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Vol.III, Sept. '97

 

Guardian Angel of "You and the People" (cf. Ex 33,1-4)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God promised Moses that He would send him an Angel as companion and helper, as "fellow servant" (cf. Ex 32,34 and Rev 19,10) in one of the most difficult moments of his ministry as a mediator between God and the people of Israel, at a time when he experienced his own powerlessness and was even going to renounce his own salvation, offering the Lord to be blotted out from the book He had written (cf. Ex 32,32b). At the core of that misery, however, was not the incapacity of Moses or his own faults, nor the inscrutability of the plan of God; there lay the mystery of the iniquity of the wavering people. Is then the Angel God gave to Moses the right help? The text which follows either speaks of a second Angel or gives some clarifications concerning the first: "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send an Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 33,1-3).

1. God did not give this Angel to Moses for his personal salvation. God speaks to Moses and to his people (cf. V. 4). This angelic mission is extended over all the chosen people. God, probably, just calls to mind what He had assured Moses of at the beginning, when reference was made to "the Angel of God who went before the host of Israel" (Ex 14,19), leading the entire people of Israel out of Egypt and through the desert. However, to recall this at this moment is the comforting light for Moses, which we have to consider.

a) The question is not whether one single Angel has the power to take care of an entire nation. If a human king already has the power to rule the life of a nation, even if this rule extends only to the external and social dimensions, how much more so an Angel! A king can conquer a land for his people or fight for peace; a king has an army at his disposition; he can establish laws which have to be observed by all the people. Why should an Angel, whose intelligence and power by far exceeds that of the whole of mankind, not be capable of caring for more than one individual? Several scriptural passages recall the fact that one Angel killed in one night 185,000 men (cf. 2 Kings 19,35; Isa 37,36-38 ...). It is not so much a question of whether this is possible or not, but rather if this corresponds to God’s holy will and plan.

b) That God wants His Angels to take care of mankind as a whole and of the different nations individually is definitely confirmed in Scripture and Tradition. In the Book of Daniel, St. Michael is called "the great prince who has charge of your people" (12,1; cf. 10,20-21); this leads some to understand that the "Angel of the Church in Ephesus" or "the Angel of the Church in Smyrna" etc. is not just a symbolic expression for the bishop but rather an indication of a real Angel with charge over that ecclesiastical district (Rev 2,1.8). Pope Benedict XIV referred positively to the liturgical "Office prayed, with the consent of Pope Sixtus V, in the regions which are submitted to the king of Portugal"; still in the actual liturgical calendar, Portugal celebrates the feast of "the Angel of Portugal" on June 10! Benedict XIV justified this doctrine: "For the theologians are in agreement with St. Bonaventure (Compendium Theologiae Veritatis, liber 2, caput 16, tomus 7), that Guardian Angels are assigned not only to individuals but also to kingdoms and provinces". So we read, i.e., in St. Thomas Aquinas: "As Principalities we understand those who stand before the individual nations" (Compendium Theologiae, c. 126). In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "This state of division into many nations, each entrusted by divine providence to the guardianship of Angels, is at once cosmic, social and religious ..." (Nr. 57). It is generally known that various nations consider, venerate and invoke St. Michael as their heavenly patron and protector; such as Portugal (first Consecration, acc. some sources, in 1140 by St. Teotonio, first Prior of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Coimbra), France (solemn national consecration on May 19, 1912), and Germany (cf. Bibliotheca Sanctorum IX,429).

2. Therefore, God’s promise is a real consolation for Moses, in that in the Angel he has someone who shares his difficult mission with him: the Angel is first meant to be a guide ("before you"); second, a defender and warrior for the people before the many enemies (to "drive out"), and third, a guarantee that they will reach the promised land ("go up")! The Angel helps Moses in the three main functions of the leader of the people of God: to show the way as a prophet, to liberate from foreign bondage as a priest and to lead to God as a pastor. Such functions correspond actually to the offices of the priestly prophetic, sacramental and pastoral ministries.

This conviction sheds some light on the difficult situations in our priestly ministry, when we are tempted to despair in moments of helplessness and unsuccessfulness or to look for false consolations. God reveals to us: We are never alone in our responsability for souls. We form a team with the Angel of the region ("cosmic"), of the nation ("social"), and of the parish and diocese ("religious"), and maybe even with more Angels that God is pleased to entrust with a specific mission on our behalf.

God spoke to Moses of the Angel who, together with him, is to care for the people. He did not explain much, but Moses had already an idea of what an Angel is like, and therefore knew that through the mediation of the Angel he might find access to many souls of those he could never reach on his own. In what a wonderful way the Angel showed Moses the greatness, holiness and nearness of God! With what ease the holy Angel helped him in the confrontation with the magicians, freed and protected the people against the Pharaoh. How much confidence the promise of the Angel gave to the people so that they solemnly promised obedience to the alliance on Sinai! Now God offers him the grace to work as a team with a holy Angel - a saint whose intelligence and insight are far above ours.

3. Therefore, the priests today also shall find in the holy Angel of their parish and of their diocese a concrete help in their pastoral ministry, beyond the help through their personal Guardian Angel and the Guardian Angels of the individual parishioners. Not trusting in themselves, they should invite this holy angelic helper to assist them in all their work and undertakings, i.e., for the preparation and presentation of the homily, at the moment they leave the house, so that they will meet those persons they are supposed to meet according to the plan of God; when they are supposed to start talking and do not know what should be said; when they bless from the Church all the parish that they may reach all: God wants the priests to act in constant union or collaboration with their heavenly helpers.

The encouraging side of the good news of an Angel as "second pastor" or fellow servant, sent with the priest to the people, goes hand in hand with the dark side of the picture: the more the priest pays attention to this holy servant at his side, the more clearly he will understand the essence of priestly sanctity: he is a minister of God, a mere servant and a mediator; he is but an instrument in the hand of God and an obedient observer of the directives of the Church. Detached from himself and from desires of his own, transparent in his will so as to be able to respond to the needs of the people and of the will of God, he lives completely surrendered to God and to all "the heavens": burning with zeal for God, only God’s glory and triumph in his heart, objective in his work, and responsible. He will carefully examine his conscience seeking to avoid any kind of ambition or striving for success and honor: Ready to sow most carefully and yet entrusting the harvest totally to God, the owner of the field.

4. This is where the holy Angels help us to grow:

First of all, to be a priest totally dedicated to God, seeing to it with scrupulous attention, as it were, and yet with childlike, unlimited confidence that he may always be in union with God and His Angels, unceasingly praying, just as the Angels are constantly contemplating the face of God the Father in Heaven!

Secondlly, not to be concerned about and reflect upon what mission God gives me, where He sends me, whom he gives preference to, what type of work would be easier for me: As the holy Angels find their sole delight in the contemplation of God and in the fulfillment of His most holy Will, so does the saintly priest care for one thing only: to be in union with God by seeking His Holy Face and doing only God’s holy Will. Out of this union flows all the strength necessary, faith and hope, love and surrender, readiness to live and to die, to serve and to be served, to act with power and to accept helplessness.

United with God and the Angels we become, like them, real servants of God with, through and in Christ. May they help each one of us to reach this goal.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC