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Vol. IV, May 1998

 

To Convince of Sin

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

"Why are there so many angel books around lately?" Peter Kreeft answers: "I think it's a symptom of fundamental changes that are happening, or about to happen, to our world. (In the Bible, Angels usually appear just before world-changing and life changing events.)" (P. Kreeft, Angels (and Demons). What Do We Really Know about Them?, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995, p.18f.)

1. Such a fundamental change in the history of the people of Israel was the passage from the desert to the Promised Land. After more than four hundred years under a foreign regime and after forty years as wanderers on the earth through the desert (cf. Gen 4,14), Israel was to find rest in a fruitful land, blessed by the Lord. Joshua was called to guide them and God sent him the "Prince of the host of the Lord" as help. Assured of his assisting presence in the beginning (cf. Josh 5,13), the Angel is not mentioned anymore; yet, spiritually his presence is unmistakable, With his help, Joshua guided the Chosen People across the Jordan into the Promised Land.

Once each tribe had received its inheritance in the land and settled down, "the Angel of the Lord ... said: 'I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land which I swore to your fathers.' I said, 'I will never break My covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars"' (Jdg 2,1-2). This is the one astonishing, constant element in the history of Israel: the faithfulness of the Lord. Seemingly countless are the narration's of the rebellion of the people against God and his ministers, both men and Angels: against Moses and Joshua, and later on against nearly every prophet. Notwithstanding the chastisement (indeed, even through them), God remained faithful to His promises. "The Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; I gave them into your hand" (24,11), as He had promised to do before through the Angel (cf. Ex 23,23!).

The answer which God expected was: "Be steadfast to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow down yourselves to them, but cleave to the Lord" (23,6-8).

2. Some of the tribes of Israel did what the Lord asked and were blessed. Others did not obey: "Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and its villages ... Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer.,. Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron ... Asher did not ... Naphtali did not ..." (Jdg 1,27.29-33).

How could the Angel approve of such conduct which led to apostasy?! The cultural changes must certainly have been great. It can be understood, that in such circumstances some may cling to their old customs and are not open for the new situation, whereas others are inclined to open themselves so much in the new situations that they surrender or forget all the past, making no effort to retain it. These tribes, last mentioned, were simply unfaithful to God; they were too cowardly to confess their beliefs before a strange people. And instead of paying their allegiance first to God and then, upon this condition to engage In converse with men, they wanted to be mingled among men and if afterwards there would be anything left over, they would dedicate this to God. it is not surprising that they did not withstand wrong ideas. They played with the grace of the clear knowledge of God they had once received. These people wanted to accept the gifts of God, and yet at the same time determine what would be good for them ("to know good and evil"). It may be that they acted out of curiosity as so do many apostates in the beginning, it may be that they thought they could build a reality upon compromises. But they experienced the bitter truth: Any lust (forbidden fruit) consented to, becomes one's burden, or even dictator. A divided heart cannot live long; it must needs decide for one side or for the other. With God and the holy Angels, of course, there is no conceivable compromise of the truth. The attitude of those tribes who did not obey the Lord's order could expect no approbation whatsoever from the Angel. They needed to be censored in his eyes. Judging in the light of the Divine Majesty and acting as a servant of the Holy Spirit the Angel had to convince them of their sin (cf. Jn 16,8). And so the Angel of the Lord said: "You have not obeyed my command. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you" (Jdg 2,2-3).

3. The will of God was very clear; the greatness of the decision demanded it: the only true God, on the one hand, and the created gods or fallen angels in opposition to Him on the other! Then, the constancy of the Angel's help - all indicate that this passage is of great significance for the history of salvation.

"Forty years" of marching through the desert were seen as a symbol for the entire life on earth! And just as at the end of that journey a total and exclusive faithfulness to God without any "half-way-solution" was demanded, so too at the end of each man's earthly pilgrimage is demanded a personal definitive decision before the personal judgment with just one purpose: Either God alone or the multifarious and seemingly numberless gods of this world" Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love" (Catechism 311). "It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb 9,27)! In such a decisive moment, in the "life-changing event", the holy Angels are present.

The Church is aware of the human life as a "battle": "The whole of man's history has been the story of our combat with the powers of the evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day" (CCC 409; cit. II Vat., Gaudium et spes, 37 §2). In such spiritual battle, God does not leave men alone even as He did not leave Israel alone in general (cf. Ex 23,20) and Joshua in particular (Josh 6,13); rather he gave them an Angel as companion. "Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation" (CCC 332). "From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of Angels" (CCC 333).

"The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of Angels" (CCC 334). "From its beginning to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and Intercession" (CCC 336). In all, the holy Angels are present, and yet in a special way in that decisive hour, when man decides for ever in favor of God or against Him: "the poor man died and was carried by the Angels to Abraham's bosom" (Lk 16,22). The Church believes in this grace granted by God and recalls it by singing in the funeral rite: May the Angels lead you into Paradise ... ." (CCC 335).

Tradition links the angelic help in this hour with the person of St. Michael, who again is seen by some, like Cornelius a Lapide, as the "Prince of the Heavenly hosts" and therefore as the companion of Joshua and Israel, referred to in Josh 5,14. In this context, Peter Kreeft points out the need of attention to the holy Angels: "Perhaps the Angels are there to remind us, like soldiers in uniform ... that war seems to be coming to a head or making a fundamental turn right now ... Just when the enemy is making a great counterattack, we start forgetting we're on a battlefield at all!" (P. Kreeft, Angels, 19)

4. How do they fight, how do they help us? In that hour, they refuse the destructive influences of the fallen Angels, who know so well that it is a matter of an irreversible decision, and therefore know the importance of that hour! They remind man of the divine graces, of God's mercy and love throughout one's entire life. Then, they become man's defenders, imploring the grace of God to cover the gaps left by our omitted works; they remind God of His mercy and present the most Precious Blood of His Son in order to repair our failures. And yet, if necessary, they can become man's accusers as well, if the Divine Dignity and Holiness demand it!

This explains the great help of the Angels during man's life: They never are content with a half-done-work, or with a half-made-life! From the holy Angels we receive the light to judge our lives from the divine perspective. We are challenged to decide always more consciously, in a more and more definitive way, so that we might not need to correct our course later on. To help us in this, the holy Angels indicate to the fruits of our words and deeds (cf. Mt 7,16-20).

The conquest of the Promised Land must have been an great war, as it is when a soul enters the eternal promise. Do we believe in the presence of our holy Angels and invoke them? Do we direct our attention to them when we look for help in our needs? Do we believe that man finds the deep rest and peace of soul only in union with God? Do we ask the holy Angel in decisive moments for his orientation? Do we think and decide in terms of eternity? - May the holy Angel remind us constantly of death and of the presence of the Living God, so that we spiritually recoil from any disobedience to His will in the future and, thus, surely save our souls.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC