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Vol. IV, Feb. '98

 

"Witnesses of Your Glory"

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Through His servant, Moses, God calls man to fear Him, to walk in all His ways, to love and serve Him with all his heart and soul, and to keep the commandments (cf Dt 10,12,13). "Behold", he continues, convince yourself that it is right to respond to such expectations of God, "[for] to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of the heavens, the earth with all that is in it; yet the Lord set His heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants... loves the sojourner, giving food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore;... fear the Lord your God... you shall serve Him and cleave to Him" (10,14-15.19-20).

1. Now, observe the different aspects of the prescriptions: God does not just negatively prohibit, but positively indicates a direction! Likewise, God does not just ordain prescriptions, "moralizing" man's life by laws like an authoritarian master who says, "I have spoken and so obey and do not ask any questions," God justifies his ordinances with the authority of His own being, majesty, omnipotence and especially, with the authority of His holiness, of His mercy and fidelity: "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God,... because the Lord loves you" (Dt 7,6.8; cf 4,24.31.37; 6,5; 8,18; 1O,21f).

The law of God is not merely legalistic in character; its foundation is metaphysical in nature. It is grounded in being, and He Himself is and does what He demands from us obliging us by His own example. In this sense we should also understand Moses' reference to the Angels in the passage when he says: "Behold, to the Lord your God belong the heaven and the heaven of the heavens." He underlines the obligation of man before God with the fact, that all the rest of the "world", the angelic and the material, heaven and earth already lives what man is being asked to do.

To only see the immensity of the universe in the expression "the heaven and the heaven of the heavens" would not sufficiently explain the "yet" in the following verse. It is self-evident that God should love man over and above the material world, for man is "of more value than" the whole universe (cf Mt 10,29-32; 6,25-30; 16,26). Jesus teaches us to pray: "Our Father, Who are in the heavens" (Mt 6,9 and Lk 11,2 in Greek); the "highest heaven is the heaven of the Angels", affirms St. Thomas citing Isidor's commentary on Deut 10,14 (St. Thomas A., Summa Th I,61,4). When God is seen as the One to Whom belongs the immense number and the splendor of the Angels and the Son as the One to Whom "they belong... because they were created through and for Him" (cf Catechism 331), then the surprise over God's love for the poor people of Israel (the "yet") makes sense.

2. In our last meditation (Dt 4,26) we saw the Angels as witnesses of our life, as those who have their "eye" on us always. Here, they are shown as witnesses to the authority and power of God. They are shown in their most original and fundamental stance, namely, as purely spiritual creatures totally directed towards God. Moses wants to win men for God; to this end, he points to the rest of creation: Heaven and earth, Angels and material world - they all point to God their Maker and obey Him.

a) Since the holy Angels are pure spirits, all their being is marked by their essence. Formed according to the Divine idea, their essence is a participation in the essence of God. Their form or "character" is a manifestation, a living revelation of God; each of them is somehow a created attribute of God "in person". This is an Angel: "God's goodness in (a created) person", "God's fatherly care in person", "God's fidelity in person", "God's trustworthiness in person", "God's mercy in person"... He has created them as a mirror of Himself, and now they give testimony to His glory! "The image of God is impressed in the nature itself of the Angel through his essence!" (St. Tho., S. Th. I,56,3). Because of this similarity, "the Angel is called 'mirror' according to his nature;... he is called a 'pure mirror' because of the simplicity and immateriality of his nature; 'most clear' because of the most perfect participation of intellectual light" (St. Tho., In Div. Nom., IV, 18; Nr. 524).

Anyone who would meet or see an Angel would necessarily see God reflected in him. Their names, as far as they are revealed to us, express this. The Holy Father drew our attention to this in his Catechesis (August 6,1986) with respect to the three Archangels we know by name: Micha-EI, Gabri-El and Rapha-El. Their names refer always to God, to their union or belonging to God: "Who is like God?", "My power is God", "God heals". The "Preface of Angels" applies this lesson to the very being of the Angels when it says: "In praising Your faithful Angels and Archangels, we also praise Your glory, for honoring them, we honor You, their Creator. Their splendor shows us Your greatness, which surpasses in goodness the whole of Creation."

b) The Angels do not stand before God like a traffic sign or hang suspended from His hands like lifeless marionettes. As spiritual creatures they adhere to Him with a free will. They freely consented to be such reflections of their Creator, to be related to God by their metaphysical essence! They did not consider this a humiliation or annihilation but an elevation, an honor and glorification! Participation in God's attributes or perfection is not in their eyes a loss of self or of their own dignity, but the gain of true "quality"; abandonment in God is the return to their origin and the gain of perfection. And that is the meaning of the phrase: "they belong to Him". They chose to surrender their freedom to their Creator, to join their created and limited will with His uncreated and unlimited Will. They are totally surrendered to Him, and obedient like the centurion in the Gospel who explained: "I am a man with soldiers... under me; and I say to one, 'Go', and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Mt 8,9; cf Ps 104,3-4).

3. Besides this free and total adherence of the Angels to God and their glorious manifestation of Him, Moses could say: "Yet the Lord set His heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them" (v. 15)! It is as if God would pass by the Angels and search for man among His remaining creatures as He looked for the earth in the universe, for Bethlehem on the face of the earth, for the Blessed Virgin among the children of men. It is the idea which led the Fathers of the Church (e.g. St. Gregory, hom. 34) to consider man as the lost sheep, which God went to seek, leaving the ninety-nine in heaven (cf Lk 15,4). It was certainly not man's merits nor any great beauty or perfection, that drew the attention of God; rather it was man's lowliness (cf Dt 7,7). God does not rest in His love until the last is made happy, and the ultimate happiness of any rational creature can only consist in its union with God. This is why it has been said of the saints that they reached their "essential word", that is to say, they reached their "term" in a double sense: the goal of their life and their personal complete realization or perfection through assimilation to the WORD. This "term" means their particular union with the express Will of God according to their vocation. They can be described with one word, and this is an attribute of God. He reveals Himself through the creature who is totally united with Him. This is what the command of God in our text means, namely, that we should be and live before Him, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord God with all the heart and soul, so that we "belong to Him", and so reflect Him as the holy Angels do, as all saints do. He loves men and Angels with an infinite love; He desires to make us perfect in the union with Himself, as the Angels are already perfect in Him.

4. Since all that belongs to the Angels belongs entirely to God, any contact with the holy Angels will reveal to us the greatness of our Creator, and so bring us nearer to God. The more we realize that in this life we need to decide for God and prepare ourselves for the life hereafter, that we are "called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life" (Catechism, 356), the greater will our interest be to have communion with those who totally "belong to Him", and particularly with our Guardian Angel. God has placed him at our side; his personal reflection of God, must have something to do with our own call. Contact with the holy Angels lifts the life of the baptized up to the invisible and supernatural order, "to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the innumerable Angels in festal gathering" (Heb 12,22). They live a "life hid with Christ in God" (Col 3,3). Familiarity with our Guardian Angel is an important step in this direction. The marvelous example of these, our heavenly brothers, raises a number of salutary questions:

a) To what extent do I still have interests, which terminate at the level of this passing world? How far have I "circumcised my heart" (desires, "dreams",...)? How vital within me is the purpose of life - "to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to Him" (Catechism 358)?

b) Which divine perfection attracts me the most and is nearest to me? Which one is made most evident through my life? Is there any divine perfection that I have obscured before men through my life-style and behavior? What do I still lack that could prevent God from saying of me: "He belongs entirely to Me!"?

It would be helpful to unite ourselves more frequently with these holy servants of God by joining them in their hymn of adoration: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of Your glory..."! In this way we would join in their constant and existential consecration to God, make our own more firm and reflect Him more clearly before men!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC