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Vol. V, Dec. ‘99

 

"Five Resplendent Men Appeared"
(2 Mac 10,29; cf. 3,24ff.; 5,2f; 11,8.10)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

A central text in the Old Testament revelation on the holy Angels is there where God promises the mission of an Angel to the Chosen People in the desert: "Behold, I send an Angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him ... then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries" (Ex 23,20-22).

1. God speaks here about the marvelous "triumvirate", God-Angel-man: God, of course, is the most important of the three; to man is given the decisive role as far as God respects man’s free will; the Angel is the soldier for God’s glory and man’s salvation. When man believes and trusts in God, when he desires the help of the Angels and obeys His will, God shall be the enemy of man’s adversaries through the mission of His Angels.

Especially the historical books in the Old and New Testament document with examples that God wants to act in this way! It is therefore also useful today to refer the history of the Old Testament in evangelization. Particularly in our day where faith is tried in so many ways, our faith in God can be strengthened and our confidence bolstered when we recall such biblical experiences.

2. In the second century before Christ, Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord was almost constantly being put to the test. Together with their fervent supplications, Scripture testifies to the revelation of God’s attentive love and, simultaneously, the Angels’ powerful presence by "appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism" (2 Mac 2,21)!

a) "The Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great manifestation ... There appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse with a rider of frightening mien, ... seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed" (3,24f.). On another occasion, "over all the city, for almost forty days, there appeared golden clad horsemen charging through the air, in companies fully armed with lances and drawn swords" (5,2). And again: "near Jerusalem, a horseman appeared at their head, clothed in white and brandishing weapons of gold. And they all together praised the merciful God, and … advanced in battle order, having their heavenly ally" (11,8-10). Because spiritual beings have no body, there is no intrinsic reason why they should appear in a particular way; rather, their chosen form of apparition is a message in itself, the manifestation of the majestic power of God, of His holiness ..., but also an indication of what they are (cf. also circular V,5).

b) The present text, 2 Mac 10,25-38, presents us one of the fulfillments of the promise given through Moses (Ex 23): the Angels actually went before them, guiding, guarding and fighting for them, once the Maccabees and their followers had proved themselves before God by the conditions foreseen, petition, attention and obedience.

Thus it is written: "Maccabeus and his men sprinkled dust upon their heads and girded their loins with sackcloth, in supplication to God. Falling upon the steps before the altar, they besought him to be gracious to them and to be an enemy to their adversaries, as the law declares. And rising from their prayer they took up their arms and advanced a considerable distance from the city". They unite humility and courage, confidence and fortitude: to the humble prayer they added the application of all their strength: "The two armies joined battle", then, "when the battle became fierce, there appeared to the enemy from heaven five resplendent men on horses with golden bridles, and they were leading the Jews. Surrounding Maccabeus and protecting him with their own armor and weapons, they kept him from being wounded. And they showered arrows and thunderbolts upon the enemy, so that, confused and blinded, they were thrown into disorder and cut to pieces. Twenty thousand five hundred were slaughtered, besides six hundred horsemen," through the Angels.

c) While other references describe the angelic interventions briefly and state their help, here is given a careful enumeration of their intervention. When we reflect upon this attentively, we see behind the Angels' help God Himself. It is truly He, who sends them!

• The holy Angels go before man enlightening and guiding him, just as God showed His love for us while we were yet sinners (cf. Rom 5,8), and as "grace has gone before us" (CCC 2009; cf. 2008-10).

• The holy Angels take man in their midst protecting and keeping him from being wounded. Did not Jesus also stand up for His Apostles to protect them from harm; He "came forward ... and said: "If you seek me, let these men go!’" (Jn 18,4.8).

• The holy Angels defend man against his enemies many times a day, even without man's knowledge. Their very presence is a protection which can confound the enemy, just as Jesus threw His enemies back in confusion with the simple statement: "I am He!". In this way, man is often spared a certain portion of the "spiritual battle", which constitutes a necessary element on the way to holiness according the Catechism (CCC 2015).

3. Are we surprised to see such a parallelism between the activity of the Angels and the activity of God and Jesus? Should we not go a step further and see God active in and through them? The holy Angels act in total conformity with the Will of God and so are in all (in virtue and by their very nature) transparent go-betweens to the Father and His Son! They are "with their whole beings ... servants and messengers of God" (CCC 329)? This brings us to two fundamental observations.

a) It is true, that Jesus Christ is the WORD of the Father and His perfect messenger; He is THE ANGEL of the New Testament! He is "the one mediator between God and man" (1 Tim 2,5): He reveals the Father to man and announces His will. He Himself is the Way and guides man on this Way to the Father. He is the Light for man, while the Angels bring it to man; He cures with His own power, while Raphael needs some means for it; He frees man from sin, while the Angel can only protect him before committing the sin or admonish him afterwards to repent (cf. CCC 457).

b) Does this mean, then, that the holy Angels as servants of God were only necessary before the Incarnation of the Son of God, and that now their entire role has been taken over by Him? Have they been replaced in their service to man by Him? Just as Jesus called apostles and instituted them to continue His work of salvation as messengers, as pastors and protector of the flock, so too will He continue to call and "will send out His Angels" (Mt 24,31) into the entire world and particularly to "those who are to obtain salvation" (Heb 1,14). However, what is new with the coming of Christ is that we should understand the holy Angels as "servants of Christ", as "interpreters of Christ" who will not lead us on their own way to God but on the way of Christ.

c) The holy Angels are the first "followers of Christ": historically they descended before Him, but for His sake and now with Him they come from the glory of heaven down to aid mankind on earth. In Jesus they behold the Son of the Father and, therefore, serve Him as they serve the Father Himself. Because they do not merely refer to isolated aspects of the exemplary life of Jesus, but to His total submission to the will of the Father and most especially to His absolute union with the Father, they are the most authentic Imitators of Christ: they imitate Christ in His perfect love for the Father, and desire to lead all who listen to them and follow their example through their perfect submission in total spiritual poverty, through the purity of intention and through selfless obedience to conformity with Christ and so into the union with the Father.

The holy Angels are still sent to guide and guard man and to fight against his enemies, because they are servants of Christ like the apostles and will lead man to the most perfect imitation of Christ.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood, we may well affirm: God still recognizes the promise given to the Chosen People in the desert. Therefore, also in the New Testament and in the life of the Church, we should expect this help from the holy Angels since God has established this way for His Reign. This is true in general, and particularly for priests, since they do not have less responsibility than Moses and the Maccabees.

As Jesus is perfectly submitted to the Father in all, so are the Angels submitted to Jesus, and so should priests be attentive and obedient to Jesus with and through their help.

And as Jesus took care of the apostles, so did the Angels take care of the Maccabees and the Chosen People, and so should priests take care of souls through the holy Angels and with their help.

Let us be faithful collaborators of Christ and fellow-servants of the Angels. Like the Maccabees, let us implore God's help through the "Supplication of the holy Angels": "You great, holy Angels, we implore you: cover us with your shield, ... protect us with your sword, ... illumine us with your light, ... save us under the protective mantle of MARY, ... hide us in the Heart of MARY!"

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC