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Vol. IV, Jan. '98

 

"Heaven to witness against you"

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God revealed through Moses "the statutes and the ordinances" to the people of Israel in such a clear way, that He tells them in Deuteronomy what He will say again at the very end of the biblical revelation; "for the Lord your God (Who) is a devouring fire, a jealous God," (Dt 4,24) says: "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it" (Dt 4,2; cf. Rev 22,l8-19). What are His ordinances? He wants man to seek, find and love God: "You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul... Him who loved your fathers" (4,29.37). "The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might!" (6,4).

God repeatedly explained to Israel that He is only One; He insisted on their obedience, strictly prohibiting having other gods besides Him, and doing evil in His sight. If, after having entered the Promised Land, they should do this and fall back into paganism, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land you are going over the Jordan to possess: you will not live long upon it, but will be utterly destroyed" (4,26)! Why does the jealous God bring in the word "heaven" here, meaning, of course, "Angels" (see Circular II,1; 1996 and Catechism 1023-1029; l053)? Considering it more closely, we see that they are, indeed, witnesses; they are qualified, interested witnesses for the sake of God's glory!

1. Of a witness it is asked, first of all, that he have been personally present before that to which he testifies for. We have learned from the first four books of Moses, that the Angels serve God and act in the life of man, directly or by influencing indirectly through material creatures.

a) It is a fact that the holy Angels are always present in man's life. David was convinced of their presence as he prayed: "I give Thee thanks, 0 Lord, with my whole heart; before the Angels (in conspectu Angelorum) I sing Thy praise" (Ps l38 (137),l). Tobit believed in the Angel's presence during man's ordinary life, that the Angel is made witness of man's actions: "Go with this man; God Who dwells in heaven will prosper your way, and may His Angel attend you...", and: "Do not worry, my sister,... for a good Angel will go with him" (Tob 5,16.20). Later on, his belief was confirmed by the Angel himself: Raphael confessed his presence during Tobit's prayer and as he buried the dead (cf. Job 12,12-13).

b) When the holy Angels are present in the life of man, then they become witnesses to his behavior; witnesses of his good and bad behavior. "Give heed to him... do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression" (Ex 23,21). Our Lord refers to this text when He warns: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their Angels always behold the face of My Father" (Mt 18,10), and "I tell you, every one who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the Angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the Angels of God" (Lk 12,8f; cf. Mk 8,38). If we lead a good life we will join the Angels in their glory: "He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before My Father and before His Angels" (Rev 3,5). According to the parables of the Kingdom, our Lord will present us to the holy Angels as instruments of justice: "The Son of man will send His Angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire... The Angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous..." (Mt 13,41-42.49). All the holy Angels are sent by God into the life of man (cf. Heb1,14)! Therefore, all the Angels are able to be witnesses of man's life; they are "eye-witnesses"!

2. Not just any person can be considered a 'qualified witness', for a witness has to have observed consciously and reported objectively what is being witnessed.

a) Through their pure spiritual nature, the holy Angels perceive what happens in man's life. Their spiritual nature allows them to perceive all; hidden to them is only what God has reserved for Himself, that is, the thoughts of man in his heart, for these are as the bridegroom's chamber (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica I,57,4; 117,2); however, man can freely share these with the Angels, if he should so choose to do (Ibid,, I,57,5).

b) The holy Angels are not susceptible {overly sensitive}, they do not seek their own glory and honor because they have definitively renounced themselves and do not feel personally offended at any time. Hence, we can consider them trustworthy, selfless and objective. Moreover, they have always the law and rights of God before them; on these points they never compromise. With regard to God's rights, it is said of the Angel, "he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in Him" (Ex 23,21). This does not make him unjustly partial because the law of God is eternal truth, His rights are universal and definitive and ultimately so are the laws of man's nature: according to which all men will be judged!

c) Besides first hand knowledge through attentive presence, objectivity, and personal selflessness, a witness has to be concerned about the truth. In this the holy Angels are never lazy, indifferent or lukewarm, for they are zealous for God and His rights; they are "flashes of lightning" (Rev 4,5) or fire from the Fire of God, inflamed, and enthusiastic. They are like St. Peter ready to instantaneously draw the sword. We might characterize them as "Choleric... with keen intellect, strong will, totally absorbed by the aim he has in mind who rushes for his goal with great haste and impetuosity" (K. Hock). They are guardians of God's property and of His established regulations. In their zeal they do not possess the negative side of a choleric temperament, that is, such as being stubborn, acting impetuously or with fury without due reason.

3. When God makes man aware of the presence of the Angels, He directs his attention to the Angels in His desire for all to be saved (cf. e.g. Mt 18,14). The Angels share this salvific will and are sent not to condemn but as ministers of grace. Through them God "wounds, but binds up", "He smites, but His hands heal" (Job 5,l8). The moral choice of collaboration remains with man. Jesus taught, "every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God" (Jn 3,20-21), we might add, "with the help of the Angels". The acceptance or rejection of Divine grace, of angelic help is a moment of decision and, therefore, of judgment. These words, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day or now, manifest the urgency of the proper spiritual awareness and the disposition man must have when confronted with this decision. God intends them as a help to prevent man from falling into sin, for when he is aware of the presence of the Angels, he might reflect with greater care about his actions. This disposition marks a christian conscience! That is the reason, why St. Benedict's doctrine, "Think therefore, how we have to be in the presence of God and His Angels" (cf. Rule, ch. 19), is valid not just for his monks but for everyone!

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood! Our Guardian Angel is our "big brother", the constant witness at our side who is watching us out of love and with the holy desire to lead us on the narrow path to heaven! We are never alone, whatever we think or do, we think or do it before God and His Angels. In this month and even throughout this entire year dedicated to the Holy Spirit, Whom the holy Angels serve in a special way, God invites us to exercise being conscious of their constant presence in our lives. We can do this with the help of pictures and of short invocations (of. Catechism 2665-2672, 2697-2704), but the main means towards this goal is, for us priests, the Liturgy of the Hours, that the holy Angels are present as witnesses when we pray it was once revealed to St. Bernard: During one Night-Vigil, the Saint saw each monk with an Angel standing alongside who wrote down what the monk was singing. Some Angels he saw wrote in gold, other's in silver, again others with ink and others with water, and finally, some wrote nothing at all: they wrote according to the attentiveness and the different disposition with which the monks prayed their office. - Lord have mercy on each one of us and come to our assistance during this entire year, 1998, in all our ministry and throughout our life!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC