Vol. XIII, November 2007
Gabriel “…came near” (Dan 8:17)
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
The encounter of Daniel with Gabriel is rich in observations about the life with the holy angels. Being elected by God as a prophet for his people, God granted him deeper understanding through an angel called Gabriel. Gabriel found Daniel open for his word. Daniel heard “a holy one speaking” to Gabriel, and Daniel “sought to understand” what he had heard and seen.
1. The dialogue between Daniel and Gabriel
We take up the text again and consider the dialogue between Daniel and Gabriel: How did it develop? These are the steps we have to distinguish:
1 - “When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it;
2 - and behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’
3 - So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was frightened and fell upon my face.
4 - But he said to me, ‘Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.’
5 - As he was speaking to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground.
6 - but he touched me and set me on my feet.
7 - He said, ‘Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation; for it pertains to the appointed time of the end’.” (Dan 8:15-19)
Concerning step 1: Daniel’s attempt to understand is an example of a spiritual man, a “Geistlicher,” as the Germans call a priest. It is right, that Daniel responds here to a special grace. But yet, his reaction, seeking for an understanding not anywhere in this world, but within himself and turning to God, is an example for us priests. St. Thomas gives some basic reflection on this: “Man’s life is twofold. There is the outward life in respect of his sensitive and corporeal nature… The other is man’s spiritual life in respect of his mind; and with regard to this life there is fellowship between us and God and the angels, imperfectly indeed in this present state of life, wherefore it is written: ‘Our commonwealth is in heaven’ (Phil 3:20)” (St. Thomas Aq., Summa theologiae II-II, 23, 1 ad 1). Saint Paul admonishes all: “Seek the things that are above… Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2). Therefore, “there is a spiritual life that we share with the angels of heaven and with the divine spirits, for like them we have been formed in the image and likeness of God” (St. Lawrence of Brindsi, Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings on July 21st).
Daniel “sought”: This expresses not just a passing look or a quick prayer. He asked and listened for an answer. So should we wait and then, docile to the will of God, consider in our mind what this or that in life means (cf. Mary, Lk 1:29; 2:19, 51; Jn 4:34). Daniel inspires us to live in a meditative way in the midst of this agitated world, like Jesus, like His and our Mother. Saint Augustine said: “We ought to seek God through our similarity to the good angels” (St. Augustine, City of GOD, VIII, 25).
Concerning step 2: Daniel saw someone like a man and heard another man’s voice speaking to him. – Daniel speaks of a vision and audition. We considered already in the last letter about the hierarchical and free communication of the angels among themselves. Here, it is enough to say that God responded to Daniel’s cooperation with the grace. He continued what he started and allowed the prophet to see a man and hear a conversation. It was an experience through two faculties of man and, additionally, he could locate the place from where the voice was coming. He could hear clear words, could see a human-like figure, and observe that “he came near where I stood”.
This secure sharing is a way to tell us, how much God calls us into a “familiarity with His angels”. Of course, every one of us lives in totally different circumstances (a priest from Sri Lanca, for example, just wrote asking for prayers for his people suffering under a terrible civil war). Nevertheless, no one can dispense himself, being a priest, from this familiarity with the divine world! “Through the SPIRIT we become citizens of heaven, we are admitted to the company of the angels, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God” (St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 9, 23 in Lit. of the Hours, Tuesday, 7th week of Easter).
Concerning step 3: Daniel was not just allowed to see and hear a bit of the angel’s conversation; he received a visit. Gabriel “came near where” the prophet stood, and by that, Daniel “was frightened and fell upon my face”. This is another proof of the genuineness of the event; the reactions indicate a real “touch” of “heaven”. He was lead to holy fear and deep respect, so deep, that he confessed it exteriorly by falling on his face. This is a natural reaction corresponding to the dignity he met. It touched first his soul or interior life, and this so much so that it required an exterior expression.
The unity of body and soul in man does not allow a too severe or rationalistic separation of body and soul, of interior virtue and exterior practice. Besides the constant experience of the Saints, be it Moses (cf. Ex 3) or Isaiah (cf. Is 6), Ezekiel (Ez 1) or John (Rev 19:10; 22:10), the words of Jesus presuppose this union: “Everyone 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). Do we understand what it means, that Jesus might deny one of us before His angels, before those whom we need for any good work (cf. CCC 350)?
Concerning steps 4 to 7: Gabriel said to Daniel that the message of the vision refers to “the time of the end”. He said it twice, because after the first time, Daniel “fell into a deep sleep” and “to the ground.” This can mean that he was really not prepared for such a powerful heavenly presence and, overwhelmed, so that he lost his conscience. Gabriel “touched me and set me on my feet,” so that he could continue to explain to him, what he was asked from the higher angel: “Behold, I will make known to you what … pertains to the appointed time of the end.” (Dan 8:19)
For us it is not so important to what historical moment the message refers. Much more impressive for us priests today is how strongly God wants to communicate salvific knowledge to the prophet, and His motive is ultimately love, divine friendship. Does not Jesus, later on explain such openness as a sign of sincere friendship, when He said to the apostles at the last Supper: “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 15:15)
2. The Thirst of GOD
This last observation, but also the entire experience of the prophet should be seen in view of the love of God for men, but especially for His priests, whom He has invited more deeply into the holy of holies. How much God cares for us! If we would just believe it more, spend more time with Him before the tabernacle, He could and would care much more for us! He would send His angels like He sent Gabriel to Daniel, to guide us regarding our plans and works (cf. Acts 12:7ff.).
Let us try to be nearer to Him, to use more of our free time for prayer, meditation and adoration, and pass our days, in the measure possible, in the silent attentive Marian attitude which we mentioned above. HE can care for us and guide us by our holy angels; we will be peaceful shepherds, who point up to God already by the way we react, by the way we speak, and how we submit difficulties first to the Lord. We will be sent into this neo-pagan world like David who, going out to encounter Goliath, said to this experienced soldier: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam 17:45). And as “David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone” (1 Sam 17:49), so will we be blessed by God, ever present to us, and overcome the obstacles which may arise.
3. Communication and Spiritual Communion
We saw, God shared His secrets with the faithful angels; then, He asked or allowed them to share it with the “man greatly beloved” (Dan 10:11). God desires and thirsts to share His love with us. And just as He shares it through the holy angels with us, so He wants to share His word and love through us priests with the others. Mediation does not diminish the honor of the Source and Giver, nor diminish the value of the content and importance of the message. God’s intention is, to let the creatures participate in His honor as already philosophers observe: The instrument shares in the dignity of its user! Are the museums not full of many objects which some dignity once used! That might be one of the reasons, why the Fathers of the Second Vatican Counsel said: “Priests who perform their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the Spirit of Christ arrive at holiness by this very fact” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 13), they take on the “form of Christ” or become Christ-like.
This great divine offer makes us more aware of our call. God wants to communicate with us because He wants to imprint in our soul His way, His light, His grace. When a higher person draws a lower into his collaboration, he elevates the latter. Contrarily, if we turn down towards the world to share in it, we will be lowered, we will become like the “world” or worldly. We have heard it often: Tell me with whom you go or to what you dedicate yourself, and I will tell you who you are and what you are like. To God we should mainly listen and receive. Then when we speak to people we will naturally speak more about God than about worldly things. We should never leave someone without having given a word of God, a piece of our meditation or some food for thought, even if it be but a holy card. Then we too will be elevated and sanctified by Him with whom we have cooperated, and the people along with us.
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Daniel can become a model for our familiar life with the holy angels. Independent of Daniel, Pope Benedict led the bishops and priests in his entire homily on the feast of the Archangels to the conviction of this call: Joining yourselves in the union with Christ, you also can assume a function of Gabriel: take the call of Christ to men (cf. Homily on Sept. 29, 2007).