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Vol.VIII, July 2002

 

"If There Is an Angel Near Him, a Mediator… " (Job 33:23)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

In the last letter, we reflected on the text: "God cannot rely even on His holy ones, to Him, even the heavens seem impure" (Job 15:15; cf. also 25:5). There are many references to "heavens" (e.g., 11:8; 26:11;35:5; 37:18; cf. CCC 326); St. Gregory the Great interprets these as references to the angels. Undoubtedly, these and the following phrase give testimony to the general belief the Chosen People had with respect to the presence of the angels in man’s life. Elihu, one of Job’s three friends, told him:

Then, if there is an angel near him, a Mediator, one in a thousand, to remind him where his duty lies, to take pity on him and to say, ‘Spare him from going down to the abyss: I have found the ransom for his life,’ his flesh will recover its childhood freshness (Job 33:23-25).

1. The book of Job belongs to the later works and to the Wisdom-Tradition. Already in the book of Tobit, attention was given to a single individual, Tobit, and the chief concern of the book is dedicated to his personal life. The Wisdom-books are also marked by the belief in a personal angel for each individual person.

a) The angels first apeared in Scripture as the fighters for God and defenders or advocates of His rights (cf. Gen 3:24). The patriarchs enjoyed the intervention of the angels; thus Jacob could pray: "May the angel that delivered me from all evil, bless these boys!"(Ex 48,16). Then, God sent angels to protect and guide the Chosen People as well as others (cf. Dan 10:13.21; 12:1). "Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: ... I am sending an angel to preceed you, to guard you as you go and bring you to the place that I have prepared" (Ex 20:22; 23:20). However, the Church applies this text in today’s liturgy to the personal guardian angel.

In a third place, we find angels who are assigned to individual persons. Looking closer, it seems necessary to distinguish between angels who are sent to persons with a mission for the people of God and those angels who seem to be sent to a single person for their personal benefit. To the first group we might include the angel who appeared to Abraham (Gen 22:11) and Jacob (Gen 48:10), the fathers of the Chosen People, to Joshua (Josh 5:14) and David (1 Chr 2:14ss.), to Gideon (Judg 6:11ss.) and Judith (Jdt 13:16 V.), to the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 19:6-7) and Zechariah (Zech 1:11).

We find such missions throughout the entire history of salvation. The "Macedonian" who "appeared and kept urging him (St. Paul) in these words, ‘Come across to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:8-9) was understood in Tradition as the guardian angel of this country (for St. Peter see Acts 5:19 and 12:7). St. Peter Canisius narrated in his Confession and Testament (ch. 2), in the care for Germany "I should collaborate with the heavenly Guardian of Germany", and Benedict XIV wrote in his Doctrine on the Beatification of the Servants of God and the Canonization of the Blessed (book IV,2; ch. 30.14): "Theologians agree with Saint Bonaventure in that guardian angels are assigned not only to individual men, but also to regions and provinces"; and that these angels are seeking to help through certain persons, or that they try to influence the leaders of people, is understood.

b) But there is the other type also, to whom Elihu referred: the angel whom we call today the "Guardian Angel" of individual persons. Following his affirmation, we may not be wrong to conclude that it was a common belief among the Israelites that God sent angels to persons just for their own individual welfare. For this, we might refer also to different episodes in Scripture. The very first angelic apparition we come upon in Genesis speaks in this fashion. Hagar, the single mother, was assisted, directed and encouraged by an angel: "Go back to your mistress and submit to her" (Gen 16:9; cf. 21:17). On other occasions, as in the life of Tobit, or that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, or Daniel (cf. Dan 3:49; 6:22), we have an angelic intervention and help for an individual person just for itself. This found expression in the Psalms: "The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (Ps 34:7), and "He has given His angels orders about you to guard you wherever you go" (Ps 91:11). To confirm this doctrine, the Catechism refers also to the teaching of Jesus about the children and their angels as well as to the poor Lazarus who "was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace" (cf. Mt 18:10, Lk 16:22). To this come many Saints who give testimony to the existence, of "the angel near him".

2. Elihu was more specific: He spoke of "an angel near him, a Mediator, one in a thousand, to remind him where his duty lies, to take pity on him ..." The functions attributed to this angel correspond well to the mission God entrusts to the Guardian Angels, so much so, that the Jerusalem Bible makes the comment, "There is an easy transition from this to the ‘Guardian Angel’, or mediating angel of Christian doctrine, see Tb 5:4b; Mt 18:10; Ac 12:15" (note of the JB to our text). In the text of Exodus mentioned, God says: "I am sending an angel to preceed you, to guard you as you go and to bring you to the place that I have prepared" (Ex 23:20). There are two principle tasks of the Guardian Angel: protection against evil, and guidance towards the good with one unique goal - the inheritance of salvation (cf. Hebr 1:14).

To reach this goal, our Lord taught us to request: "Our Father Who art in heaven, ... deliver us from evil", something which He largely acomplishes through His angel who "encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (Ps 34:7), and who receives "orders ... to guard" (Ps 91:11). The story of Tobias threatened by a demon, or Daniel "thrown into the lion pit" or St. Peter freed from prison, condemnation and execution (Act 12) give witness to such protection. The angels’ knowledge, power and readiness for any petition of God finds articulation in St. Raphael’s answer to Tobit, the father: "I am willing to go with him (Tobias); I know all the ways; I have often been to Media, I have crossed all its plains and mountains, and I know all its roads" (Tob 5:14). The angelic intervention for the protection of Daniel shows that all the material world, fire as well as animals, is subject to them. The angel referred further to his mission of mediation, when he looked for Hagar in the desert: "Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry in his plight" (Gen 21:17). To Elia, as to our Lord Himself in Gethsemani, came an angel to strengthen him after he prayed to God (cf. 1 Kg 19:6-7; also Gen 28:12 and Jn 1:51; Is 6:2ss.; Tob 3:16 and 12:12; Rev 8:3-4).

3. In the life of the recently canonized Padre Pio, the priest of our Twentieth Century, we have a special example of "an angel near him, a Mediator", who often intervened with precisely such a message of mercy and a petition to "spare him from going down to the abyss". Padre Pio taught: "Near us is a celestial spirit, who from the cradle to the tomb, does not leave us for an instant." It was he who suggested to an author of a book about the angels the title: "This is the hour of the angels"! He called his Guardian Angel, "Companion of my infancy." He professed frequently that the angel helped him against the devil: "With the help of my Guardian Angel that wretch has been vanquished this time in his wicked design and your letter has been read". Similarly, he could never fulfill his worldwide pastoral mssion for the 2,300 prayer-groups and other devotees without the mediation of the angels. For this reason he said to all: "Send me your Guardian Angel!" His life would never be the same without the angels as mediators between God and him and between him and the souls (Cf. e.g. Fr. Alessio Parente O.F.M. Cap., "Send Me Your Guardian Angel" Padre Pio, see National Padre Pio Center / 2213 Old Route 100 / Barto, PA. USA).

To have " an angel near him (us), a Mediator", what a treasure for man! Even more so for us priests to know about a personal spiritual companion: a holy friend, very lucid, good, faithful and absolutely trustworthy, strong and persevering, ever present and not just to be reached somewhere by telephone. This is a true consolation for people who suffers like Job. It is a very consoling truth and strong encouragement in times like ours, filled with movement, a a limitless social network, and yet marked by a solitude where nobody has time for the other and where each one mistrusts his neighbor. Appropo of this a conscientious family father observed: "In this city I know about two families which I would invite into our home without hesitation" - just two.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood! Elihu wanted to help Job. For this purpose, he referred to the moment when an angel becomes active, shows man his duty, but indicates also the means of mercy that he might be spared from "going down to the abyss" (33:24).

Who does not often reflect about his pastoral conferences and personal assistance to people? How often do we indicate the "angel near them" to the souls entrusted to us?

When we do not know how to help souls in their situations, do we remind them of their angel, who as St. Thomas teaches not only presents their cause before God but also is the minister of His benevolent mercy (Commentary on Job 33,23)?

Let us ourselves renew our life with the "angel near us". Let us ask him to join us in our prayers and reflections, in our daily duties, and in the ministries we carry out. Our own life with them may thus bring us to that familiarity which makes us speak about the angels as a very natural fact, according to the word of Jesus: "Words flow out of what fills the heart" (Mt 12:34).

Let us believe, so that we help others believe as well, that the holy angel of God can and wants to help us. Let us awaken anew a deep faith in the holy angels through our sermons.

Let us use the manifold opportunities to profess our faith in these heavenly helpers who give us such a strong hand in our daily ministry and who reach out efficaciously to each single soul in ways that we never can even approach.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC