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Vol. X, May 2004

 

“...the Winds, Thy Messengers;
Fire and Flame, Thy Ministers” (Ps 104:4).

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In our last meditation we reflected on the marvelous union of the threefold creation (angels, mankind and the physical creation) in adoration of the thrice-holy God. Our next Psalm takes up this meditation and starts where the former ended: “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, Thou art very great!” (Ps 104:1). All that is pondered and recounted, “the winds Thy messengers, fire and flame Thy ministers” (Ps 104:4), lead to the final resolution: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live...Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!” (vv.33, 35).

1. In the Company of the Angels, the Praise of the Lord

a) The Harmonious Union of All in the Praise of God

If man lives in the company of the angels, he will praise the Lord. For the angels see the glory of God and cannot but sing out. All creatures were created for that purpose, first and last, but the others do not have the angels’ facility in discovering this vocation and finality planted by God into each of them.

—Material creation cannot even know its destiny, as St. Paul says, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19) to unite them to their own adoration of God.

—Man is able to discern this call, but often fails to do so in this life. For due to his body/soul constitution, his first perception is physical and, therefore, superficial. Moreover, this propensity toward superficiality is aggravated by the darkening effect of original and personal sins on the human intellect.

—The angels come to our aid, therefore, in order to lead us to the glorification of God, the Creator of all.

So we can say with the Psalmist: “When Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit [and does not the Spirit work through His helpers, the holy angels?]…Thou renewest the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure for ever, may the Lord rejoice in His works” (vv.30-31). That is to say, in the measure that man lives in union with the holy angels, the more he will approach God and already share in the angel’s heavenly songs of adoration, praise and thanksgiving. At the same time, he will draw the material world around him into this worship. By cultivating the divine worship in a human (incarnate) way, man also produces true culture which can be seen in the order, beauty, harmony and purity of his surroundings. These qualities are so sorely lacking in a sterile secular, pagan or atheistic setting. All things belong to God; to Him they should return with the help of the angels so that all creatures “Bless the Lord!” evermore.

b) Obedience, not Purity, as the Characteristic of the Angels

In this beautiful meditation on the solicitous presence of God with all things and their response to this presence (see the entire Psalm), the Psalmist does not refer to the angels as pure (pure in the sense of free from any material composition) mirrors reflecting God’s beauty, wisdom and other perfections (cf. CCC 293-295; 341). This purity does not have much to do with the moral virtue of purity per se, in the way people speak morally about purity as the angelic virtue and the angelic way of life. Still, our Lord states, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30). Here, an objective, discerning mind might point out that the holy angels do not constitute a model of chastity by the very fact that they do not have bodies. Manifestly, they do not have the possibility for any such renunciation, nor can they experience concupiscence of the flesh. They do not “know” man’s battle for purity.

In this Psalm, the primary reference is to the angel’s collaboration with God, their disposition as servants, promptness in obedience: “O Lord my God, Thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honor and majesty...Who makest the winds Thy messengers, fire and flame Thy ministers” (vv.1, 3-4; cf. Heb 1:7). A similar description we already see in Psalm 103: “Bless the LORD, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word...His ministers that do His will!” (103:20 ff.).

2. Obedience as the Specific Virtue of the Angels

Why is it that the Psalmist portrays them as obedient servants of the Lord?

a) The Fact of Their Obedience

That obedience is the characteristic virtue of the holy angels can be shown by the following arguments:

—The decisive question in their trial was whether they would accept to follow and serve the Son of God Who would become man (cf. Jer 2:20). Therefore, today the holy and fallen angels are differentiated from one another by the “Yes” to obedience as opposed to the rebellious wish to be like God, independent and free (cf. Gen 3:5; Is 14:11-14). The obstinacy of the elder brother of the prodigal son illustrates this battle: “He was angry and refused to go in…[even when] his father came out and entreated him” (Lk 15:28-31).

—The purely spiritual nature of the angels demands radical obedience and submission in faith. For by obedience is understood the adherence “with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind...the loyal submission of the will and intellect” (LG 25, 1). Such an attitude in the angels is a decision with “all their being.” For as simple, indivisible spirits they have but one faculty of volition (as opposed to man with his many bodily appetites and emotions). Consequently, the obedience of the angels is a total surrender out of love for God; it is a prompt and joyful obedience.

b) Motives for Obedience

The Psalmist makes us question the motives for this joyful obedience when he says: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Yet he also gives the answer: “O Lord my God, Thou art very great!” (Ps 104:1). Why should creatures practice obedience? Primarily, especially for the angels, it is because of the greatness of God Himself, “the majesty of GOD”, His perfect wisdom and goodness. Therefore, the intellect and will find in Him their infinite and wholly satisfying object. Today, in view of the chaos, anarchy and terrorism in the world, we might also consider the repugnant example of the fallen angels and their destiny: eternal separation from God and most painful condemnation. We might consider the horrible consequences which the disobedience of Adam had, and also the cost of reparation of that damage: the cruel Passion of Our Lord. We might easily obey, when we recognize in obedience not just the power of redeeming (cf. Rom 5:15-19), but even more, the straight way to heaven. We do well to take inspiration not only from Christ’s obedience, that of Our Lady’s and St. Joseph’s, but also from that of the holy angels. Moreover, we see the exemplarity of Jesus’ obedience (for example, in Gethsemane Lk 22:43), Mary’s (cf. Lk 1:38) and Joseph’s (cf. Mt 2:13ff.), accomplished in the presence and with the assistance of holy angels sent by the Father.

3. Obedience Today

a) “To make a covenant with you,” the Angels

Is it not manifest that the angels want to introduce man and the other creatures to union with God through obedience, in the same way that they wish to draw us into their praise! Through obedience spiritual beings are united, angels and man, with God, in a union of intellect and will. By this obedience, man reaches the most perfect imitation of the angels: “Who submits his spirit, takes the Cross of our Lord on his shoulder and follows His steps, docile, renouncing everything, including his own will; such a man fulfills the work of the angels,” says Simon of Thessalonica (cf. J. Leclerq, La Vita Perfetta, Milano 1961, 42).

b) The Spiritual Battle of Today—A Twofold Sword

Considering the strong language the Holy Father uses in the encyclical on the Eucharist, many may ask where this union in love is to be found today. He says, “I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity...No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.” (EdeE 52; cf. also the severe tone of the document Redemptionis sacramentum). Some blame “Rome” for being so harsh, since beyond the promise of obedience from those in office, they still require an oath of fidelity.

While initially this demand may hurt, humble reflection shows rather that it hurts an inordinate spirit of autonomy and self-determination. Joyful obedience is the mark of a loving spouse, of the child, or of the sheep in their relationship to the Good Shepherd. Those who take offense at the oath really raise the question as to the radical fidelity they once offered God and the Church in their baptismal vows. For those of our brethren who struggle with this spirit of docile obedience and loyalty, we want to intercede with solicitude and compassion, recalling that fidelity and obedience are a grace, ever mindful that Peter’s presumptuous pride had led to his fall (Mt 26:32ff.). “God appeals to us in His mercy to avoid having to punish us in His severity. Listen to the Lord’s appeal,” teaches St. Peter Chrysologus. He continues, “...God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will” (Lit. of the Hours, 2nd Reading on Tuesday, 4th Week of Easter). If all would allow the holy angels to educate us, then, obeying and surrendering ourselves like them would be assured. Then there would be no need for harsh words.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The union with the holy angels, which we desire and for which we strive by our Consecration to the Holy Angels, helps us become (and how much more this applies to us priests!) evermore docile children of God and obedient followers of Christ. Therefore, let us call upon their help.

May the angels, who unite us and all creatures ever more to their unending praise of God, also lead us to share their union with God through obedience.
We should do the same for those souls entrusted to us by God:
we ought to lead them, too, by holy submission to union with their Creator and Redeemer, and in Him, with all creatures.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC