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Vol. XI, December 2005

 

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” (Is 1:2)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

With this scriptural reference to the holy angels we come to the book of Isaiah, the first book of the major prophets. Isaiah refers to the holy angels in the opening verse, in a programmatic solemn speech, which recalls the beginning of the first historical book, Genesis: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand’” (Is 1:2-3).  

The reference to both “heaven and earth” occurs frequently (Gen 1:1; cf. Circular 1996, II,1; or Dt 32:1; cf. Circular 1998, IV,3). In Isaiah it appears at least thirty-five times. “Heaven”, of course, does not always mean the angelic world. Nevertheless, it does so often enough, so that this frequent reference reflects the biblical view of the world and history, which embraces the purely spiritual and the material and the human beings, the three types of creatures united. Let us take a closer look at “heaven” here as “the ‘place’ of the spiritual creatures, the angels, who surround God” (CCC 326) and ask, what important message Isaiah must have, that he calls out to heaven and earth.

1. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!”

Isaiah begins his book with the historical reference, similar to St. Luke (cf. Lk 1:5). We read: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth…, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Is 1:2-4). The main theme seems to be God’s complaint against Israel. The people are blind, they do not want to understand God’s will. Why does He then call upon “heaven and earth”? Should the angels become witnesses of God’s judgment? This question leads us to different links between the world of the holy angels and our human life.

In the first place note that Isaiah speaks often about Christ. St. John attests to the fact that God “has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart…” (Jn 12:40-41; cf. Is 6:9-10); and he adds: “Isaiah said this because he saw His [Christ’s] glory and spoke of Him” (Jn 12:41). Nonetheless, he looks optimistically towards the goal and foretells: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Is 65:17).

a) To address “heaven and earth” so solemnly is appropriate in view of Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah who was foretold in paradise and expected down through the centuries.

This opening trumpet call would make little sense if the text would refer to just any mortal, historical figure. Tradition placed this ox and ass near the crib of Jesus because “the ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib.” Many prophetic texts in Isaiah indicate the coming Messiah. Even Jesus Himself interpreted different texts in view of Himself. Concerning one of these He said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21; Is 61:1-2). Various acts of Jesus were foretold by Isaiah (cf. Mt 8:17 and Is 53:4; Mt 11:4-5 with reference to various texts in Isaiah: Mt 12:17ff. and Is 42:1-4; Mk 7:6-7 and Is 29:13; Jn 12:37-41 and Is 53:1; 6:9-10). Therefore, we have to understand Isaiah in reference to Jesus, beginning with His birth: “To us a child is born” (Is 9:6; cf. Mt 1:22f. and Is 7:14).

b) The reference to the Son of God Who became man not only explains, but practically requires that he call out to “heaven and earth”, to the entire creation: In Christ, the Creator intends to build a bridge to creatures; God wants to become man. He, through Whom and for Whom all were made! He is the center, to Whom all is related; He is the rock, the corner-stone, upon Whom alone we can be solidly built. “In Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17). That is then the reason why St. Peter speaks about the end of heaven and earth by the Word (cf. 2 Pet 3:7-10), in favor of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Therefore, the prophet needed to call all creation, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth”.

2. Another reason for this reference to the holy angels here may be seen in the fact, that they are already part of history. The holy angels are the ones who serve the prophets as their helpers, they are witnesses to the past and they also want to participate in prophetic fulfillment of history.

a) “Prophecy” does not necessarily always foretell the future; it’s essence is rather to be a word that comes from God and is spoken in God’s name. St. Thomas speaks of “divine enlightenments and revelations” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 172,2). Even if these are “gratuitous graces,” “ascribed to the Holy Ghost as their first principle: yet He works grace of this kind in men by means of the angels” (ibid. ad 2). This has to be applied to all “prophetic knowledge” as far as God’s ordered way of proceeding directs lower things through middle things. In our case, “the angels hold a middle position between God and men, in that they have a greater share in the perfection of the Divine goodness than men have… Therefore it is evident that [prophetic knowledge] is conveyed by the angels” (ibid. c.). So the prophets, like the contemplating angels in heaven, are the ones familiar with God, with whom God shares His secrets (cf. Lk 7:39; cf. Rev 22:9).

b) The mediator of a message is not always part of it. Of the holy angels is said that they long to see Christ’s day since He “is the center of the angelic world” (CCC 331). “The prophets, who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated...things which have now been announced…[and] into which angels long to look” (1 Pet 1:10-12).

St. Paul speaks of the same mystery: “To me…this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and…that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:8-10). Christ “is the head of the body, the Church… Through Him [God wants] to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:18-20), and “unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10; cf. Heb 12:21-29).

As Isaiah spoke of Christ with Whom God had this plan, it was most fitting to call out to “heaven and earth” to “hear”. “Already here on earth,” God wills that “our Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (CCC 336).

3. Finally, the immediate reasons, the complaint about the blindness of man can be considered another motive for this reference here to the holy angels. The holy angels are with different tasks called to the judgment: They are sent out to call for the judgment (cf. Mt 24:31). They are present as witnesses (cf. Lk 9:26) and, “the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous” (Mt 13:49).

Taking the popular interpretation of the “master’s crib” as a reference to the birth of Jesus, then we see the holy angels there also in these functions: They announced the coming of God to Mary, St. Joseph and the shepherds. They help St. Joseph discern the spirits in his spiritual battle (cf. Mt 1:18ff.) and gave the beautiful testimony to their Lord and God and to Our Lady’s collaboration with Him (cf. Lk 2:9-14). The angels too bow (imitating the SON’s humble self-emptying) before their “master’s crib”. There, humility is revealed as a truly angelic virtue, just as pride is the typical mark of the fallen angels (cf. “Humility”, the second of “The Seven Basic Character Traits in the Work of the Holy Angels,” General Circular Letter of Advent, 2002).

Our modern world offers us many ways to become proud and self-sufficient, to become “people laden with iniquity…! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Is 1:4). However, there are also not lacking occasions through which God wants to teach us humility. He invites us to bend ourselves in following Him, in becoming like a child! We have a hard time listening to Him behind the events of daily life, so as to learn His lessons. Here we need the assistance of the holy angels. They can help us to spring free from the entangling net which surrounds us and offer us time and occasions to “hear…and give ear” to the Lord. The holy angels are interested and willing to help us, if only by pointing out to “the ox (who) knows its owner, and the ass (who knows) its master’s crib.”

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Especially in this Christmas Tide, the holy angels are very active! Let us call upon their help. Let us unite ourselves with those

who are already there where we desire to arrive, in heaven;

who see what we are supposed to preach, God’s Glory;

who love totally Him Whom we—so often—put in the second place and forget so quickly, our beloved God.

Let us join the holy angels in their love and adoration, in their praise and thanksgiving. Through our joy we will convince others. Through the liturgical celebration of our faith, God will enkindle light and love in the hearts of the faithful.

This Year has been a very special Year for the entire Church and certainly for many of us individually. I want to thank so many of you for the generosity with which we were received into your parishes. I also want to thank those who took initiative to organize days of recollection. Some have even started to give days of recollection themselves.

May the cry “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” find its echo in us in this Advent and Christmas time. May we be able to offer in our churches a better place to Our Lord than the stable of Bethlehem. May we be attentive to Him in our hearts, in union with the holy angels, with our Lady’s and St. Joseph’s love and surrender. —Merry Christmas to all of you and may the help of the holy angels with the Lord’s blessing be upon you every day of the New Year!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC