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Vol. IX, March 2003

 

"The Angel – Those Who Fear Him, and Rescues Them."
(Ps 34:7)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last meditation we responded to the question, how is it that the angels care for man and still remain faithful to their adoration of God? The angels in their desire to fulfill always the will of God remain contemplative in the midst of their mission and "active life". In a similar way, we can say: The love of God leads them to the love of man. In their contemplation they are dedicated to the love of God and ready to be sent in love to man, just as the main commandment demands that we love God and our neighbor. That is why St. Paul says of the angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" (Hb 1:14). This is the basis for our reflection on Psalm 34:7, "The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them."

1. We referred already in the last letter to the attitudes of man that are required by this Psalm. The decisive and repeatedly mentioned virtue is, surely, the "fear of the Lord".

A man who fears the Lord is also sincere and correct with himself. Thanks to a clearer light about God, he recognizes his own nothingness as well as his sinfulness. He mistrusts himself, but he still has the strength and courage to trust in God, so much so, that he surrenders himself to God and desires to belong to God as much as possible in order to not offend Him any longer. Filial confidence matures from that day on. God cares for him and he will not miss anything nor will anything happen to him which God does not want to occur. "Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright," is the Psalmist’s comment (Ps 34:5). The fear of the Lord lifts man up to heaven and draws God down to earth.

This attitude allows the angels of God to act freely and to fulfill God’s will in man’s life: "He (the angel of God) encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them." It is certainly based on his personal experience.

2. So we ask the questions: Can the angels, is it their wish, and in fact, do the angels encamp around those who fear God, and rescue them?

a) Can the angels encamp around those who fear God, and rescue them?

It is easy to understand and accept that the angels can help man. In the scale of beings, a higher creature has some power over the lower ones. Man is able to exercise some dominion over animals, and animals are more powerful than the plants. These again make use of or exercise a kind of dominion over inorganic matter. It follows that the angels have some power over man. Furthermore, since all material things are governed by the angels (cf. St. Thomas Aq., S.Th., I,110,1), then it lies in the power of the angels to help men in all their needs, to bring within reach what they need and to hold off what could cause them harm. This is the reason why the Church so frequently mentioned the angels in the former prayers of blessings. It is the reason why here the Psalmist points out the condition on the part of man: "The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him..."

Note the limiting factor: man’s free will. Here even God stops out of deference for human freedom, and so do the angels. This is the reason for so many catastrophes and miseries in men’s lives. Man needs to be open, to recognize his limits and his need for help. Nowadays, where man’s hunger for freedom has grown so much, and the possibilities of an independent life are multiplied, the Church asks in her blessings especially for man himself and for the grace of this essential insight into his existential need. For without man’s humble recognition of being a limited creature and without his willingness to submit himself to God, not even God in His omnipotence wills to manifest Himself and intervene in opposition to man’s freedom. In order for God and His angels to intervene and help man, man must first desire to be helped by them. He must also be disposed to collaborate through attention, docility and obedience, in holy fear (cf. Ex 23:20-22).

b) Do the angels want to encamp around those who fear God, and rescue them?

We can further affirm that the angels want to "encamp around those who fear God, and rescue them," because the angels love man. In a recent reflection on Ps 33:6 (January, 2003) we saw that the angels were not created as a world for themselves. "There is a solidarity among all creatures arising from the fact that all have the same Creator and are all ordered to His glory" (CCC 344), and "The mutual relationship of creature to creature makes up the good of the universe" (S.Th., I,61,3c)! Saint Augustine explains more about this when he teaches: "The angels love us for three motives: because of God, because of us and because of themselves. Because of God, for God loves us, and to what extreme! Because of us, for we are similar to them in our rational nature. Because of themselves, for they want us seated on those thrones of glory which belonged originally to the angels who became depraved" (St. Augustine, De diligendo Deo, ch.3). This helps us understand what George Huber wrote in his famous book on the angels, that the Bible gives testimony that there is nothing which touches man and leaves the angels indifferent (cf. My Angel Will Go Before You, Westminster, 1983, ch. 2). In other words, the angels tremble and fear for man; they are ready to care and even fight for man. "The angels work together for the benefit of us all" (St. Thomas Aq., cited in CCC 350); however, they do this only in the measure that man desires their help!

3. Do the angels, in fact, encamp around those who fear God and rescue them?

Now, it remains to prove that, in fact, the angels do encamp around those who fear the Lord. We know of different moments in the history of Israel where an angel of God actually surrounded the people of God.

a) The angels encamp around those who fear God!

We might think here on "the angel of God, who preceded the army of Israel, (then) changed station and followed behind them" and, in this way, surrounded them (cf. Ex 14:19). Or, Elisha searched by "horses and chariots and a large force; and these... surrounded the town." He asked God to show his fearful servant the heavenly help, and "Yahweh opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw the mountain covered in fiery horses and chariots surrounding Elisha" (2 Kgs 6:14.17; cf. Circular V,6). And how did God save Daniel’s companions within the fire if not by sending His angel? The angel surrounded them with his power, because they put "their trust in Him, [and] defied the order of the king" in holy fear of God (Dan 3:49.96).

Or again, in the New Testament we read of "the angel of the Lord [who] stood over them [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone round them… the angel said: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy..." (Lk 2:9 f.). The angels’ power, present in the life of man and surrounding him is his defense, but also his strength, light, joy and salvation by an increase of his faith and confidence in God the Almighty.

b) The angels rescue men!

And there are also many moments in history when the angels have rescued man. Already Jacob confessed very solemnly when blessing Joseph’s sons, "May the angel who has saved me from all harm, bless these boys" (Gen 48:16). His father Isaac had been saved by the mission of "the angel of Yahweh" who said to Abraham, "Do not raise your hand against the boy" (Gen 22:11-12). Or how was Daniel saved from the lions? "God sent His angel who sealed the lions’ jaws" (Dan 6:23).

The Lord Himself, at the very beginning of His mission, was saved through the mission of the angel who "appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: ‘Get up, take the child... and escape into Egypt’," and "Joseph got up..." (Mt 2:13). And when the High Priests filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles...the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and...led them out" (Acts 5:17-19). Also, a bit later, St. Peter experienced a second time the help of the angel, "Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send His angel and save me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting" (Acts 12:7-11).

c) We priests need this angelic assistance, God’s bodyguards for His servants.

In the life of St. Padre Pio it happened that once a man asked: "Where is Padre Pio? I want him to convert me…," but it was impossible to find him anywhere. Finally, being tired of waiting, he got back in his car. He had hardly gone…when the people found themselves face to face with Padre Pio. "Father, where have you been?" "I was right here. I passed in front of you three or four times, but neither you nor he noticed me." It is known that this incident is but one example of the collaboration of the Saint with his angel.

Already well known is this case: A doctor–the same could happen to a priest–was urgently called by a dying person, who asked him for forgiveness! For what, asked the doctor. "It was I who called you a month ago in the middle of the night in order to rob and kill you. The only reason I didn’t do it was because of that big companion you had with you..." How many stories of this kind we could share!

But there is almost a rule in this regard which is good to have in mind: In these missions the angels act as normal as possible and avoid the extraordinary as much as possible. On occasion, they simply hide the man in danger, making him invisible for his enemies; on other occasions, they let themselves be seen, but only by the enemies (cf. Dan 3:92).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

What should we think about such a powerful message for us all? First, we should follow the example of Elisha, that is, by a renewal of faith, become more and more convinced that we are really and constantly surrounded by the army of God. As a priest, moreover, He has made us fellow-servants in a special way with His angelic troops.

Then we should, following the counsel of the Psalmist, serve God with holy fear and live in the presence of the angels. For example, we can unite ourselves with their praise in the recitation of the Sanctus.

Let us thank God for our faith, a faith which not only unites us to the holy angels, but which also quenches all the burning arrows of the Evil One (cf. Ef 6:16).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC