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Vol. II, Mar. 1996

An Example of Love (Gn 16)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The first explicit biblical reference to the Angels leads us in a certain way to the essence of the priesthood. The second reference in Gen. ch. 16 (se also 21) shows us the Angel like a good Shepherd.

1. The life of Hagar, the handmaid of Abraham’s wife Sara presents us with very human and, therefore, common situation in life: According to the first narration Hagar believes herself better than Sara for having conceived a child, whereas, her mistress did not. However, the hard treatment by Sara made her flee into the desert out of despair. A few years later, Isaac was born to Sara. This time, the jealous Sara asked Abraham directly: "Cast out this slave woman with her son." Although this was very displeasing to Abraham, he rose early in the morning, put bread and water on her shoulder and sent her away (cf. Gn 21,10-14). Behold the single mother with child, without employment, without home, without family, with the portion of food just for few hours. She wandered in the wilderness - journeying from light to darkness, from joy to despair, from community to loneliness, from life to death. In the end she even felt compelled to separate herself from her child, being unable to bear the sight of its dying.

As Adam and Eve's communion with GOD was cut off, so was Hagar’s with man. The symphonic harmony of man's faculties under the direction of the free will, interpreting the notes of the Divine Composer, is destroyed through sin. Or: Envy and jealousy, concupiscence and pride, comfort and vanity and many others are like rebellious soldiers who want to become the commanding general in the soul. This civil war in man and in human communities leads to a desperate death in a wasteland world.

As priests, especially during Lent, the time dedicated to conversion; we may be confronted in the sacrament of conversion with all variations of such spiritual battle.

2. In the life of Hagar the Angel enters twice as good shepherd, as a counselor and comforter and as a guide. She did not call for him but desired in the depths of her heart help. GOD who can read even the hidden thoughts of the human heart answered her in His loving paternal providence.

a) The Angel "goes out" and searches for the desperate Hagar. He does not oversee the helpless mother and does not overhear the crying child as did the priest and Levite in the parable of the merciful Samaritan (cf. Lk 10,31 ff.). The angel did not pass by. He is attentive: Either he is in heaven concentrated in GOD or he is on the way to serve those who are to inherit salvation. What he sees in GOD and contemplates in the beatific vision, he practices on earth towards man: love and surrender, help and service.

b) The Angel calls her by her name. As the Good Shepherd calls His sheep by their name, so does the Angel here: "Hagar, handmaid of Sarah." It is not power which overwhelms Hagar, but confidence: There is still someone who thinks of her, who knows her personally. She turns to him and listens. The Angel, however, does not direct his interest to the state of her soul, asking not "how" but "what are you doing"; he asks: "From where do you come and where do you go?" Is it discretion, respect? Why he does not want to stop on the present, but with the eyes fixed on GOD, he goes right to the root and to the solution?

However it may be, he found the proper mode of approach and apparently the right tone too, for Hagar found words in her despair, she confessed openly, without shame and fear of punishment: "I am running away from my mistress."

c) As help, the Angel encourages her to take up the Cross with confidence in God's blessing! - It seems that there are no mollifying panaceas coming from the Angel. He does not loose much time with compassion but indicates the straight way of the Cross:

"Return to your mistress, and submit to her." (Gn 16,9)

This very first word of an Angel that we find in the Sacred Scripture recalls the first public sermon of CHRIST according to St. Mark:

"The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of GOD is at hand;
Repent, and believe!" (Mk 1,15)

Again, this lesson of the Angel is understood by his way of looking first up to GOD instead of to man. For in GOD he finds a wider view and can see the resurrection behind death, the fruit even before the death of the seed. The Angel says such harsh words, because he can add a message full of consolation and words of light, words pronounced in the name of GOD:

"I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude."

And again: "You are with child, you shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael; because the Lord had given heed to your affliction." (Gn 16,10.11)

The words of the Angel in the second apparition are of a similar content. Hagar obeys the Angel, for with the command GOD gives also the strength. And by this grace she finds through the Angel: "Thou are a GOD of seeing" (Gn 16,13). In the strength of this faith she walks into the future.

3. Does the Angel of Lord give us priests an example of pastoral love?

a) With a spirit of self-denial we should certainly be open for any call of GOD at any time. Souls should know that we live in solidarity with them so that in any need we are there for them even in the religiously desolate world of today even as the Angel was with Hagar in the hour of despair. The priest has to be a sign of the omniscience and omnipresence of GOD, of His loving providence and of the fact that GOD loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4,19) and, that He knows about our needs. The priest's kindness, his humble behavior in an uncomplicated readiness, thus witnessing to God's love, will exercise a positive influence upon souls, like the warm sun shining upon a closed flower bud: responding to the warmth, it will open up!

b) And yet, as the Angel, the priest has to act with respect. The question of the Angel is like knocking on the heart, asking permission for entering in the life of man. He has to make sure first, that the soul wants his presence and help, his word and counsel. Of course, the better we know them, the easier it is for them to open up. It may be even very important, to address them by their personal name as the Angel did; no child is a nameless stranger to his father!

The Church insists today anew as once in the early Church on the disposition of the souls: Are they willing to receive the grace of GOD? Do they believe? Is their heart prepared (cf. Mt 7,6)? The Angel demands the acceptance of the Cross from Hagar only after her open, humble confession and the implicit cry for help.

c) Whoever wants help has sets no conditions, as a sick man drinks even a bitter remedy. Whoever really desires to overcome himself in surrender to GOD does not want sweet caramels or the simple confirmation of his misery. The Angel proceeded with Hagar just as did CHRIST Himself later on when He said:

"If any man would come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Mt 16,24)

This pastoral care of the Angel in a very concrete and extreme situation should encourage us, to lead the souls after the very sensitive approach the straight way of self-denial and of the Cross in view of the waiting resurrection and the eternal life. As the Angel the priest can justify the demands and the promise with the Living GOD Himself, Who hears the crying, and helps the poor with His Omnipotence. This last foundation of faith (hope) and the offered help allows us to say as the Angel: "Fear not!" (Gn 21,17).

4. What conclusions we may draw from this lesson of the Angel?

  1. We have to question, first of all, our own disposition, our disponibility for the call of GOD at any time and for the souls in all their needs: am I available at any time or do I consider myself as an paid employer, with an office and just for certain hours? Am I a curate of souls or manager of an enterprise?
  2. Do I care to know my parishioners, to live with them, to call them by name and approach them in a comprehending human way as did JESUS and the Angel, showing interest in their lives? - Do I make an effort to practice the human virtues? Do I try to give testimony of god's Love, Goodness and constant presence?
  3. Do I call on the holy Angel to help those I do not reach in human way, for those who are still closed up for the priest? For the sick, the lonely, for despairing souls?
  4. Do I have the courage to trust in and confess the Wisdom of the Cross before souls in needs? Do I keep up in me the faith in god's omnipotence, so that I can awaken confidence by my testimony?

 

Let us meditate in a special way this month on the presence, action and power of the holy Angel as well as on the Wisdom of the Cross so that we may guide each single soul who comes to us in these days of conversion truly to the resurrection in CHRIST and to the Life which will never end!

In the monthly meeting of the Association you may discuss about the possibilities to reach those who have not the strength to come to the priest and yet are in most need of him.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC