Vol. X, February 2004
All Angels Bow Down Before Him (cf. Ps 97:7)
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Sacred Scripture leads us again and again to the essential and most profound meaning of life: adoration. The holy angels, who are naturally speaking the most perfect of creatures and supernaturally already perfected in the light of heavenly glory, are assigned the task of leading us in this office: "All gods bow down before Him", or all "spirits". The Neo-Vulgata reads: "adorate Eum, omnes angeli Eius". How can we become more familiar with their most blessed destiny?
1. Justification of Adoration
We just reflected on "adoration" in Psalm 89:5 (cf. Circ IX, 11). Psalm 97 confirms the objective reasons and its subjective "transforming effect".
a) Gods greatness and the truth about man himself demands adoration. The greatness of God in Himself and His power are manifested in the entire universe: "The Lord is king!" (v.1). "For You, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods" (v.9). And, "Fire goes before Him, and consumes His adversaries on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord" (vv.3-5).
Furthermore, His justice towards all rational creatures is also manifested which convinces them, men and angels, to adore God: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne" (v.2), so that "all the peoples behold His glory," and "all gods (angels) bow down before Him" (vv.6-7).
Gods holiness convinces man of his sinfulness, but also invites him to trust in Gods mercy. Gods creative power shows man his nothingness; linked to His goodness and mercy, it also inspires confidence and surrender. God teaches man the truth about Himself in a way, however, that makes man love God and reject evil. To give glory to God, to acknowledge His authority by surrendering to Him in adoration, is the salvation of man. Adoration, then, is a decisive attitude of man, an act of humility and love, an act of generous donation of self.
b) However, even if man wants to have an ideal or an authority above his weakness, what he adores is not always the true God! God is not so clearly seen as we might expect. The Psalm refers to people who are blind with respect to the greatness of God and so fail in their adoration, the "worshipers of images" (v.7), for example. The Book of Wisdom explains: "All people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature...nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to His works...[so that] unhappy are they, and their hope is among the dead, who have called gods the works of the hands of men" (Wis 13:1-2, 10).
Even St. Paul confesses of himself: "Brothers and fathers, listen...being zealous for God, just as all of you are today I persecuted this Way" (Acts 22:3-4). Of others he also says, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to Gods righteousness" (Rom 10:1-3). In how many ways is this unenlightened zeal possible, even with pious people among whom St. Paul reckoned himself (cf. Imitation of Christ, III,27).
2. Three Steps towards Adoration
The Psalm gives us some hints about the way to adoration. "His lightnings light up the world", so that "the earth sees and trembles" (v.4). And, "the heavens proclaim His righteousness; and all the peoples behold His glory" (v.6). Adoration is an act of the will, of love. But what we love, is first shown to us by the intellectual faculties, by faith. The Father seeks worshipers in spirit and truth (cf. Jo 4:23). This is the reason why we try to know ever better that which we love, in order to enjoy it all the more.
To lead one to the right adoration, to the adoration of God as the only true and final goal of all creation, we have to lead man to clearer and deeper knowledge. Here we may distinguish three steps: Man needs to be purified from his sins; he has to free himself from the blinding brilliance of creatures; and then, he has to be drawn by grace.
a) The Purification of Sins
We already saw that the manifestation of God is not lacking. Notwithstanding, there are those who are "near-sighted and blind". St. Peter explains: They forgot "the cleansing of past sins" (2 Petr 1:9; cf. 1 Petr 1:14; Rom 1:18-32). The Book of Wisdom also explains: "Their wickedness blinded them" (Wis 2:21). When man esteems a creature more than its Creator, then his view to God is blocked: he has first to remove the hindrances or sharpen his eyes.
b) Detachment from Creatures
Even when sin has been removed, man still suffers as an effect of his fallen state a strong, disordinate inclination for the goods of nature. He must still achieve interior freedom through the exercise of detachment which consists in maintaining a healthy moderation in his love for creatures. In this way he can order all he is and has to the final goal, and so more easily be disposed to encounter his Creator. His natural hunger for knowledge needs a wise master who says "Multum, non multaThe One, Who is much, yes, but not many things!" The thirst for satisfaction keeps the soul awake for an ever deeper consolation which should come only from the Infinite Good, God alone. Jesus praises Mary and, together with her, all contemplative souls. She "sat at the Lords feet and listened to what He was saying," whereas Martha was "worried and distracted by many things." The Lord concludes: "There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part" (cf. Lk 10:39-42). This life of prayer He chose for Himself again and again: "He would withdraw to deserted places and pray" (Lk 5:15-16; cf. Mk 1:35; Mt 14:23).
"Solitude was always the home of the strong!", says the well formed Jesuit Leonel Franca. Whoever wants to see deeper into the truth and contemplate God, has to make himself blind for many other things, like the generally useless watching of television. He must control his curiosity on the street; he has to exercise himself in the "active night" by renunciation in order to look into the depth of the spiritual universe. Whoever wants to hear God speaking has to close his ears to the radio and to many useless conversations. He has to be attentive to the silence of nature and to the Word of God. In order to concentrate on the life of Jesus and the Saints, we need to empty our phantasy from human romances. Our concupiscence has to moderate itself by some fasting with regard to creatures in order to invite God, the Spouse of the soul, to manifest His presence and adorable glory. With such a sober mind, man can reflect about the wonders of God Who moves man to fall on his knees before his Maker. Yet in the end, he has to incline even his mind before the mystery of the incomprehensible God. Just like the pure spirits, he must "bow down before Him" (v.7), and by so doing, hand over his will, too, in sincere love for the One Who made him.
We need pure eyes, neither clouded by egoistic love, dulled by prejudices (ideologies) nor stunted by its own knowledge (rationalism). In this way we can, on the one hand, morally achieve the simplicity and clear-sightedness of the angels; on the other hand, "when the soul adores and glorifies God in its thoughts, words and deeds, it contributes most to the perfection of creation" (Gabriele Bitterlich, Spiritual Maxims).
c) "Apart from Me you can do nothing."
No ascetical effort, however, will bring us to the infinite God if He does not bow down and draw us to Himself. Jesus taught His apostles precisely this truth when He called them to follow Him more closely: "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). We see this point even better when He says: "No one can come to Me unless drawn by the Father Who sent Me" (Jn 6:44; cf. 12:32). God in His love invites us to union with Himself. By means of His grace we may be united with the holy angels in His adoration.
3. Apostles at That Time
These steps to adoration can be observed in the life of the Apostles. On different occasions, the Apostles assisted at manifestations of the divine presence which, however, they failed to fully understand. Especially St. Mark likes to point this out: "A great windstorm arose, and...[Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? He awoke and rebuked the wind, and...there was a dead calm" (Mk 4:37-39). Although "filled with awe" (Mk 41; cf. 6:51), they did not really understand (cf. Mk 8:15-21). St. Matthew, for his part, reports another occasion on the sea when "those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God" (Mt 14:33).
We, the apostles of today, need to go through the steps from conversion to understanding, from being captivated in admiration to trustful surrender in adoration. Priestly existence is not limited to the sacramental character. His personal character needs to be marked by the presence of God, Most Holy. A priest who has answered the call of God with the surrender of his person, life and entire existence will ascend ever more to the adoration of God (cf. Vat.II, Optatum Totius, 8; Presbyt. Ordinis, 45§4). There he will mature, becoming silent and recollected; he will be distinguished by an interior vigilance. His way of life and home should "speak" this language. People have always felt this way about priests. For instance, they find it improper for a priest to drive a Cadillac or to take a four-week vacation every year on the beach.
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
We are invited to join the holy angels in their adoration as the prophet Isaiah was invited by the Seraphim (cf. Is 6). Like him, we have to ask for the purification of our hearts (v.7). May we be freed from "worthless idols". Purified and emptied, we will not be lacking in the fruits of adoration according the Psalm. For a life with God is a joy and jubilation: "Let the earth rejoice! The heavens proclaim His righteousness Zion hears and is glad" (vv.1,6,8; cf. vv.10-12).
With these affirmations, the Holy Spirit promises that God will fill the void we caused by mortifying our hearts and desiring only to see, adore and belong to Him. We fall into His arms like the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:20). He satisfies all our desires, more deeply than all creatures together, including the angels, ever could.
Let us walk along the steps and join the angels and Saints daily in "adoration of the Good Shepherd, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the altar; (this) is a pastoral priority far superior to any other" (Congregation for the Clergy, The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, Aug. 4, 2002, 11§5). There before the Blessed Sacrament we become a true priest and messenger of God with and like the angels.