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Vol. V, April ‘99

 

"Fellow Servant with the prophets" (cf. 2Kings1)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The biblical testimonies about the interventions of the holy Angels does not diminish with the upcoming mission of the prophets. Rather, the Angel’s statement to St. John in the Apocalypse indicates the contrary to be true: "I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets" (Rev 22,9).

1. a) It happened that the king of Samaria, Ahaziah, "fell through the lattice in his upper chamber and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, ‘Go, inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.’ But the Angel of the Lord said to Elija the Tishbite, ‘Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now, therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die’." (2 Kings 1,2-4).

Elija does not hesitate to obey, even if he is again sent into spiritual combat: he has to reveal the unfaithfulness of the King, to contradict and accuse him and even proclaim to him the impending judgement of God: "Therefore you shall surely die!" Sure enough, when he met the messengers and they returned with his word to the king, the king recognized Elija behind the message and sent "a captain with his fifty [men]" after him. Again, the prophet testified with a sign that God is with him: "‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty’. Then the fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty" (v.10). It was repeated; then, when the third captain begged for his life, "the Angel of the Lord said to Elija, ‘Go down with him; do not be afraid of him’. So he rose and went down with him to the king", to whom he repeated the words he received. And the king died "according to the word of the Lord which Elija had spoken" (v. 15.17).

b) Basically, we have the same general situation which we saw before: The kings are unfaithful to the Lord, and God tries to call them back through His prophets. The prophets receive the light and word of God through the holy Angels and have to correct or to admonish or even to communicate the sentence of God to the king. God shows himself very severe: Whoever will not accept the word of God and not obey it, will perish, be it prophet (cf. 1 Kings 13) or king.

2. The faithful servants of God, the holy Angels, are sent to the prophet, not directly to the king. This indicates a certain change in the development of the history of salvation, namely the division of the representation of God before man and a greater nearness of the Angels to the prophets.

a) Earlier in history, the Angels themselves were sent with the mission which now is given to the prophets. They spoke to one about the future, they admonished the other, to a third they transmitted the will of GOD (cf. Gen 18; 19; 31). This was when the image of God was still all united in one person or when the patriarchs were at the same time revealing prophets, offering priests and guiding pastors. Since the liberation from Egypt, there was Aaron as the priest, and Moses as the guiding prophet with the help of judges. Since the people demanded to be guided by a king like other nations, there arose alongside the priestly house of Aaron, the royal house of David; and God, further, sent the prophets according to His will. Thus we find three parts which, we know today, represent the threefold ministry of the priesthood. God sends the holy Angels generally to "serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation", and yet He sends them in a particular way to his ministers.

b) In this threefold division, we find that the holy Angels are closer to the prophets by the nature of their office:

The priests are mediators between God and man, and between man and God with the Angels assisting and supporting them.

The pastors are the "open and watchful eye" of God resting always upon His people. They, therefore, have their place with the people, and the holy Angels protect and strengthen them.

The prophets are the "open ear" of mankind for God, ever inclined and intent upon His Word or the Heart of Jesus. None was better instructed about the silent voice of God than Elija, who met God on mount Horeb where GOD did not speak to him in the "breaking [of] the rocks", nor "in a wind" nor in the "earthquake" nor in the "fire", but rather in "a whistling of a gentle air" (1 Kings 19,12). God speaks in silence, as St. John of the Cross once stated (see below), and His prophets have the mission to speak out. The prophets need to be very near to God, and there, with God, they always find the holy Angels. The mission of a prophet is not, in the first place, to foretell the future, but to communicate the Will of God, to reveal and confess the truth (cf. St. Thomas, Summa., II-II, 171, 3); the prophet receives the light for this through the holy Angels. Ultimately, of course, this gratuitous grace is ascribed to the Holy Spirit as first principle, however, "He works grace of this kind in men by means of the Angels" (ibid., 172,2 ad2).

c) The holy Angel did communicate the Will of God to the prophet and through him to the king. God could have sent the Angel directly to the king, as he did later on to Herod, even if the king would be closed to the Angel and not give ear to him. Did not "an Angel of the Lord ... [smite] him [Herod], because he did not give God the glory;" and was he not "eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12,23)? The reason, however, why he did not approach the king directly, but through the prophet, could be understood as an honor, as a testimony and recognition of the ministry of the prophets from the side of God as well as from the side of the Angels. As the king Ahaziah sent his servants to the prophets of Baalzebub, so did God send His servants, the holy Angels, to his prophet Elija.

3. On every side it is apparent that man is a sinner; he cannot guarantee to represent God faithfully in all things. Already Aaron, who had been constituted as high priest, failed; kings failed, like Saul and even David, who had to be called back from the wrong path; and there were many prophets at the time of Elija, but he was the only one faithful to the Lord. Notwithstanding, God did not desist from His plan and did not substitute the Angels in lieu of man as His representatives. He asked His angelic servants to serve man. At the same time, God asks man, because of his weakness, and especially His priests to come nearer to the Angels and to learn from them.

a) For his prophetic ministry, the priest needs to eat the "bread of the Angels": just as the holy Angels always behold the face of God in heaven (cf. Mt 18,10), so does the priest also need to read and contemplate Sacred Scripture, he needs to look at our Eucharistic and Crucified Lord. And as the holy Angels let themselves completely be filled and marked by God, so that whenever they manifest themselves to man, man seems to stand before God Himself, so too should the priest allow God into his heart, thus allowing himself to be transformed more and more into His likeness. This demands fortitude and perseverance since it requires a prolonged period of time. Christ, the Word of the Father, must come alive in him and become effective through him.

b) This presupposes the same attitudes or virtues which we find in the holy Angels: In their trial, all the faithful Angels renounced their own insights and knowledge; they took up the cross of humility and obedience towards God, embracing whatever He might ask from them in the future. To fulfill this angelic mission, the priest needs to deny himself, not just in material poverty which already would bring him freedom; but more so in profound detachment from individual persons, lest they manipulate the word of God out of human respect and for personal advantage as did so many false prophets. Through a total consecration the priest should belong entirely to God even as the holy Angels do. This union with God should be the moving principle and goal for his mission even as it is for the holy Angels.

c) We can verify this in Elija, whom we find acting in this way after his purification in the desert following the death threat by the spouse of Achaz. We can see it also in St. John the Baptist, "the messenger" or Angel of the Lord. He too had renounced the world, had lived a very poor life in the desert, and was free of every human link by his virginal way of life which was very uncommon for his time. His character was marked by holy, respectful, humble readiness to serve, such that he withdrew himself as soon as Christ, whose coming he was called to announce, had arrived - just as the Angel withdrew from Elija, as soon as he had fulfilled his mission (cf. v.17).

d) Similar to the Angels, the life of a prophet is more centered in God than in creation. The people see him as a solitary figure and not mingled in worldly affairs. This is fitting and necessary: in this he demonstrates his readiness and belief, his faith and obedience towards any mission from God. In the lived Communion of Saints he has his ambient of life; there, he receives from God through the Angels light and strength.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood, let us renew our effort for a greater familiarity with the holy Angels.

a) Like them, our "interior ear" should always be inclined towards the Word, the Heart of Jesus. A more conscious and vital union in love with them will help each of us priests to develop "a great personal familiarity with the word of God", for which "knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart" (Pastores dabo vobis, 26).

b) A prophet is known as one who stands outside or above his time, who lives more with the Angels than with men, and therefore is often alone. In tune with this the priest also needs his time alone with God, a silent atmosphere in which he invites God to speak to him, for "The Father spoke the Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul" (St. John of the Cross, Maxims on Love, n.21; cf. Ascent II,13-15).

c) As the holy Angel unquestioningly accepts from God both the content of the message and the person(s) for whom it is destined, so too should the priest in his selfless obedience not pay attention to what he is asked to preach (that is, not preferring one kind of apostolate to another) nor to whom he is sent, whether to kings or to ordinary persons, in public or in private affairs, always, of course, guided by prudence, but not by human respect (cf. Mt 6,1): "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" (2 Tim 4,2). Strongly admonished by the holy Angel (cf. Rev 22,18 f.), "the priest will wisely avoid falsifying, reducing, distorting or diluting the content of the divine message" (Directory of priests, 45). "He proclaims the word in his capacity as ‘minister,’ as sharer in the prophetic authority of Christ and the Church" (Pastores dabo vobis, 26).

d) Although the truth the priest is supposed to preach is demanding, his prophetic mission should not make him fearful, but should bring joy to his heart! Whoever stands on the side of God with the Angels and with faithful priests, stands on the side of life and victory! May Christ Crucified and Risen bless us all!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC