Circular Letter: Fall 2006

Union of All Things in CHRIST

St. Paul throughout his letters speaks of the Gospel as a “mystery hidden from the ages past, but now made manifest in Christ Jesus” (cf. Rom 16:25-6; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26). In the Letter to the Ephesians he says more specifically, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the Principalities and Powers in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:8-10). Earlier in this same letter, St. Paul also makes reference to this mystery when he says: “For He has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). The mystery of Christ embraces many diverse facets. But here, St. Paul is making note of one element of this mystery in particular. He is indicating that the influence of Christ does not only effect the redemption and sanctification of men. Rather, it also in some mysterious way influences the holy angels and the whole of the creation. In this meditation we would like to consider certain aspects of how the angels and the whole of creation is taken into the mystery hidden for the ages and revealed in Christ.

The Enmity is Removed

The first step towards this unification of all creation was to remove the enmity which existed between men and angels as a consequence of man’s sin. To understand this enmity we can consider a parallel enmity that existed between the Jews and the Greeks. St. Paul speaks about the removal of the enmity that existed between the circumcised and the uncircumcised when he wrote to the Christians of Gentile origin:

Remember that you were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the Blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law of the commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:12-22)

St. Paul speaks of the “dividing wall of hostility” which existed between the Jewish people and the Gentiles. This is a reference to the structure of the Temple in Jerusalem. The court of the Temple had an area in which only the circumcised Jews could enter. In addition to this there was another court separated from the first by a wall in which the non-circumcised Gentiles could enter. It was a serious offense for an uncircumcised person to enter beyond this wall. This is symbolic of the division and tension which existed between the Jewish and Gentile people. But in Jesus Christ the dividing wall is broken down. For through His death and Resurrection Jesus offered to all men the possibility of entering into a supernatural covenant through faith in Christ, which makes this worship possible. For in Him “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Christ accomplished this union among men through His Cross as He predicted: “Once I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself” (Jn 12:32).

It is noteworthy that St. Paul refers to this enmity principally in terms of the division of persons in the worship of God. We think in terms of political factions, social levels, economic distinctions, or some other foundation for division between men. But here St. Paul is indicating the most fundamental source of division. Because creatures endowed with intellect and free will are ultimately made to know, love and serve God, and because the praise of God is one of the ultimate expressions of these same faculties, there is no more fundamental cause for enmity than a division with regard to worship.

The removal of the enmity between the Jewish people and the Gentiles points to the other reconciliation that also occurred through the Blood of Christ. Just as St. Paul says that in the Blood of Christ the circumcised and uncircumcised have been made one, he says the same of angels and men: “For in Him all the fullness of the divinity was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in the heaven, making peace by the Blood of the Cross” (Col 1:20).

Dr. Scott Hahn explains this reconciliation in the following terms:

According to ancient Jewish beliefs, the worship in Jerusalem’s Temple mirrored the worship of the angels in heaven. In the levitical priesthood, the covenant liturgy, the sacrifices served as shadowy representations of heavenly models. (The Lamb’s Supper, p. 69)

Now, as the Book of Revelation shows, both heaven and earth participate together in a single act of loving worship. This apocalypse, or unveiling, points back to the Cross. Matthew reports that when Jesus died, “the curtain [or veil] of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (27:51). Thus, the sanctuary of God was “apocalypsed,” unveiled, His dwelling was no longer reserved for the high priest alone. Jesus’ Redemption unveiled the Holy of Holies, opening God’s Presence to everyone. Heaven and earth could now embrace in intimate love. (ibid., p. 126)

That is to say, by the Blood of His Cross Jesus tore away the curtain that separated men from the glorious Cherubim who overshadowed the mercy seat of God in the Holy of Holies. Christ removed the division of enmity between angels and men. The angels who were faithful in their trial, entered into the covenant with God from the beginning and were capable of participating in the heavenly Liturgy. But man, because of Original Sin, was cast out of paradise, out of the covenant relationship, which the angels enjoyed in Christ. Through His Blood man was again reconciled both with God and with the holy angels. Just as Jews and Greeks are to form one body in Christ, so also the angels are brought into that same body as St. Paul says in the letter to the Colossians: “In His body lives the fullness of divinity, and in Him you too find your own fulfillment, in the One who is head of every Principality and Power” (Col 2:9; see also Eph 1:20-23).

Establishing the Friendship with the Angels

Having removed the enmity, Christ has also established a true friendship between men and angels. As the philosopher Aristotle once taught, true friendship depends upon a certain degree of equality between persons. The angels are necessarily superior in nature to man. Nevertheless, the faithful angels have desired to follow their Lord and God, “who emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7). Christ emptied himself, divesting himself, in a way, of his divine splendor so as to reestablish a friendship with men. Similarly, the angels willingly “empty themselves” in order to become our intimate friends. But it is not only that the angels lower themselves to our level. Christ emptied Himself in order to elevate us, to draw us closer to Himself. He conferred on us a dignity which makes us capable of a supernatural equality to the angels through grace. In this sense the angel in the Apocalypse measured the heavenly City (the Church) “by a man’s measure, that is, by an angel’s” (Rev 21:17), showing that the measure, the symbol of grace, is the same for man and angel.

Aristotle also points out that friendship requires a frequent contact between friends. On the part of the angel, the contact is nearly continual. St. Joan of Arc said, “The angels come very often among Christians without being seen. I have often seen them among Christians” (Fr. Lovasik, Friendship with the Angels, 23).

This may be understood to refer not only to our Guardian Angel, who never leaves us, but also to the many other angels who come from heaven to show their love for us.

Our Guardian Angel is especially occupied with trying to keep us, his protegee, in touch with heaven, and to show us the way to please God. But from our part, the communication is much less frequent. St. Bernard made the suggestion: “That you may have confidence in the angels, constantly keep company, by means of  thoughts and devout prayers, with those who are always at hand to guard and console you. Let us cause the angels to exult with joy, by showing them that we are not only converted, but that we advance in virtue” (ibid.). Here St. Bernard makes clear that we can continually communicate with the holy angels in our thoughts and not simply in our spoken words.

Friendship is false when it is founded not upon mutual benevolent love, but rather upon utility. That is to say, if we are friends with someone because they are useful to us, that is not a true friendship. For our part, we must beware of the mentality of “using” our Guardian Angel. He is not given to us for our use, but he is given to us to be a true friend. Things are used, persons are loved. The holy Guardian Angel is a very holy person who deserves our love and with whom we should work.

Friendship is a mutual love which is expressed in benevolence and beneficence (wishing well of the other and doing well for the other). The good will of the angel toward us is manifest in his fidelity to us regardless of how offensive our behavior is to him and his Lord. St. Thomas teaches that the angel always remains with us, despite our own infidelity. But we may ask, what can we do to please the angels? It is similar to the question: “what do you give to someone who has everything?” How can you do something to please the angel, who already possesses the beatific vision? Sounds pretty challenging, but in reality it is not so complicated. “The angels in heaven rejoice over one repentant sinner” (cf. Lk 15:10). The way that we can please the angel is by our daily conversion, and by our helping to lead others closer to Christ through conversion. For by true conversion we recognize and remove the obstacles that stand between us and the goal toward which the angel longs to lead us. The deeper cause of our benevolent union must be founded on our conscious union in the praise of God; in this we can cooperate with the angels as relative equals. For their song of praise will never be perfect until it is perfectly fused with that of the Church.

The Gathering Together of the Things on Earth

But beyond the removal of the enmity, the death and Resurrection of Jesus brought about the recapitulation of all things: things in heaven and things on earth (cf. Eph 1:10). It must be clear that the work of Christ reaches to the whole of creation. The universal restoration that He came to realize seeks to reestablish not only the unity between man and angel, but also between man and the infra-human creation (that is to say, the physical universe comprised of animals, plants and minerals). Through Christ all things are able to fulfill their finality of praise as expressed in the Book of Revelation: “And every creature that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all the things that are contained in the sea, I heard them saying: ‘To Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and honor and glory and power through the ages of ages’” (Rev 5:13).  And in Hosea: “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hos 2:18-19).

The Second Vatican Council made the observation: “Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator” (Gaudium et Spes, 14, 1). Man comprises the unique meeting point between the physical and the spiritual creation. For that reason when he sins he brings a curse not only upon himself, but also upon the physical creation (cf. Gen 3:17). Contrariwise, in the blessed “revelation of the sons of God” (cf. Rom 8:19) the physical creation is blessed.

Heavenly Jerusalem: The Meeting Place of Angel, Man and Physical Creation

In the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter addressed the Jewish people, “Turn to God that your sins may be wiped away! Thus may a season of refreshment be granted you by the Lord when He sends you Jesus, already designated as your Messiah. Jesus must remain in heaven until the time of the universal restoration which God spoke of long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-22). The universal restoration that St. Peter predicted can be fully understood in terms of the restoration of the whole of creation in the Heavenly Jerusalem. St. John saw:

…the holy City Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Here is revealed the physical creation glorified appearing like a most radiant jewel. Here is also represented the men of the Old Covenant in the twelve tribes of Israel, as well as the men of the New represented in the twelve apostles of the Lamb. With them are represented all the angels in the twelve angels over the gates of the City. Here is revealed the full meaning of the words of St. Paul: “For in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether Thrones or Dominations or Principalities or Powers…all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). Not only were all things created through Him, but all things were created for Him. The whole of creation is destined for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

The heavenly City and the Church on earth are one substantial reality, though of course the former sees and enjoys what we hold and aspire to only in faith and hope. Still, the wedding feast for which we long is already substantially present to us in the Liturgy of the Church on earth in the Eucharistic banquet. The Church consciously takes up the angel’s invitation when calling us forward to Communion: “Blessed are they who are called to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!” (cf. Rev 19:10). In the Eucharist we not only become one with Christ, but with the entire Church of the saints and angels. The theological commission for Jubilee 2000 pointed out that the Eucharist incorporates us not into Christ alone but also into His Body the Church:

[By the Eucharist] one is not only joined to Christ the Head but also to all of His members. This is a very profound reality and a source of wealth for Christian life: one cannot communicate with the Head, Christ, if in life one sets aside His Body which is the Church. One communicates with Christ the Head in the measure that one is also in communion with one’s brothers, and one cannot communicate with one’s brothers unless one is in communion with Christ, the Head. …After the resurrection and Pentecost, Christ exists only as a total Christ, the Head joined to His members: ‘If you want to understand the Body of Christ,’ writes St. Augustine, ‘listen to the Apostle telling the faithful: you are the body of Christ and His members in parts (1 Cor 12:27). If you therefore are the body of Christ and His members, your holy mystery is placed on the table of the Lord: you are receiving your sacred mystery. You reply ‘Amen’ to what you are, and your reply means that you give your assent to it. You hear, in fact, ‘the Body of Christ’ and you reply: ‘Amen’. Be then (truly) the body of Christ, so that the ‘Amen’ be true!” (St. Augustine, Sermon 227). (Your Spirit Lord, Fills the Earth, pp. 91-92).

This all applies, of course, to the holy angels too, who, however, can only share in this particular form of intimacy with Christ in and through us men, for the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (as is true of all the Sacraments) is proper to man, who has a body. But it is Christ’s Body which consummates the union and perfection of the whole body of the Church. Let us therefore, joyfully and consciously live our friendship with the holy angels by inviting them to join with us in this supreme Sacrament of loving union with Christ.       

Fr. Basil Nortz

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