Year of Priesthood XI
Vol. XVI, May 2010
|Tend My Sheep (Jn 21,16)
|Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Looking up to the angels and contemplating their ministry help us to discover more deeply the identity of Christ’s priests. Surely this is an occasion of new joy and gratitude on account of our vocation. The angel is our fellow servant (cf. Rev 22:9). “Already here on earth” we share “by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (CCC 336). We ascend in faith with him to God whom he already beholds face to face, God, who is our common joy and happiness, fiery source of all our love (cf. Heb 12:28). In this union of divine love we can descend with the angels to God’s people. Do we not share a common mission: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you [down] on the way and to bring you [up] to the place which I have prepared” (Ex 23:20). To guard and lead the people is the angelic and priestly mission, especially in this time of growing relativism and confusion. The angel knows God, and therefore is sent as “a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven” (Dan 4:23); he is a guiding light, a torch of fire. Let’s watch him, learn from him and imitate him. Let us too become a flame of fire, watching with him before the tabernacle, so that our very face – through love – become like that of an angel (cf. Acts 6,15), and so be “changed into [Christ’s] likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18).
1. Angels as watchers
It is not commonly known that the angels are revealed to us as “watchers”, as we read in Daniel: “I saw in the visions … a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven” (Dan 4:13). The prophet explains: “The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones” (Dan 4:17; cf. v. 23; cf. Circ. Letter XIII, 6 and 7). This should not surprise us too much, when we reflect calmly about God and the example of Our Lord Himself.
a) God is all-knowing, He is present every where; in His providence, moreover, He watches over us lovingly. This should inspire us to take refuge in Him at every moment: “Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether. Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest Thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…. If I ascend to heaven… If I… dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea… Thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps 139:4-10). God is not dead, nor a retired Creator, but One who loves us “to the end” (Jn 13:1). “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17). They are most attentive, so much so that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mt 10:30).
While on earth, Jesus was very watchful. He wanted His disciples to learn and grow in faith. Once He said to His disciples: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (Mk 8:16-17). He is solicitously concerned with their protection before the enemy: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you” (Lk 22:31-32; cf. Mt 10:28; 13:39; 24:42). He watched, and called attention where necessary: “Beware of false prophets…” (Mt 7:15), “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Lk 12:1; cf. Mt 16:11)! This watchfulness was such an important part of His mission that He gave special account of it to His Father in His high priestly prayer at the Last Supper: “I have guarded (the disciples), and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Jn 17:12; cf. Jn 18:9).
b) God calls His angels to share this solicitude for man. They participate in His love for other creatures, too. They serve God, defend His dignity (cf. Gen 3:23-24), and are willing to serve Him in Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God according the Father’s plan (cf. Mt 26:52-56; Jn 18:35-36). But they are also somehow Divine Providence ‘in person’, because God has placed our care in their hands: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14). In this mission, they watch that nothing happens which would not be according God’s holy will. “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you... For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up” (Ps 91:11). God gives them all the knowledge they need to fulfill His charge. They know their fallen brothers, their hate and envy, their astute tactic and raging fury; they know also Our Lord and God and the goal of our life, our call to happiness in the vision of God. They know what we loose if we miss our goal. Therefore, they share God’s thirst for us; they anxiously want us to join them in the heavenly glory, they watch over us at every moment of our life.
This explains the loving solicitude of St. Raphael towards the young inexperienced Tobias in his material and spiritual needs (cf. Tob 6:2-4; 8:2-3). St. Joseph too, on different occasions, was greatly indebted to the angels for helping him provide the right care for Jesus in times of danger (cf. Mt 1:18; 2:12-20). St. Paul’s anxious soul was calmed in a very critical situation by the assurance of “an angel of the God … [who] said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul’” (Acts 27:23-24).
c) An attitude of priests. This constant and unceasing attentive care on the part of God over all His creatures ought also to be a characteristic of His representatives, the priests. When Jesus committed His Church and the care of souls to the bearers of Holy Orders, He said to Peter not only “feed” (Jn 21:15, 17), but also “Tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), which means guard and watch them. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). It is this same Peter who alerts us all: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1Pet 5:8). In our day, the Church describes and prescribes in considerable detail in what this consists (cf. Canon Law. cc. 528, 529), even insisting that the pastor “is obliged to reside in the parochial house, near the church” (Can 533 § 1). The reason is that already his presence reflects God’s care and threatens the enemies and persecutors (cf. e.g. St. Faustina, Diary # 320).
2. The watcher turns into a fighter
To “watch” means much more than just having one’s eyes open to see. Jesus did not just look on passively when He saw how they turned the temple into a business hall, but His indignation drove Him to action, consumed as He was by zeal for God (cf. Jn 2:14-17). And in a similar spirit He reproached the Scribes and Pharisees with threatening “woes”, hoping that they might be converted (cf. Lk 11:42-52). Even at the very end, while hanging on the Cross He manifested His ardent desire to save all, crying out: “I thirst!” (Jn 19:28).
a) The basis for this attitude is the love and defense of the good against the onslaught of evil. One needs to know and love the good in order to recognize the evil and to take care to keep it away. It is still clearer: Only in the measure that one loves the good, will he watch and try to protect it from evil. The Lord said it already: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. A hireling, on the contrary, “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees…because he…cares nothing for the sheep” (Jn 10:11-13).
b) It was this love for Christ and the good of souls that led St. Paul to become all for all. He showed especially what this care means for the priest. He warns the souls: “I do not want you to be partners with demons” (1 Cor 10:21); “keep Satan from gaining the advantage over” you (2 Cor 2:11); “give (him) no opportunity” (Eph 4:27; cf. 1 Cor 10:21). St. Paul got so furious that he told the magician Elymas who opposed the faith and St. Paul’s mission: “You son of the devil… you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time” (Acts 13:8-11). And on another occasion: “I have delivered [them] to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:20). However, such measures against open and hardened enemies were rare. St. Paul was more inclined in this fashion: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:19-22). In his zeal for the salvation of the people he told the elders of Ephesus: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…” (Acts 20:28-31).
3. How to watch and fight
By right God defends His own dignity. Similarly, the truth obliges us to reject lies and zeal for the good makes one watch and ward off any evil. The special nearness to God obliges the priests to care for God’s people. Some indications may be given:
—The devil tempts through doubt. Let us proclaim the light of divine truth and thus conquer and dispel the darkness of the evil one (cf. Jn 3:19-21).
—The devil seduced Eve with envy (“You will be like God!” – Gen 3:5). Let us announce the infinitely rich and personal love of God for each soul, and so dull and break the futile sword of envy.
—The enemy offers “a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6). Let us open the eyes of the hearts (cf. Eph 1:18) “to taste and see how God the Lord is” (Ps 34:8) and show them that this delight is never-ending. Let us take a tip from St. Paul, who in his letter to the Ephesians, puts an entire list together which can be a guide for us priests: “Take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day”, truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace; “faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one”, the word of God, prayer and supplication with all perseverance (cf. Eph 6:13-18). St. Paul prays for his people (cf. 2 Thess 3:1-3). He filled up in his own flesh what was still lacking to Christ’s Passion for the salvation of souls (cf. Col 1:24). Along these lines the Cure of Ars declared: As long as we have not yet done all for the salvation of the souls we cannot rest.
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
While the priestly ministry requires great responsibility towards souls, greater still is his love for God. The good is more wonderful than evil is frightening. The holy angels lead us first to a deep understanding of our vocation in union with God. There we learn that the good is stronger than evil, that the light of truth brighter than the darkness of the lie, that mercy edifies more than evil destroys. Let us be close to the angels as they bring us closer to God, and we will “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).