Vol.III, March ’97


"To Light and Guard"

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Psalmist reflects about the marvels God has done to the chosen people and praises His wonders: "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!...(For) the Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Ps 34,3. 6-8). While the psalmist refers to a personal incident of angelic intervention, he implies that it is also the experience of all who fear God. Indeed, the whole of Israel had experienced dramatic angelic intervention at their exodus from Egypt when God sent the destroyer angel to free them from slavery, and lead them out of Egypt.

1. During his negotiations with the Pharaoh, Moses learned that it is the Lord who grants favor to His people in the sight of others. Through those bitter trials Moses grew strong in faith and so was able himself to go ahead of the people and lead them through the desert towards the Promised Land. Scarcely had they begun their journey, when the Pharaoh changed his mind and hardened his heart and "pursued them, all Pharoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook [Israel] encamped by the [Red] Sea" (Ex 14,9). There again, Moses showed his fortitude in faith and did not waver in his trust in the Lord. Out of his intimacy with God and drawing upon the special graces of his mission as the mediator between God and the people, "Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still’" (Ex 14,12-14).

While it is true that the Israelites could not personally witness every angelic intervention in the cause of their liberation, they were universally witnesses of the major ‘miracles’ and communally received the witness of God through the testimony of Moses. How impressive was the Passover of the Destroyer Angel and their midnight flight from slavery under the guidance of Moses and the angel that led them in the pillar of cloud. Direct verbal contact with God and His angel was not granted to the people except through the mediation of Moses. Hence, they depended upon him for their faith and instruction in their faith. While their instruction in faith depended upon the light and grace of God and the ministry of Moses and the Angel, their growing steadfast in faith demanded the further element of their personal collaboration. They had to consent to the word and will of God. And in this God has ordained that this transformation of the heart of man take place through purifying sufferings.

2. God knows the heart of man: "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe" (Jn 4,48). In His condescending mercy (culminating visibly and effectively in the Incarnation), God does offer manifestations of His presence and power. They are visible, so that through them we might more easily place our trust in His saving power. Thus, "the Lord went before [His people] by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" "throughout all their journeys" (Ex 13,21-22; 40,38).

The fire of the burning bush was similarly a sight of God’s presence at Horeb, where He too appeared to Moses in conjunction with an angel (cf. Ex 3,2-4). While the fire represents the majesty and fearfulness of God "Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Is 33,14), the pillar of cloud which is paramount here - and a frequent element in the biblical theophanies - draws our attention to the mysterious, ineffable presence of God. "God dwells in the cloud" notes St. Thomas in His commentary on the Transfiguration of Christ1. The continuous presence of the cloud with Israel, day and night, is a sign first of all of God’s fidelity, and secondly of the angel’s since it is in and through the angel that God led Israel through the desert: "I will send My angel before you... to lead you to the place that I have prepared for you." (Ex 23, 20).

The cloud signifies and makes known the presence of the Father - as we look back from the perspective of the NT - since it is He Who speaks from the cloud at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (cf. Mt 17,5). Origines also averts to the dimension of power represented by the cloud; this recalls the words of St. Gabriel to the Virgin of Nazareth, "the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1,35). Such power was most manifest in the fiery cloud which enveloped Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Tablets of the Law (Ex 19,16). The Council Fathers at Vatican II, however, related this ‘overshadowing’ to the Holy Spirit2. Also the Cloud at Mt Tabor would be the image of the Holy Spirit and His glory, Who gives the chosen ones the clarity of the glory and refuge before each evil.3 In an extended sense, it also extends to the glory of the world renewed by God4 or, even as St. Thomas affirms, while commenting on the passage in Mathhew: the "consolation of the Glory".5 Finally, being a visible sign of the presence of God, it has a necessary relationship to Christ, the Visible God, who at the end of the world will come in glory on the clouds of heaven accompanied by His Angels (cf. Mt 24, 30-31). That at the Ascension, "a cloud took [Him] out of their sight" (Acts 1,9) is understood by St. Thomas as a "sign of the Divinity" of Christ.6

Finally, like the burning bush in which God appeared first to Moses, so too does the "pillar of cloud" represent the Mother of God, of whom Wisdom says: "My throne was in a pillar of cloud" (Sir 24,4).7 The Spirit is the meeting place - if we may so express it - of God the Father and the Son. The Blessed Virgin Mary - the created Immaculate Conception and thus Image of the Holy Spirit in the Doctrine of Maximilian Kolbe - is the meeting place of the Father and the Son in the depths of the Incarnation. Perforce, she is the meeting place of God and all His Children. She, the Immaculate pillar of cloud is the guiding model and protecting power - recall that Israel was baptized in the cloud, "...our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor 10,1-2) - she "continues to ‘go before’ the People of God" and "does not cease to be the ‘Star of the Sea" (Maris Stella) for all those who are still on the journey of faith ... with maternal love" and "as the unchangeable and inviolable sign of God’s election" which "is more powerful than any experience of evil and sin" she is "a sign of sure hope."8

3. With our Lady as the living dwelling place of God it is easier to understand the serving role of the angel, here in the same humble way as before in the encounter between God and Moses (cf. Ex 3,2-5). Here, "God said to Moses, ... ‘Tell the people of Israel to go forward ..." Then the Angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness; and the night passed without one coming near the other all night" (Ex 14,15. 19-20).

Thus, it was not the Angel who appeared in the form of the cloud but rather God Who is present and accompanies His people, with His Angels: "Yahweh went before them by day in the form of a pillar of cloud to show them the way, ..." (Ex 13,21). He is their glory, their defense and their consolation. The Angel goes before Him like the bodyguard of the King, chosen from among his army. He is the servant of God and the servant of the Mother of God and the servant of His people for His sake (cf. Rev 12,17). Just as God showed Israel the way and protected them from their enemies through the cloud, so too does the Angel enlight and defend them in the name of God. And this is the mystery of the angel of the Lord in the many theophanies of the OT even as it is analogously the mystery of the priesthood in the New Covenant in Christ: God works mysteriously in and through His angelic and His priestly ministers. They are intimates in His heavenly court in His Holy of Holies (so often enshrouded in the Cloud); they are the servants of God and of Mary.

What the Exodus Angel accomplished on behalf of Israel at the divine command, the Guardian Angel does for his protegé: "he lights and guards", he indicates and leads to the promised land. Knowing that Mary alone is the perfect temple of the Holy Spirit, the angel as her servant endeavors to lead us to her so that through her, the Seat of Wisdom, we might understand the signs of God and decide in favor of His grace. It was through the persevering mediation of the angels that Israel, despite its many falls, could finally achieve steadfastness in faith. Those who followed the angel faithfully - "If you listen carefully to his voice and heed My voice ... My Angel will go before you" (Ex 23, 22.23) - were finally espoused to God in Faith and eventually did enter the Promised Land (cf. Hos 2, 21-25). Those who disregarded the Exodus Angel’s ministry were deemed unworthy of the divine friendship and promise: "Not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell" (Num 14,4.30) and to which He willed to lead them through the angel (cf. Ex 23, 20-23).

4. The lesson we may draw is this: Whoever with faith and confidence surrenders himself to Divine Providence will experience the presence of God in His life and the activity of the Holy Angels, since they are His servants, mighty in strength who do His word (Ps 103,20). The angel mediates the divine light and strength so that we can know and pursue the path of God; he protects us from the seemingly overwhelming power of the world and the devil (the Pharaoh with all his troops!). The more we look up humbly and confidently to God and His angels, the greater shall be our peace and prosperity in the execution of His will. After all, our ministry is more God’s work than our own. Still, in union with the holy angels He wills and deigns to carry out His plans of salvation in and through us. Let us resolve to go with the holy angels before men with the light of our example and the testimony for God. May our presence among them lend firmness and strength to those who are faltering in their trials, protection to those embroiled in temptations, and inspire confidence for the sick and dying. May our sermons irradiate the light of the Gospel and point out God’s presence and power, so that "the Son of man will find faith on earth, when He comes" (cf. Lk 18,8).

In the measure that with the help of His grace we serve God and His people with angelic constancy, God will number us among His faithful servants, such that with Moses and the people of Israel [we may sing] this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously ... Who is like Thee, O Lord, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders? ... The Lord will reign forever and ever" (Ex 15, 1.11.18).

That we come nearer to our goal through our Lenten pilgrimage towards the joy of the Easter Victory of Christ is my cordial wish for us all.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC

1 In Mt 17,5; nr. 1434; of Y Congar O.P. Le Mystère du Temple ch 2
2 cf. Lumen Gentium, 63.
3 cf. Summa Theologiae, III 45,2 ad 3 and 4 ad 2: P John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 19.
4 Ibid. art. 2, ad 3; cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent. II, 3. 4-6
5 In Mt 17,5; nr. 1433.
6 Summa Theologiae, III 57,4 ad 3.
7 See the cloud in Is 19,1 and 1 Kg 18,42-45. cf. Roschini, La Madonna, Roma 1953, pp. 143f.
8 John Paul II. Redemptoris Mater, nr. 6 and 11. cf. Matthias Scheeben. Dogmatik, par. 2/4, nr. 1548.