world to come, to remind us of our duties towards God and men, and to help us to live according to our supernatural vocation. They are called to preach and to teach, to be, as it were, a window into the world of the supernatural, thus leading many to God. Let us therefore call upon the angels, the first messengers of God, to help priests become ever more transparent for the light of Christ working in and through them, that men may see in the priest the presence and call of God to conversion and divine love.
The angels are moreover servants, “mighty ones who do [God’s] word, hearkening to the voice of His word” (Ps 103:20). They continually behold the face of the Father, even while serving men, reading from this face God’s holy will and obeying it promptly. The priest must also be obedient to grace and the call of God, living continually in union with God’s will, seeking not himself and his own will, but only God and His will. “The divine task that they are called by the Holy Spirit to fulfill surpasses all human wisdom and human ability. ‘God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong’ (1 Cor 1:27). Aware of his own weakness, the true minister of Christ works in humility trying to do what is pleasing to God” ( Presb. ordinis 15). The more firmly he remains united to God’s will in his service of men, the more efficacious his ministry will be. “Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part God chooses to show forth His wonders in those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: ‘And yet I live, or rather, not I, but it is Christ that lives in me’ (Gal 2:20)” ( Presb. ordinis 12).
The angels, who are themselves humble and obedient servants, can help priests to follow more closely the word and the will of God. It is not easy to be a servant, especially in the demanding vocation of the priesthood where, following Christ more closely, they are called to die to themselves in all things in order to give themselves wholly to the service of God and the faithful. Priests must often deny their own will, their own insights, their own comfort, their desires for human companionship, and many other things in order to obey the call of God and the directives of their Bishop, and to meet the many and various needs of the flock entrusted to their care. It is important for us on our part, therefore, to help priests by placing in the hands of the angels many small sacrifices of self-denial and renouncement, so that the angels may strengthen them in the virtue of humility, self-denial and service, and in their firm will to obey God and the Church in all things. In this way they will remain good shepherds after the example of the one Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep.
The angels are also warriors. “War arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Rev 12:7-8). This great war, which exceeds in consequences and in display of power the greatest imaginable nuclear war on earth, continues even today. For “the great dragon…was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him… ‘Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’” (Rev 12:9, 12). Yes, there is a great battle going on, all around us; and we are “not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Though most men are not aware of it—like children picking flowers in a minefield—this battle directly concerns us. It is the battle for souls, over every human soul. Created in the image of God, the devil seeks to take revenge on God by attacking Him in His image, in man.
Because man, however, is weak and ignorant while the fallen spirits are strong and intelligent, God does not abandon man but compensates for his weakness by sending the good spirits to his defense (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theo. I, 114, a.1 ad 2). While the evil spirits seek to seduce, accuse, deceive and lead man astray, the holy angels work to encourage men in the good, strengthen them in their faith, console them in their trials and protect them from the attacks of the evil one. Priests are also engaged in a more intense way in this spiritual warfare as ministers of salvation. They must strengthen the faithful in their trials, lead the way in the midst of storms, help in the discernment of spirits and lift us up again when we have fallen through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While sharing the weakness of all men, priests must stand firm and bear the greater burden of the attack. For it is said, with every priest, a thousand souls are either saved or lost. We must remember also that priests, because of their special configuration to Christ by the sacramental character received at ordination, are a particular target and object of hatred for the fallen spirits. In the priest, both the good and the fallen angels see Christ, His instrument and image. For this reason the priest is at the center of the battle of the spirits. As members of the Crusade, therefore, if we are truly committed to helping priests in their sacred vocation, it is important for us to call upon the holy angels and lay many prayers and sacrifices in their hands, that these good angels may be strengthened in their efforts to defend, protect and support priests.
It is not by accident that this Crusade of Prayer and Reparation for Priests was initiated by the Work of the Holy Angels. For the Opus Sanctorum Angelorum is “a public association of the Church in conformity with traditional doctrine and with the directives of the Holy See,” with the special mission in the Church to “spread devotion to the Holy Angels among the faithful, exhort them to pray for priests, and promote love for Christ in His Passion and union with it” (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Oct. 2, 2010). Just as Jesus was strengthened in the garden by an angel to bear His redemptive Passion, so also the members of the Opus Angelorum rely upon the strength of the holy angels in their will to follow Christ in His expiatory love. By uniting themselves with Christ’s Passion through the prayerful commemoration every Thursday and Friday, the members of the Opus Angelorum seek to live a life of prayer and sacrificial love for the salvation of souls, especially for priests. If you are a member of this Crusade, therefore, and would like more information on becoming involved in the Opus Angelorum or to be put on the quarterly mailing list, please contact us below. May God bless you all and our Blessed Mother keep you in her special care as we work together, men and angels, for the good of the priesthood!
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