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Vol. IV, October 1998

 

Messenger of Mercy and Hope

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

    Vocations are always for the common good. We saw the openness of Gideon for the needs of the people, his preoccupation for the common good: Through him God wanted to save Israel. ? And after him God sent still other servants, yet, the people became unfaithful again: 'The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord' (Judg 13,1). God, once more, did not abandon His chosen people. Faithful to His promise, He again sent an Angel in order to call a Savior for His people. Here the Angel is chosen to serve as servant of the mercy of GOD and of life, as a messenger of the Savior for the people and messenger of hope.

1. In this case the Angel does not direct himself to the chosen one, as with Gideon, but to the chosen one's future parents, indeed, to a sterile woman. Note that the Sacred Text initially mentions both, but the Angel directs himself first to the woman: 'There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Mano"ah; his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son"' (Judg 13,2-3). This is all the more interesting as the Angel appeared a second time, after the husband"s prayer and then spoke with him.

    Recall how the fallen angel approached Eve in Paradise, he caught her attention as she listened to him and found in her a companion for the seduction of man (cf. Gen 3,1-6)! That original infidelity, though, did not cause the total withdrawal of the good Angels from woman. In the first annunciation of the birth of a child especially chosen by God, we see that it was directed to a man; we refer to the annunciation of Isaac to Abraham. However, his answer was also not altogether exemplary; Abraham 'laughed' at God (cf. Gen 17,15-22). Another such annunciation was that of St. John the Baptist; his father Zechariah doubted the word of the Angel (cf. Lk 1,8-22)! Finally, when the holy Angel Gabriel announced the virginal birth of the Divine Savior, he directed himself only to a woman; although she was 'betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph' (Lk 1,26), the latter did not even know about the conception. After having been clarified about the way this should happen, the Virgin answered with the full consent: I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Your word' (Lk 1,38). The wife of Mano"ah - of whom we do not even know her name! - stands in this line; she and he speak to the Angel.
    The Angel, of course, directs himself to whomever the Lord sends him to; it can be a man in his function as the head and natural representative of God before men (cf. 1 Cor 11,3; 1 Tim 3,12 etc.) or a woman 'who represents the creature' (G.von le Fort, The Eternal Woman, Bruce Publ., Milwaukee 1954, 110; cf. 1 Cor 14,35; 1 Tim 2 and 3; 1 Pet 3,1-5). Each one of us ought to be ready for a call from God and to give God in His Angels an answer at any moment.

2. What is the message of this Angel? 'You shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines' (v.5). Of course, who can foretell the birth of a male child to a sterile woman and expect to be believed, and moreover specify that it would be a male child? Humanly speaking, who would believe such a prediction?

a) The Angel is a servant of God, and God is Life. Therefore his message will be of life, calling man to rise above himself and serve life. The law of God is to give, it is the law of Love, it is the essence of which is life, the ultimate gift and presupposition for every other gift! The Angel stands absolutely in the service of God; he cannot demand anything else than this transcendence above self (so easily become selfish, become an "ego"). This is the major problem today as well, in small affairs and in large, in public and in private. People try to avoid the neighbor at their side, they deny access to those 'below' (children) and distance themselves from those 'above' (the elderly). Does this not stand at odds with the message: 'He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life' (Jn 12,25). Giving life, you see, is also the law of the Cross, the Wisdom of God and the folly of the world.
The place of giving life is marriage. Marriage is not a private affair, it is a sacrament (a sign to be seen!), it is a mission in the service of the community, in the service of which we may count upon the help of the Angels, as we see here. Later, St. Raphael proves this again in the life of Tobias and Sarah,  and as many couples can testify.
But what about the child? Samson shall save his people! From where should such a savior come, if not from the families? From where should the future priests come, if not from the original 'minor seminaries' which are the families, with the parents testimony of their selfless love (cf. Vatican II, Formation of Priests, 2; Pastores dabo vobis, 41,63,68; Catechism 2204-07, 2220-27, 2232-33)?

b) Mano"ah and his wife are a very edifying couple. The wife told the words of the Angel to her husband and he believed her, and so showed a selfless disposition to serve.  His question, like that of Mary, concerned only the way in which it should be accomplished, and not the power of God to accomplish this gift. Without many questions, he turned to God and started to pray. 'And God listened to the voice of Mano"ah,' (v. 9) because he prayed with humility and the disposition to serve. 'The Angel of God came again to the woman,' and when she ran in haste to call her husband, the Angel waited till both arrived; then humbly he repeated his message.
We may ask: Where is the accustomed severity of the pure spirit, who shows himself more powerful than man, who is the rigid defender of the rights of God? Here there was no need for staunch rigor, because he found believers; believing souls are disposed to obey as long as they know well enough what God wants them to do. In their simplicity they are of such good will, that the union of their will with the Divine Will is just a question of guidance. The Angel does not need to manifest and vindicate his authority as St. Gabriel did to Zechariah (cf. Lk 1,19). And when they asked the Angel, 'What is to be the boy"s manner of life and what is he to do?,' the Angel is glad to peacefully offer answer and orientation: 'All that I commanded her let him observe' (v.14). - Such a spiritual climate is surely the place for children and in it vocations can mature for the common good of mankind and for the Kingdom of Heaven.

3. As a sign of friendship and of agreement, Mano"ah asked permission to offer a meal. It is nothing special so far, as any servant may well receive a token of gratitude, especially for good news. However, the Angel involuntarily drew attention towards himself before he pointed to God, hence he answered: 'If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.' This peaked the curiosity of Mano"ah, who then asked with whom he was dealing: '"What is your name, so that when your words come true, we may honor you?" And the Angel of the Lord said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" So Mano"ah took the kid ... and offered it ... to the Lord... And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar' (v. 17-20).

a) The Angel rejected the present they wanted to make him: 'I will not eat of your food' (v.16). It is not only because of his spiritual nature, which does not allow him to eat (cf. Tob 12,19). It is because of his humility and spirit of poverty: He wants to totally be a servant of God, and therefore, on his part he resists any honor. He does not even give his name; not that he would not have one, on the contrary 'it is wonderful'. But precisely in order to avoid that man might stop at him or be captivated by his beauty and splendor, he avoids anything related to himself personally. ALL honor and glory are Yours, Almighty God!, that is the 'heartbeat' of all the holy Angels.

b) In this, we priests find a marvelous and encouraging example of poverty and detachment befitting our ministry, whether we vowed it or not (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 17; Pastores dabo vobis, 30; Directory ... of Priests, 67). Priestly poverty should consist in more than just a moderate life-style or in the responsible use of the material goods. 'In all aspects (living quarters, means of transportation, vacations, etc.), the priest must eliminate any kind of affection and luxury' (Directory, 67). The poverty of the priest has not to exclude order and beauty, so that the rich do not feel rejected, but his life, by its simplicity, must also welcome the poor. The poverty of the priest must, first of all, give testimony to his total gift and surrender to God and manifest his intention to belong and to work for God alone, like the Angel: ALL honor and glory are Yours, Almighty GOD!, so that even his personal name no longer matters, as long as he is just 'Father', 'Priest of CHRIST'!
    'The community' shall 'be able to count on his dedication, availability, untiring work of evangelization and, above all, his devoted and unconditional love.' Following the example of the Angels and with the strength received from them the priest can fulfill the expectations of the Church: 'he will exercise his spiritual mission with kindness and firmness, with humility and service, opening himself to compassion, participating in the sufferings which arise from the various forms of poverty, spiritual and material, old and new' (Directory, 30). His life should speak of the law of God which is a law of love and life, the law of giving. In this example even married couples will find encouragement for the poverty and renunciation which another child might demand from them. If the priest, 'after having provided for his honest sustenance' (Directory, 67), lives selflessly, an unworldly life of befitting poverty, offering himself to God, if in all things he serves souls and renounces a 'better life,' then supernatural power is added to his preaching, which inspires trust in the law of God and the mission of the Church.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! May this holy Angel and all our heavenly Brothers help us to trust in the faithfulness and promises of GOD, in His fidelity to the Church, in the 'Everlasting Covenant'!
May the holy Angels help us to see in our daily life the possibilities where and how we can give the testimony of sincere practical love through a healthy way of a 'simple life', and may a more frequent meditation about their exemplar behavior move us to put it always concretely into practice.
May we also, like this Angel, talk to parents about their social responsibility, and about the family as the 'first seminary'.
May we care in the pastoral work for vocations, as we have already this mission from God; let us do so in gratitude towards God Himself, towards our holy Angel and all the others who spoke to us about CHRIST and awoke in us the desire to be consecrated to Him. 

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC