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Vol. III, July,'97

 

"My Angel Shall Go Before You" (Ex 32,34)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Lord promised Moses: "My Angel shall go before you!" This is not the first time, that we hear this divine promise. Still, it will be interesting to see, what is the reason for it here and what are the circumstances. Each time we may find new motives to trust in God’s mercy and in His powerful helpers.

1. While Moses was on the mountain where "the glory of the Lord settled" (Ex 24,16), while he was like the holy Angels with God, immersed in adoration for "forty days and forty nights" (24,18), he received the order to build a sanctuary on earth where God could dwell among men with the Cherubim. What God promised Moses in the sanctuary, He had already offered him before on the mountain. God said: "There I will meet with you, and from above ... from between the two Cherubim ... I will speak with you of all" (Ex 25,22). In fact, Moses received the Law of God for the chosen people through an Angel’s mediation (cf. Acts 7,53; Gal 3,19; Hebr 2,2).

"The presence of God" is the "main office", so to speak, not just for the holy Angels, but also for Moses, and for priests. From there he is called, from there he can receive new insights and orders; there he can ask for help, there is his source of strength; and it is there that he has to give his account. With God he is at home! There, Moses and we priests meet the Angels; staying with God and the holy Angels we can live that union in spirit, in which God manifests His thoughts and ways, which are not ours (cf. Is 55,8), and in which we may grow in conformity with His holy Will.

To be with God means, generally speaking, to be in prayer. There is the prayer of staying with God and the prayer of going to God, the prayer of being and the prayer of acting, the prayer of adoration, of admiration, of astonished gaze (meditation, contemplation) and the prayer of petition, of offering, of humble repentance. The spiritually mature person stays first with God in adoration, then he presents his needs; the priest stays with God in adoration principally in the quiet of the morning and brings all the misery and difficulties of his ministry to God especially in the evening, when he comes back from the "field" (cf. Lk 17,7-10).

2. Moses, after having come down from the mountain, needed to speak with God again, on account of the apostate people he found with Aaron. The people had just made the solemn promise: "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (24,3.7), but now, "they have turned aside quickly out of the way which (God) commanded them" (32,8). Moses found them dancing around the golden calf as their god.

a) Moses reacted first by slaying some 3000 men (cf. v. 25-28); then, he accused the others of "a great sin". But his ultimate reaction was the promise: "I will go up to the Lord; perhaps, I can make atonement for your sin" (v. 30 f.). I brought God adoration and thanksgiving, now I will bring Him, ashamed or not, your sins and infidelity. This is the tension of the Son of God who became man: He is with the Father and at the same time far from Him. We may say: He is in "prayer" and in "mission", holy and among sinners, mercifully bowing down to them and out of justice keeping distance. Such is also the "world" of the priest, his "missions-field": the tension between the invitation of God and the refusal of sinners, between Divine goodness and human ingratitude; today it is the tension between the pulpit and the confessional, between justice and mercy.

b) Moses went back up to God upon the mountain and spoke this most marvellous prayer: "This people have sinned a great sin ... But now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin - and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written." - It was not disappointment over all his efforts up to this hour; it was not flight from his mission, nor a running away from his duty! It was a recourse to the last means available, the offering of his own life and even of his own salvation. When Israel struggled in the battle against Amalek, Moses saved them through his intercession (cf. Ex 17,11 f.); but here, Israel having fallen into sin, words were no longer sufficient; reparation was necessary. Nevertheless, we may ask ourselves, how could Moses think he could make atonement for the sins of the people! Did he not remember the words of God concerning the Angel, where He said: "he will not pardon your transgression" (Ex 23,21), and how much less will God do so? Was it the example of Abraham, who had achieved God’s promise of mercy for Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 just men (Gen 18,32)? Or was it rather the inspiration, the guiding light which he received by communicating in familiarity with God? Perhaps, like Abraham he had seen the day of the Son of Man (cf. Jn 8,56) Who would say: "I, (the good shepherd) will lay down My life for the sheep" (Jn 10,15; cf. 17,19; Mk 10,45)? Was it in those hours of solitude and intimacy with God, where he became "a man after (God’s) heart who will do all (His) will" (Acts 13,22), where his heart was transformed and filled with such fatherly care which made Saint Paul write: "I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race" (Rom 9,1-3)? Reparation is so much more than just intercession as sin is more than temptation. Here we see the final depth of every priestly vocation, namely, "to be the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice" (Preface of Easter V).

c) The Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. But now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, My Angel shall go before you" (v. 33-34). Did God not accept this perfect act of love? Is the actual oblation of life, perhaps, part of the vocation of religious only? The priestly vocation embraces intentionally all vocations, he is to be "Another Christ" who is at home with the Father and is near the sinners. He is a bridge like Christ. However, God sent Moses back to the people and to his mission of leading them to the Promised Land.

3. But new is the promise of the Angel’s companionship.

a) "My Angel will go before you!" Spoken by the Almighty Creator, it is no empty word. Hagar experienced the presence of the Angel; Abraham was guided by an Angel. His experience moved him to assure his servant of this help (cf. Gen 24,7); it became a deep conviction among the Hebrews (cf. Tob 5,21) and formed, it seems, part of a salutation, as we would have it today: "Good bye," that is, "God be with you!" Such a word from God transcends the character of a mere pious wish and becomes reality: when God says this, an Angel receives His command and goes!

b) But will the Angel be the right help for this mission to the apostate people? Does the holy Angel know all these tensions which characterize the life of a missionary? Yes, he does. The Angel does not just live in adoration but also is sent into the world, just as was Moses and as is every priest. But the Angel knows how to live such a mission. When the Angel lives at the side of man, for example, he does not give up His looking at God. And although he himself would like to try all to impede the sins of man, he still controls his own reaction and conforms himself to the Merciful God, Who, while guaranteeing the freedom of man (the sinner) comes down Himself to make satisfactcion for sin. Since the Angel’s eyes remain fixed upon God’s face, he does not judge according his natural understanding, but in conformity with the judgement of our Lord and God! Therefore, ultimately speaking, the Angel does not look to the people either for their collaboration nor for the fruits as contingencies of his mission among men. He looks only to God, and in seeing His longanimity, His patience, His kindness and meekness, he finds the strength for fidelity. When God gives Moses His Angel as a companion, we have to say: His answer, in His untiring search for the salvation of man, is not desperation but courage, not withdrawal but initiative!

4. The encouraging example of Moses assures us that we priests today are also with the Angel in the solitude before the tabernacle even as when we guide the people of God! God will send His Angel before us always and everywhere. He will show us the will of God in all circumstances; he will manifest to us the example of Christ and encourage us to embrace the folly of the Cross as the guiding principle of the pastoral work of Jesus. Looking with the Angel at Jesus we will receive from him the necessary strength in all circumstances.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC