Vol. XIII, April 2007
God “has sent his angel and delivered his servants”
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Our meditations on the angels in divine revelation lead us from the prophet Ezekiel to Daniel. The latter is quite a different personality. Ezekiel was shown various great visions, e.g. the tremendous vision of the four Living Creatures and that of the appearance of God’s glory and majesty in the temple. Daniel received personal visits from St. Gabriel who called him “greatly beloved” (Dan 9:23). He was helped by the angel to survive persecution, to find justice in daily life.
We priests can identify ourselves with both. The priest is liturgist and pastor, mediator and counselor, pointing to the future with hope and facing the present with faith. The angel’s word to Daniel reminds us of Jesus who said to the apostles: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:14-15). Daniel proved himself to be a worthy friend, “greatly beloved.” Let us reflect about Daniel’s life with the holy angels, that we may grow in familiarity with them.
1. Three Tests
We read: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel… Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (Dan 1,3-7).
Daniel, along with the other three young men, was confronted with the pagan kingdom of Babylon on different occasions. They remained faithful to the faith of their fathers in situations similar to ours, for we too live in an ever more secularized world.
a) First they were confronted with the food prescriptions. Being in exile, it would have been considered apostasy from their faith if they would have neglected their own laws (cf. 2 Mac 6:18-7:42). Therefore, with trust in God’s help, the boys sought exemption from the king’s rules. The result was – after a trial test – that they took on a much healthier appearance than all of the others (cf. chapter 1). This was an external, concrete, measurable test.
b) Then the King had a mysterious dream, and no one could interpret it for him. Finally, Daniel was called and was able to interpret the dream of the king. God assisted him through intellectual insights and graces, and the king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings,” and bestowed on him great honors and gifts (Dan 2:47-49).
c) Such fidelity to God’s law enrages the evil one. His intention is very clear: “He wants your soul!” Consider the third test of the three youths against this backdrop.
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, and ordered all … peoples, nations, and languages, … to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace" (Dan 3:1-6).
Notwithstanding, the three youths again remained faithful to God and resisted that idolatry. They did not adore the dead image of the mortal king. This, of course, could not remain hidden. And so,
Certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews … There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no heed to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image, which you have set up (v. 8-12).
It seems that, the king had forgotten the light and grace received through Daniel at the explanation of his dream; he fell into a fit of “ furious rage… Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up?’” (v.13)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not afraid of the burning fiery furnace , of suffering and even of dying. They did not fear one who is able to kill their body, but only Him “Who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). They answered the king, very frankly and with great tranquil courage:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up" (v. 16-18).
Then, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, … were cast into the burning fiery furnace ” (Dan 3,21).
2. The Holy Angels
But, “because the king's order was strict and the furnace very hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (Dan 3:22).
Nonetheless, the three young men were unharmed.
[The king] was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? … But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come forth, and come here!” Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in Him, and set at nought the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God” (Dan 3:24-26.28).
a) God had sent His angel to protect the faithful.
God’s intervention surprises the world, but is familiar to those who put their trust in Him. The angel descended to the Chosen People when they left Egypt, they helped the patriarchs and prophets, Peter and Paul, and even our Lord Himself in Gethsemane. This was also the experience of the three young men: The “poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Ps 34:6-7). The three young men praised God! They confessed His glory, His power and love, His care and attention, His beauty and goodness. The praise of God unites man with the angels, and calls God down into the battle and with Him His angels. This is the reason, why praise and thanksgiving of God’s name expels any enemy.
b) “Walking in the midst of the fire”
The holy angel descended with the three men into the fire. The holy angels are present with God’s friends everywhere. Wherever God asks His friends to go, the angels go too. They reserve no private time for themselves; their whole and undivided attention belongs to God. Wherever He is and whatever He wants from them, that is likewise their holy wish. To carry out His will is the fruit of their original fidelity and causes them further joy. God’s Will is their life. His desire is their joy. In their eyes, everything is practically divine by the fact, that God looks at it, wills it and wants to make use of it, great or small, eternal or passing, spiritual or material.
In fact, God set the angels in charge of the entire physical world and of everything that happens in it. So it could have been “the angel who has power over fire” (Rev 14:18) who descended with the three in the midst of the flames of fire.
Those who confess God experience the help of the angels. Jesus will say later: “And I tell you, every one who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:8-9).
a) An old story
We can see in this trial, shades of an ever-repeating situation: Man aspires to be like God (cf. in the Tower of Babel, Gen 11). Herod had caused the people to cry out that his voice was: "The voice of a god, and not of man!" (Acts 12:22). In our day, many people suffer their own form of megalomania.
We find the same pattern in the temptations of Jesus in the desert; the tempter, the father of lies promises Him: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Mt 4:9). And fortunately, not every story ends in defeat, but by the grace of Christ there are the stories of faithfulness and humility. The three young men were firm and confessed their faith in God. The fear of the Lord and their confidence in God was greater than their trust in man. They did not decide for physical death, but for spiritual life, nor did they prefer the life of their body over that of their soul. To be faithful to God, that was their only preoccupation and care. “Dying out of love is victory over death” (Mother Gabriele, Maxims, 6 th of March). Thus, God condemns – as so often happens – the strong of this world through the virtue of the weak. Alone they are weak, but with God’s helping hand they are strong.
b) The law of life
“Fire” is a symbol of love, but also of its opposite: a symbol of the fight against love, of hate, of temptations (cf. Is 43:2), of the world and devils behind man.
But those who – like these three – try to be united with God and the holy angels through prayer and praise have God and His angels on their side. The angel descended with them into the fire, kept the flames away from them, so much so, that even their clothes did not smell of fire (cf. Dan 3:27). That image is practically a type of Jesus in His spiritual battle in Gethsemane, where He received assistance from heaven and not from earth, help from the angels and not from men. There too, the angel descended into the night, approached his Lord in His battle against the fire of the devil’s hate. In prayer, man’s ego abases itself: he trusts rather in God than in himself, in God’s mercy and prudence rather than in his own wisdom. Prayer and praise point to the final goal: “Soli Deo!” or God’s honor and His will alone.
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
Such an example before our eyes encourages us to trust in God first and in the power of prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours) and relying on the help of the Holy Angels. Persecution and any form of the Cross are signs of victory. What the world condemns becomes for us the very reason of our victory. It cannot do more to us than to menace and – if God allow – cause our death. But death is for us the door to life. Therefore, faithfulness is the key to the union with God, in which we also gain union with the holy angels and their assistance in our life. “ The love of many shall grow cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved ” (Mt 24:12b-13).