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Vol. V, Feb. ‘99

 

To become "like an Angel" Part II
(Sam 24,15-17; 1 Chr 21,1-22,1)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

How difficult it is, at times, to discern the will of God! The first Book of Kings offers us in this regard an interesting study case. The incident takes place shortly after the division of the kingdoms caused by the death of Solomon and the subsequent perfidious erection of cult-sites in the North. We take up the story in the midst of the action. "An old prophet in Bethel" spoke to the "man of God" of Juda, who was heading home: "I also am a prophet as you are, and an Angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord" (1 Kings 13,18). Reference is rarely made to this text in angelology because the old prophet "lied to him". There was no word from an Angel, so it came to pass that "the man of God", who followed it, ended being killed by a lion. Now, as delusions like this are part of human life we should therefore pay attention to this text. The questions arise: How was it possible that the "man of God" was deceived? How can we be protected against delusions?

1. First we have to be aware of three fundamental truths: the fact that Angels speak to man, the necessity of obedience to the holy Angel’s voice and the possibility of delusion.

a) De facto, Angels do speak to man. An Angel spoke for example to Hagar and Lot and to Jacob in a dream; to simple people like the parents of Samson and the family of Tobit; to Elia and to Zechariah. In the New Testament, an Angel spoke to Our Lady, to simple shepherds and to the apostles. When they communicate the will of God to man, they must do this in such a way that man understands the message. Thus, the "old prophet of Bethel", aware of this, claimed: "an Angel spoke to me".

b) God not only entrusts his words for men to the Angels, but expressly demands our adherence to such words: "Give heed to him [the Angel] and harken to his voice, do not rebel against him for he will not pardon your transgression; for my Name is in him" (Ex 23,21). A testimony to the necessity of obedience is found in the case of Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist: when he doubted the words of St. Gabriel, he was made "silent and unable to speak" till the birth of St. John, when he confessed his faith and obedience. On the positive side: how prompt had to be the obedience of St. Joseph, when the Angel called him to flee to Egypt! What else did the Angel expect of St. Peter, when he freed him from the prison?

c) Still, we have to be on guard, since delusion is possible! The devil can appear like an "Angel of light". A fallen Angel had spoken through the serpent to our first parents, with his falsehood the devil tempted Jesus, and will impress all peoples at the end of time: "The whole earth followed the beast with wonder ... they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’" (Rev 13,3-4). That is the reason why Jesus Himself and all the Apostles warn us: "I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise" (Mt 10,16); "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits" (1 Jn 4,1). "Prove what is the will of God" (Rom 12,2; 2 Cor 11,14-15)!

2. With these principles in mind we may now ask: What really happened such that the man of God could be deceived?

a) After Solomon, Jeroboam became king of all Israel, with the exception of Juda. To defend his kingship against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who reigned in Jerusalem, Jeroboam started a new cult in Bethel, "and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites" (12,31). While "Jeroboam was standing by the altar, a man of God [from Juda] came ... and cried against the altar by the word of the Lord". Jeroboam "stretched out against him," but his hand dried up. It was healed only through the intercession of the man of God. Then, when Jeroboam invited him to his home, the word of the Lord commanded the prophet, "You shall neither eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way that you came" (13,9); so he did not follow the king.

b) Then, an "old prophet [who] dwelt in Bethel" (v.11), having heard about all this, went after the man of God and invited him with almost the same word: Come home with me and eat! The man of God resisted a second time, pointing out the order he received from the Lord. The prophet of Bethel replied referring first to his own authority — "I am also a prophet as you are" — secondly, to the authority of an Angel — "an Angel spoke to me" —, and finally, having already intimidated the man of God, openly contradicts the previous word of God: "an Angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water’" (13,18).

c) What should the man of God do? The word of this prophet stands out clearly against the command he had himself received. What should he hold concerning the alleged authority of an Angel? Could it be that God changed his mind with regard to eating and drinking, an indifferent matter in itself? The man of God decided against the former order of God and "went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water" (v. 19). Then, during the meal, "the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried to the man of God ...: ‘Because you have disobeyed ... your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers’... And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him" (v.20-24).

3. It is clear, that the man of God should not have followed the invitation of this prophet! At the same time, he cannot be simply accused of disobedience as he rejected twice to act against the command of the Lord! What did he do wrong?

a) The king Jeroboam invited the man of God to eat and drink, or to dine with him, in order to show the people his good standing with God. This scandal was avoided through the clear command of God, "You shall neither eat nor drink, nor return by the way that you came" (v. 9). Should the man of God have suspected that the king would then try, through one of his "religious ministers" (the "old prophet"), to achieve his purpose? — It seems that, if this would have been clear to him, he would not have followed the invitation; in fact, he rejected it first.

b) Then, however, the prophet brought up religious arguments: His ministry and a revelation. Should the man of God have suspected a delusion or an open lie from one who called himself a prophet, because what the latter said was contrary the command he himself had received? Should the man of God have really believed in a faithful prophet here, when he had been called from afar? Should he have suspected, that in circumstances of religious deceit, one should not believe even in the reference to an Angel? Or should he have entertained the possibility that this prophet, being from Bethel, would have changed and followed the "new religion" of the king, or contrarily, that this prophet, being "old", would not be following the new religion like the faithful Ahijah (cf. 11,29ff and 14,5ff) and that, as a consequence, he had been pushed aside, was suffering and now expected some support from another spiritual man who confessed openly his opposition to the "new way"?

c) However we might seek for the subjective righteousness of the man of God and this prophet, subjective intentions or inspirations can never prevail over objective standards, but need to be confronted with them. The "man of God" acted evidently wrong as God clearly showed by the result or "fruit" (cf. Mt 7,20): on the way home he was killed by a lion, who, however, did not devour his body (cf. v. 24f.)! Not just on account of a material command of God, but also on the basis of objective principles, the man of God was prohibited from eating in Bethel, especially with any official person, for such a meal would have expressed communion with them and would have given a great scandal to the people: "You cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord and the table of the devil. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy" (1 Cor 10,21-22). If the man of God had made a discernment of these more fundamental principles of faith, then he would have had plenty of evidence with which to judge and see through the deception of the ‘old prophet’. The prudence of faith goes before alleged visions and allocutions from ‘saints’ and ‘Angels’. "But even if we or an Angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema!" (Gal 1,8).

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood! It is neither our purpose nor need we resolve the question of the subjective guilt of this man of God, but we do need to see, how often we find ourselves today in similar situations, between faithfulness to God and help for man, between sinful human respect and sincere and authentic love for man.

Bizarre but true cases are frequent enough, as the following incidents: An academic professor, who had grown up in the Catholic Church but was now following a natural religion and living with his girl-friend, asks a priest to offer holy Mass at his birthday-party in the mountains.

A woman asks a priest to bring holy Communion to her mother. On the way to the house in the mountains, she reveals the whole mess of her life and confesses that her last desire is to kill a priest. At that very moment she directs her car to go plunging down into a steep ravine (he was able to leap from the car and survived with a few bumps and bruises).

Another woman asked a priest if she could anoint him with oil, because Our Lady had purportedly commissioned her to anoint everybody in this way.

How should we decide in many cases, when we do not know every member of our local community personally? We do not always have reliable collaborators, be they priests or lay apostles, upon whom we may fall back. Does every appeal to a charisma oblige us to stop thinking? Where can we find help? There are some practical counsels that we can follow:

1st, make a genuine effort to know the manifold guidelines of the Church today in doctrinal and pastoral matters (cf. e.g. the "Directories" of ecumenism, of catechesis etc.); 2nd, clear obedience to the Magisterium and Canon Law (e.g. can 844; 1337 §1; 1364 §1); 3rd, seek the counsel of your superior which each one of us has by the grace of God; 4th, ask those requesting help for further details in order to discover the sincerity of intention and all the necessary circumstances; 5th, evaluate all the circumstances and effects ("fruits") of your behavior in view of other people involved and their faith (risk of scandal).

Evidently, if a query does not measure up to the first points, we do not need to ask further. We already know where the discernment and our fidelity lies. The holy Angels were sent especially to us priests in order to help us understand God’s holy Will! Let us call upon their help, their light and guidance in each step of our priestly duty. They will protect us from all evil — known or unknown to us - and open us the way to the good.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC