Back

Vol. IX, December 2003

 

"He Will Command His Angels Concerning You"
(Ps 91:11)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Through the guidance of Psalm 89, the unison of all creatures in the praise of God is encountered! God calls the angels, who already live "perpetual adoration" in a definitive way, to the side of man to help him towards this same goal. That is what we read in Psalm 91: "He will command His angels concerning you" (Ps 91:11).

1. The Angels as Created Light from Uncreated Light

The more man surrenders himself to God in adoration, which is his duty, the more God answers him in His generosity.

a) The Angels as a Gift of God’s Selfless Love

Man gives himself to God, either drawn to Him by the divine love like Mary Magdalene (cf. Jn 20:11ff.), or walking in dark faith like our Lady and St. Joseph in Jerusalem (cf. Lk 2:45ff.), or just urged on by personal suffering and need like the ten lepers (cf. Lk 17:11ff.). God simply offers free, gratuitous, pure and selfless love: "He will command His angels concerning you." It is not a matter of just any nonchalant giving. Rather, He "commands His angels," those faithful spirits who are already by nature nearest to Him, who come from Him and are marked by Him. They are created light from the uncreated Light, living reflections of His splendor, beauty and perfection, true testimonies of His purity, holiness and love, effective presence of His strength and helping power. They do not live for themselves, but God lives in them (cf. Gal 2:20). With Him they are one in mind and will and heart. These He sends "concerning you", not to a group or the nation as in Ex 23:20, but to "you" individually and personally. He sends these angels to you who love Him, who call upon Him, who know His name (cf. vv. 14-16) and lives "in the shelter of the Most High" (v. 1).

b) Many Angels Concerned with But One Man

In a certain way it might surprise us that the Psalmist speaks here in the plural: "He will command His angels." Does God send more than one angel to one and the same person? When St. Thomas raises the question about "the guardianship of the good angels", he quotes this Psalm to confirm the truth of the angelic help for man (cf. Summa Theo. I,113,1 sc). Hence, we may suspect that the proper title of this mission for the "Guardian" Angel was inspired by this Psalm: "He will command His angels...to guard you in all your ways" (Ex 23:20). However, only in a second article does St. Thomas ask specifically, "Whether each individual is guarded by a particular angel?" Only then does he speak about the doctrine of the Guardian Angels. He affirms that it is also "reasonable to think that different angels are deputed to guard different men" (cf. ibid., I,113,2). This statement means that a single angel cares for a single man

Now, according the Psalmist, God commands many angels to guard man. Without denying a particular and unique relationship between one angel and one man, we may consider the following analogy. A man is not only related to his mother and other family members, but also to doctors and teachers, fellow workers and others. In the same way, we are also not only related to our Guardian Angel, but also to the Guardian Angels of the other family members, of the people we meet on the street and of our parishioners. We are related even to all the angels. They all belong to the world around us. When we walk through this world, we "pass by" many angels. "In this respect one angel may guard one man, or sometimes many angels may guard the one man" (ibid., I,113,2 ad 1; cf. Heb 1:14).

c) His Angels in Our Life.

Thus, we can always contact the Guardian Angels of other persons, either directly or through our own Guardian Angel. The help of many angels is at our disposition. If we are on the pulpit to preach, we are there not just with our Guardian Angel. Rather, we are also with those of the other persons, so that we can call upon the Guardian Angels of those who listen that they might be moved by the word of God. In the confessional, we can call on the angels of penitents to help inspire true contrition.

A priest once related how he had misplaced some important papers for the parochial school. He could not find them anywhere. Finally, on the day he had to hand them in, he invoked his angel (as he had already done many times in this matter). In addition, he promised to offer a holy Mass in his honor if only he would help find the documents. Shortly afterward, the superior of a religious community called him and asked if he would not be willing to offer holy Mass again at their convent. The priest wanted to excuse himself, at least on that particular day, as he so urgently needed to resolve the problem about the lost school papers. But while he was pondering his thoughts, the superior added: "By the way, Father, when you were here the last time, you left an envelope in the sacristy; it is still here." The priest promised immediately to come offer the holy Mass (of course, in honor of his Guardian Angel) and pick up the envelope, which, of course, contained the school papers.

2. "He Will Command His Angels Concerning You"

Reflecting further on the words of the Psalm, we might ask ourselves: Why should God need to "command"–in Latin: mandabit–the holy angels?

a) Does God Need to "Command" His Angels?

Do we not believe in the holiness of the angels and always confess that they are perfectly disposed to do His holy Will and whatever He desires of them at every moment? Does "command" not mean to oblige by force? But the holy angels wish to do God’s will freely and even with an ardent desire, much more than any human servant, of whom the Centurion already said: "I say to one ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it" (Mt 8:9)? The angels do not serve God with bad humor or with a dour expression on their face as we might imagine in the case of a hireling (cf. Jn 10). The angels do not waver for one instant in their submission to God nor question their obedience towards Him, Whom they once chose for ever. There is no reason to think of any weak or fragile link in their adherence to God, so that He would need to "command" them like a general commands his soldiers!

b) The Decisive Character of this Wish

For what other reason, then, should God need to "command His angels concerning" man? Does He need to put any emphasis on His words, He, Who is almighty? Does He want to express by this word some sort of effort that it would cost Him to decide and to give this order–He, Who is pure and free love towards men and towards the faithful angels? A commandment expresses a strict relationship between the law-giver and the subordinate which does not allow for discussions over a given order. By using this word the Psalmist expresses the decisive character of God’s will: It should be understood and observed as a decree of God.

c) That Man May Firmly Believe

The only reason for this "commandment", then, is for man’s sake. Through this emphatic declaration man can more easily believe in the seriousness of the divine decision in the permanent mission of the angels in his life. He can count always and everywhere on their presence. Man should not doubt that the angel comes with the authority and strength of God. This is why St. Gabriel insisted with Zachary: "I was sent to speak to you!" (Lk 1:19).

3. A Belief as Old as History

This truth about God and man with the angel as an instrument of divine love is not a secret reserved for specially selected souls.

a) From the Time of the Patriarchs

As far back as history is known to us, we know about this gift of God to man. Abraham, the father of the Chosen People told his servant in a very clear manner: "The LORD, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and make your way successful" (Gen 24:40). Similarly, Jacob spoke to his sons of "…the angel who has redeemed me from all harm" (Gen 48:16). Centuries later, Tobit consoled his wife who stopped weeping when he said: "Your eyes will see him [your son]. For a good angel will go with him" (Tob 5:20ff.).

b) Witness of the New Testament

Also in the New Testament everyone was convinced of this special but constant gift of God to man. Thus Jesus spoke about the "little ones" and "their angels" (Mt 18:10). The Church, praying for Peter, said to the "maid named Rhoda...who announced that Peter was standing at the gate...‘It is his angel’" (Acts 12:5, 13-16). And St. Paul encouraged the sailors faced with shipwreck: "Last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul...God has granted safety to all’" (Acts 27:22-25).

c) In Our Own Times

Even in our own day, this grateful consciousness of the angel is present in man’s life. People in Brazil remember still the custom to greet each other with these words: "May your Guardian Angel accompany and protect you, and may God bless you". Judith Lang makes the reference to "a salutation among French peasants as late as the 19th Century, ‘Bonjour à vous et votre compagnon’ (‘Good day to you and your companion’), demonstrating the persistence of customary acknowledgement of the presence of companion spirits" (J. Lang, The Angels of God. Understanding the Bible, p. 163). In fact, "the Church confesses her faith in the Guardian Angels" (John Paul II, Catechesis, Aug. 6, 1986). "From the beginning to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life" (CCC, 336).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

How true it is that "the angel of the Lord [and not just one!] encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them" (Ps 34:7).

We ourselves, as well as all the souls entrusted to us, should be filled with gratitude before Our Lord and God. Guided by the light of faith, we should humbly surrender ourselves to Him and let Him work in our lives through His holy angels, commanding them in our behalf! All will go well, even if we have to "tread on the lion and the adder [and] trample under foot the young lion and the serpent…[For] those who love Me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know My name" (vv. 13-14).

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC

May God bless you with all the graces of the Divine Child Jesus
and His holy Mother this Christmas and throughout the New Year.