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Vol. V, Nov. 1999

 

The Ladder to the Union With the Angels
(cf Macc 11,6; Jdt 13,16(V))

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

At this point, provided we take the Book of Tobit separately, we have practically covered all the angelic texts in the historical books of the Old Testament. We find in the last texts, like a final and concluding message, the call to trust in the powerful help of the Angels in all circumstances of life, particularly when the work of God is at stake.

The rich historical experience of Israel with the providential care of God shows that God has sent His Angels everywhere, and that the power of the Angels far surpasses the earthly needs of man. Nevertheless, God has not suspended the order established for man on the natural level of life. Given his bodily existence, this order foresees the visible world as the first and immediate object for man's perception. This being so, the important question arises: How are man and Angel to enter into contact? The texts we shall reflect upon today indicate a common pattern, they show us a spiritual ladder by which man must ascend.

1. We refer first to the Book of Maccabees. Mattatias initiated the holy war which his sons carried on after him. "He burned with zeal for the law" (1 Macc 2,26) and was ready to give up his life in fidelity to the Lord. The sons, particularly Simon and Judas, followed his example. They admonished the people, first, to reestablish devotion to God and, then, to purify and consecrate anew the temple in Jerusalem.

In consequence, "When the Gentiles round about heard that the altar had been built and the sanctuary dedicated as it was before, they became very angry, and determined to destroy the descendants of Jacob ... they began to kill and destroy among the people" (5,1-2). Many wars were necessary to defend and secure the religious freedom of Israel. Judas proved his right intention when he asked his people to prepare themselves for the battles through penance and prayer: "'Let us repair ..., and fight for our people and the sanctuary.' And the congregation assembled to be ready for the battle and to pray and ask for mercy and compassion" (3,43-44).

In these prayers, they recalled how the Lord had helped in times past through the mission of the Angels. They said, "When the messengers from the king spoke blasphemy, thy Angel went forth and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrians. So also crush this army before us today" (1 Macc 7,41-42), "so now, O Sovereign of the heavens, send a good Angel ... may these blasphemers ... be struck down" (2 Macc 15,23); "... all the people, with lamentations and tears, besought the Lord to send a good Angel to save Israel" (2 Macc 11,6). The Sacred text tells: "While they were still near Jerusalem, a horseman appeared at their head, clothed in white and brandishing weapons of gold. And they all together praised the merciful God ... They advanced in battle order, having their heavenly ally" (11,8.10). This happened more than once; the book could conclude: "From that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story" (15,37).

2. Another such text may be found in the book of Judith. Holofernes, the general of Nebuchadnezzar, called "the Great King, the lord of the whole earth" (Jdt 2,5), set about to conquer the whole world, Israel included. Instead of destroying the city of Bethulia by the force of arms, they chose to cause them to die of thirst. Then, when the Israelites had exhausted their water supply, the people implored the oldest to desist and hand their city over to the enemies. Uzziah and the eldest responded: "Let us hold out for five more days; by that time the Lord our God will restore to us his mercy; ... but if these days pass by, and no help comes for us, I will do what you say" (7,30-31). - Here is where Judith enters the scene; she was a widow who "feared God with great devotion, ... and spoke against the rulers: 'Who are you, that have put God to the test this day, and are setting yourselves up in the place of God among the sons of men? ..." (8,8.12).

Her prayerful life explains her prophetic firmness and security, which itself might indicate the first intervention of the Angel (cf. 8,32-34; 11,19). With her female and motherly forces ready to risk her life in favor of her people, she went openly in the camp of the enemies. She promised Holofernes correctly that Israel would surely fall into his hands, the very moment in which it would turn against their God. He trusted her; lusting to have her, he became drunk and fell into deep sleep, whereupon she "severed his head from his body" (13,8). She took it home to Bethulia. There, she invited all people, "Praise God, O praise Him!" and she confessed, according to the Vulgate-Version, before all the Israelites: "As true as God lives: His Angel had me protected when I went to (Holofernes), when I was there, and when I turned back here, The Lord did not allow, that I his handmaid, would be spoiled, but called me back to you without stain of sin!" (13,14.16 (v.)).

3. a) In both situations described we find man in spiritual battle, wherein the fidelity to the Lord and God is at stake. It is the general situation of man on earth since his fall into sin in paradise has summoned him to spiritual battle (cf CCC 405). The first step on the ladder to heaven is to be aware of the spiritual battle.

The second step is the recognition that we can not fight this battle alone, but need help from above, "for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the principalities ..." (Eph 6,12).

In a third step, man actually takes his refuge to God in prayer asking for His assistance by sending his Angels.

In Bethulia we observe as a fourth step the test of confidence in prayer; St. James will say, "ask with faith, with no doubting" (Jas 1,6). The disquiet of the people and the consent of the elders in the city shows the difficulty of this step. Here, man is led into solitude before his Creator. He experiences his helplessness as from the depths of an abyss; he must accept this and conform himself, blindly trusting in the present but silent God, in the midst of threatening attacks by hanging onto Christ's assurance: "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor 12,9). He must persevere in patience and silence (cf Is 30,15), in which God will speak to him and act for him (cf 1 Kg 19,12).

God will lift up to the fifth step each one who succeeds in this test. He is near to him and becomes his strength; he inspires and guides him through his Angel, as the Maccabees and Judith give testimony. Firm fidelity and the desire to serve the Lord as His instrument, or disposition to risk one's own life for the people are sincere and authentic fruits of prayer.

b) "Priestly ordination confers not just a new mission, but a new 'consecration' of his person ..., the grace of union with Christ as Priest and Victim" (John Paul II., General Audience, 26-V-1993). A priest must climb these steps to the union with God and with the Angels. God would not have sent the Angels to either the Maccabees nor to Judith into the spiritual wars of Israel had they not responded first to the more fundamental call of union with Him. Therefore, the priest as guide of man and spiritual support, must go ahead of all the faithful by abstinence, penance and prayer; he should surpass all faithful in the depth of faith and live in loving familiarity with God. To this purpose the holy Angels are to him guides and support, strength and encouraging help. Through their mediation he reaches this goal and finds his way to the maturity of his priestly ministry; through their constant interior impulse and patient persistence he will "live by faith in the Son of God", and so come to share in the mystery of Christ's Cross that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ in him (cf Gal 2,20).

What we see in the Maccabees, types of Christ, (cf. Phil 2,6f.), and in Judith, types of Our Lady (cf. Gn 3,15), should be seen in each priest who loves the holy Angels. Matured in the life of prayer, he grows into Christ, who kindles in him His love for the Cross (cf Col 2,14), so that he has in mind what is in God's mind and is grieved at heart by those things which grieve God's heart (cf Gn 6,6), namely, the offenses against God. These are a painful trial that put him to the test.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood, is there anything more painful than to see a soul in need, which a priest, though seeing, passes by (cf Lk 10,31)? The Maccabbes and Judith sacrificed themselves for their people, and the union with God through prayer is the background of both their and of the Angel's mission. The latter live in the presence of God, they behold always the face of the Father in heaven and adore Him; similar is the secret behind the fruitful mission of a good priest: he strives for the union with God with the help and in the company of the Angels.

Let us work not with our own strength, nor motivated by selfish desires or over sensitivity, but with selfless confidence in God. Let our trust be manifested in a sincere prayer life. Let us walk up the steps of this ladder to angelic sanctity and priestly perfection in the union with the will of God. Let us make every effort so that God can dispose of us and save His people, as He could dispose of those heroes from the Old Testament, and as He can dispose of the Angels at any moment. The effective help of the earthly and heavenly servants of God might be visible as in the case of the Maccabees or invisible as in the case of Judith, important is the deep collaboration and union between the two, who in Christ are called to meet and join to form the eternal City of God (cf Circular Jan.'96).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC