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Vol. XIII, December 2007

 

Gabriel "Came and He Said to Me."

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Chapter 8 in the book of Daniel showed us the greatness of the love of GOD towards His friends, His generosity and the gratuity of His graces. In the angel’s next encounter with Daniel we observe the personal dispositions of Daniel, his openness and sincerity in confessing his sins. “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God; while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and he said to me, “O Daniel…” (Dan 9:20-22). Daniel’s openness is all the more important for us in the measure that his holiness surpasses ours. Did St. Gabriel not assure him: “You are greatly beloved” (9:23)?

1. Daniel’s Dispositions

Daniel starts with this description of the event:

I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and terrible God, who keepest covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments and ordinances; we have not listened to Thy servants the prophets, who spoke in Thy name to our kings.” (Dan 9:3-6)

a) Prayer

Here, Daniel, responding to a hidden grace, takes the initiative and turns to God. He did not have to wait for a visible manifestation of God, nor for the king to call him for a service like the interpretation of a dream. Daniel turns to God in prayer, a prayer marked by deep humility and sincerity. By sincerity, because he accuses himself and his people as sinners, as those who offended God in many ways. All the more honor to him, who like Christ, accepts to be identified with the sinful nation.

To Thee, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us confusion of face, as at this day, …to all Israel…near and…far away…because we have sinned against Thee...because we have rebelled against Him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside. (vv. 7-11)

It is a prayer of humility; it is not a false accusation, a criticism of others, but sincere preoccupation and love for the others. This is clear for two reasons: First, because the final reason is not only the intention to help his people out of their misery, but the attention to God Himself and the glory and honor of His name.  

“Thy people have become a byword among all who are round about us. Now therefore, O our God, hearken to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy own sake, O Lord. …O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, give heed and act; delay not, for Thy own sake, O my God, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.” (vv. 16-17, 19)

Secondly, because his words are accompanied by works which make the first worthy and authenticate them.

b) “Prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”

When daily affairs envelope man, he no longer hears God. Then conversion back to Him becomes necessary. Daniel also turned to the Lord: “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer…with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (v. 3). His “prayer” is here an expression of humility and the reparation for disobedience and pride. “Fasting” is the weapon against carnal pleasures, “sackcloth and ashes” against vanity caused by earthly goods. Once man has established the right hierarchy of values with the glory of God on the top, followed by the union of the people with Him, worldly values are deemed of little importance. These acts show that the prophet’s prayer comes from a sorrowful heart. Accompanied by fasting it opens up and makes man ready for God’s grace.

c) “The Lord our God is righteous.”

We find a third disposition of Daniel which pleased God. Daniel recognized the justice of God’s anger towards His people and submitted to His punishment. Beyond the purification just mentioned (active purification), God Himself needs to purify us (passive purification). He alone knows disordered attachments and what needs to be purified.

“And the curse and oath…have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against Him. ...[T]he Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He has done, and we have not obeyed His voice.” (v. 12-14)

Here there are three moments one can observe:

1) Daniel voluntarily did penance by his own free decision and choice, but not with the distorted intention of “buying” an end to his misery. He had no illusion about self-redemption which, while at times subtle, still mitigates the value of many voluntary penances.

2) Consequently, he did also not pray simply to be freed from the present suffering. Suffering is a consequence of man’s wrong doing even on a natural level. For example, a hangover is a natural suffering (punishment) attached to drunkenness. Daniel looks beyond this natural evil to the greater evil of Israel’s disobedience to God The offense is not simply against some law of nature but against the Author of nature. Accordingly, to the self-inflicting punishment that comes with the violation of the natural law, is superadded the meaning of penance and reparation for the offense against the divine honor.

3) Daniel understands that the restoration of man’s sins needs God’s personal forgiveness. For this very reason, He who has been offended must determine the price for satisfaction. Hence, Daniel first imposed a penance upon himself, but further willingly submits to the exacting justice of God. In short: It is not the work alone, it is not prayer alone, it is not our doing alone, but God’s purification that cleanses us and opens us for the deeper workings of God and His angels (cf. Tobit and St. Raphael, Tob 12:12-14).

2. Gabriel “He came and he said to me…”

This manifold preparation of Daniel—his exterior and interior detachment, his humility before God, his blind surrender and unconditional acceptance of all God’s determinations—achieve a purification of soul, such that it is open for whatever Heaven desires. “While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and he said to me, ‘O Daniel…’” (vv. 21-22)

There is a parallel between this apparition of St. Gabriel and those before the Incarnation. St. Gabriel said to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel, … and I was sent to speak to you” (Lk 1:19). Why should there not also be a parallel to the presence of the holy angels in our own life?  

a) “The man Gabriel…came to me in swift flight…” It is the characteristic of the holy angels in the economy of salvation to be sent from God to man and into the entire creation: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve…?” (Heb 1:14)! Here, the mission of the angel is an answer to the righteousness of Daniel. At the same time, we should also believe that God has sent His angels already into our life. We too are surrounded by the holy angels, by our own Guardian Angel and those of many others (e.g., with the Guardian Angels of the parishioners, of our co-workers, of the souls who pray for us and for whom we pray). We can truly say that we form with these holy angels a spiritual family. By growing in familiarity with them (cf. Pius XII’s exhortation on Oct. 3rd, 1958), we allow the angels, always welcome, to act “in swift flight”.

b) “… at the time of the evening sacrifice.”   The remark, “at the time of the evening sacrifice,” points to the liturgy as special time, a time in which we are nearest to God and in the presence of the angels in a special way, as affirmed already David (cf. Ps 137/8:1) and as we recall daily in the holy Mass when we join our voices with theirs saying “Holy, holy, holy…”  

c) “I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding.” Here, the angel acts in an extraordinary way. St. Gabriel has the particular mission to transmit the word of God. We are not aware of how many inspirations we receive from the holy angels every day. And because of the humility of the angels and of their transparency for God, they even take care that we not perceive their action. But how often, in fact, that it is through their intervention that we remember an appointment just in time or that by their inspiration we have “a good idea” about the Gospel for the homily, etc., so that we might glorify God who sends them. Summing up, we can say that with faith we become familiar with the angels; we find them in prayer, especially in the liturgy; and through poverty in spirit and silence we become receptive for their guidance.

3. St. Gabriel

“Gabriel is the messenger of God’s Incarnation. He knocks at Mary’s door… The Lord knocks again and again at the door of the human heart” (Benedict XVI, Sept. 29, 07). Therefore, St. Gabriel may be sent into our life as well and bring the word of God to us. This may be one reason why God invites us to be consecrated to the holy angels. Indeed, they are mediators of   many graces; how much do we need them in matters both great and small? Does God not tell us: “Without me you cannot do anything” (Jn 15:5). The Church somehow recalls this by teaching with St. Thomas Aquinas that “the angels take part in all our good works” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 114, 3 ad 3; cited in CCC 350). Should it remain but one bishop who has observed that the priests devoted to the holy angels are marked by their zeal for God and the salvation of the souls? How could a devotion to the angels not be fruitful in the apostolate given that they, though silent, are efficacious ministers of God’s light and grace? It is not the consecration alone which will bring about this effect, but living it conscientiously, for it is a sacramental of the Church and a covenant of collaboration with the hosts of heaven.

Pope Benedict XVI raised the question in a homily: “What is an angel?” His answer was: “The angel is a creature who stands before God, oriented to God with his whole being.” Therefore, we must say: God is their joy and perfection, God fills them so totally, that everything in them is marked by Him. Does not God and the people expect the same from us? Communion with them will help us achieve this ideal, too.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We have seen how Daniel gave testimony to a life orientated towards God. Should it not also be so with us? Should we not be recognized by our faith, by our prayerfulness and making the liturgy our “home”, by silence and detachment from worldly attractions? Let us pray with Daniel: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness” (v. 9). And let us try to be more and more open for the holy angels, in order to become more a priest whose words and works point out the way to God. May this Advent season and the solemnity of Christ’s birthday, bring us all nearer to this ideal. Merry Christmas to all of you, united with Our Lady and St. Joseph around the crib of Our Lord, in the joyful company of the holy angels.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC