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Vol.III, April ’97

 

"I Send My Angel Before You" (Ex 23,20)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Under the guidance of the Angel and the Lord, present in the cloud, the people of Israel had finally left Egypt and started their way through the desert. This was the beginning of a new phase in the history of salvation. The passage through the Red Sea marked the passage from the foreign country to the homeland, from persecution to peace, from being elected out of an alien nation to the formation of their own, and within it to the awareness of each individual’s personal responsibility. God asks the individual: "You shall not ...," and promises to every single one: "I send my Angel before you". A bit later we read: "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers, but every one shall die for his own sin" (Dt 24, 16). Thus, when the people started again to speak against God and Moses, "the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents, which bit them and killed many of them." But God had Moses make a " brazen serpent ... he set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed" (Nm 21,5-9).

1. For this development, the covenant is a very decisive and constitutive moment, proposed by God on Mount Sinai and conditioned by the obedience of the people to the Divine Law, the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex 19-24). According to St. Stephen, who speaks of the Jewish tradition, Moses "was in the church in the wilderness, with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers" (Acts 7,38; cf. v.53). The law was "ordained by angels in the hand of the mediator" Moses (Gal 3,19).

To know the will of God was no longer exclusively dependent upon the word of His servant, Moses. Through the Ten Commandments, every single person could know it. Such a general way became necessary as the attention focused more closely on the every day life of the individual.

The Ten Commandments may be called the Magna Car of the relation between God and rational creatures: Gifted with their own conscience, they must know the Will of God and be free to decide in favor or against it; therefore God wanted its proclamation and asked for the people’s answer (cf. Ex 19,3-8). The law served this purpose, for it is secure and firm, pure and perfect; it illuminates the way and does not obscure it; it frees and does not restrict; it unites and does not divide; it brings near to God and is not an obstacle; it is light for the sinners who are blind to the will of God, and being transparent to God, it brings security and peace to saints. It creates a climate of frankness and confidence between God and man, an atmosphere of respect and freedom.

2. Still there are two limits of the law. First, with regard to our understanding, we have to say: it is of general or universal character, valid for each and every man; it only marks the way, so that it still remains difficult to know God’s holy Will in our concrete and unrepeatable life here and now. And second, with regard to our will: Does the law of God affect us? Does it stimulate us to walk on our way? To surpass both limits of the law, God said - precisely after giving the Commandments - to the people: "Behold I send my angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Heed him and harken to his voice. Do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my Name is in him!" (Ex 23,20-21).

To reveal the Ten Commandments was already an act of Divine mercy, for "Through Your commandments you had made me wiser than my enemies" (Ps 119,98). And what can be said about the holy Angel, placed exclusively at our side? In many ways he is able to enlighten us and to make us understand what the will of God is right here and now! He will never take our freedom but finds ways to stimulate our decisions either by influencing the sensitive appetites or by persuasions addressed to reason (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I,106,1-2; q. 111).

His influence reaches the immense area of our priestly pastoral ministry; protection from enemies and guidance to the place which God has prepared for each. - But it is always explained as a free collaboration between God and man through the Angel on the basis of daily life.

3. Not only the faithful, but also we priests find ourselves in situations where we do not always clearly know what God wants of us within the frame of the Ten Commandments. What is the will of God here and now? Should I go to Midday Prayer as I planned or do I first make the telephone call I just remembered? Should I buy another jacket or save the money for the next collection for the missions? Should I read this book or not? As priests we find ourselves in circumstances of greater importance: the eternal destiny of immortal souls is to a great extent placed in our hands! It is true that pastoral theology offers us many hints and a course about counseling may have offered helpful examples concerning what prudence demands in the priestly ministry. There are ecclesiastical documents about the sacrament of penance, and the care of families. Many pastoral programs are available and the bishop indicates the pastoral guidelines for the diocese. And yet, how can we know if we should bring up a question after the penitents accusation in the confessional or not? If we should correct the altar boy now or only later? When we go through the readings for the Sunday Mass, who tells us on what the sermon should be focused on? When a person talks with me, how can I understand that what she is covering with her words is in reality what she really needs to talk about? To speak or to keep silent, to take the initiative or to wait, to go to sleep or to pray the Rosary or to dedicate a moment to spiritual reading - how many questions every day and how much can depend on our decisions! Is not each of these situations the moment which the Lord had in mind when He said: "I send an Angel before you", to point out the Will of God, to direct our thought to what we would have forgotten otherwise, and to be inclined to one direction rather than to the other without being able to give reasons. Sometimes God allows us to perceive if our decision was right and brought fruits or not, and sometimes He leaves us in the dark and asks for a simple act of faith: "Lord, I intended to do what was right, if it was wrong, please make it right."

There is more: We may have overcome the barrier of not knowing what to do, we may have acted with the best of wills and out of a clear conscience, yet we can then stand before a greater hindrance: our powerlessness: We preach, but how to make them convert? We go to meet them, but how to bring them to the Church, to the sacraments? We absolve them from their sins, but who gives them fortitude in turning away from sin and its occasion, who gives them the joy of a virtuous life? We give them our Lord and God, His body and soul, humanity and divinity, truly and alive, and yet they have difficulty in believing it, in falling in love with Him, in renouncing themselves and taking up their daily cross. He has the ardent desire to give Himself to them, and why do they remain so indifferent? - "What is missing Lord? Where am I failing?" is the probing question which can steal away our peace of heart! As the educator even more so we priests need to perceive that area of personal freedom and responsibility before which we must respectfully stand back. This is the intimate area of conscience. Here we have to introduce the Guardian Angel! Here we have to call for and trust in his complementary help. While we cannot always stand by the side of souls nor speak into their hearts, the Angel can.

4. Dear Brothers! God sends an Angel before us and those entrusted to our pastoral care. If Christian Life is easy, according to our Holy Father, since all we have to do is live "as Christ" did (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 119) with a "good intention" each morning, to this we may add: it is even easier with our Angel’s help. Let us ask him in the morning: "Holy Guardian Angel, go before me and guide my thoughts, words and deeds according to God’s holy Will." Then in moments of indecision ask: "How would Christ decide in my place?", and as we have asked for our Angel’s guidance, we trust and try our best. Secondly, let us do as much ourselves; namely, let us be a Guardian Angel for our parishioner, sent by God before them! Let us announce to them the Ten Commandments and the Angel’s help!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC