Vol. V, Jan. ‘99


To become "like an Angel"
(Sam 24,15-17; 1 Chr 21,1-22,1)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God chose David as King of Israel to reign over His people in His name. His people saw in him "an Angel". David, however, was just one of the human race; he too was subject to temptations like any other man. Inasmuch as a son of Adam, we find in him an example, showing us how we can become "like an Angel".

1. Every temptation consists in an enticing offer of something that is "more" (in the case of good things), or "less" (in the case of bad, for instance, punishment merited) than what is our due, the offer of "too much" (excess) or "too little" (deficiency), followed by a more or less intense pressure exerted upon our will.

a) David was given the royal power over Israel, a mission in which he was to represent God. His temptation, then, was to make himself the master of this God-given power and to act like an independent Lord. Instead of remaining a servant obediently submitted to the Will of God, he fell in the fundamental temptation of wanting "to be everything, to be like God", as the serpent had suggested at the very beginning in paradise (cf. Gen 3,5-6). Once fallen into pride, which is the root of all sins (cf. Prov 16,18), David fell head over heals into sin: first, he did not resist the temptation "to enjoy everything", and so he took the wife of his neighbor (cf. 2 Sam 11,2 - 12,24); and secondly, he wanted "to have everything", namely to have everyone and everything under his dominion and control.

b) That was the motive for his command to take a census of all the people: "Satan ... incited David" (1 Chr 21,1), and "the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, ... ’Go through all the tribes of Israel ... and number the people" (2 Sam 24,2). David wanted to know how many people lived under his authority, how many soldiers obeyed him. Their number would reflect his barren glory. However, David neglected the fact that he was just king and leader in the place of God, that he was merely His representative. When man begins to presume on his own greatness, then the devil enters into play and tells him, "not just this or so much, but far more; you can be and have everything."

c) Joab, a man who enjoyed David’s confidence, summoned up his courage and said to the king: "... Why does my Lord the king delight in this thing?" (v. 3). However, David was not open to this "fraternal correction" (cf. Mt 18,15), to this act of charity on the part of his neighbor (cf. CCC 1829). In short, "the king’s word prevailed" (v. 4). A fatal fault is this pride, for in this desire whoever ascribes more to himself than what is really his own, blinds himself, so that he can no longer properly perceive his surroundings, nor heed those at his side or below him such that he may listen to his "brother". Pride is a lonely vice, for by it man closes himself off from brotherly love!

2. a) In contrast to David, we find in Joab and the commanders an example of humility and obedience. To this we can also add that of the Angel: "When the Angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented of the evil, and said to the Angel who was working destruction among the people, ‘It is enough; now stay your hand.’ And the Angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" (v. 16). Nothing further is said about the Angel. He is obedient to the point that God’s words become reality through him: "Bless the Lord, all you His Angels, you mighty ones, who carry out His commands, to fulfill His word!" (Ps 102,20-21) This reminds us, in some fashion, of the moment of creation, when "God said: ‘Let there be ... And there was ..." (Gen 1,3 ff). How is it that the Angels are so obedient?

b) The obedience of the Angels is not something to be taken for granted. The Angels were also tested: "by their free choice and preferential love" (CCC 311) they decided in favor of humble submission to the plan of God, of "God and His reign" (cf. CCC 392), that is: obedience. Some of the angels, however, refused to follow in building up the reign of God, so that the Church teaches: "Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God ... a fallen angel" (CCC 391). After the test, the good Angels clearly see, both by their pure spiritual nature and by the "light of glory" the littleness of their own being and the majesty of God; moreover, they love this truth and willingly acknowledge their "nothingness" (cf. Is 40,17). They acknowledge that all they have received is as an undeserved gift of grace (cf 1 Cor 4,7)! How well they understand that the cause of their blissfulness is their dependence on God; they rejoice to belong totally to Him Who is the omnipotent Creator and the absolute Majesty. It is an honor for them to stand under Divine obedience.

c) Accordingly, God can say of His Angels what the centurion said of his soldiers: "I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it" (Mt 8,9). The obedience of the holy Angels is prompt and instantaneous, direct and unconditional, without asking "Why?" and "When?" or "Right now?" Their obedience can be likened to that of Jesus who said: "I can do nothing on My own authority" (Jn 5,30), and: "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me" (Jn 6,38; cf. 4,34). The Angels do not look for "loopholes" for their own will, nor do they presume on their own "talents", as we poor sinners often do, thus covering up our egoistic intentions. They are not even watching out for a possibility to demonstrate their own goodness and love, their own "maturity" and willingness to help. In the Angel’s obedience we find neither delay nor presumption. In all things they are nothing but faithful servants of the most High, utterly transparent before and in the execution of the Divine Will!

3. On earth, man walks in faith towards the light in which the Angels now live. Man’s trial is a lifelong affair, so that human life is marked by "ups and downs", by mistakes and amends, by sin and conversion, by good will and submission alternating with resistance and rebellion. David, seen "like an Angel" and yet being a sinner, might serve us as a lesson of how we might find our way out of sin and come closer to the perfection of the Angels.

a) After "nine months and twenty days ... Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king". We have no word from David during all this time; and then he suddenly repented. We cannot say if this happened because he had listened to reason, or if it was a pure grace from God: "David’s heart smote him ... David said to the Lord" and confessed, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray Thee, take away the iniquity of Thy servant" (v. 8-10). God accepted this plea and offered David a chance to do penance. Sincere in his repentance, he chose from among famine, persecution and pestilence the latter, saying: "Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man" (v. 14). And "when he saw the Angel who was smiting the people," the innocent people, he cried again to the Lord, offering himself to suffer for his sin: "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Thy hand, I pray Thee, be against me and against my father’s house" (v. 16f). Thereafter God called him through the prophet to "rear an altar to the Lord" on the place of the future temple (cf. 1 Chr 21,18-22,1). Although Areuna offered the threshing floor, the oxen and yoke gratuitously to David, the latter refused to offer any holocaust to the Lord which had cost him nothing (cf. 2 Sam 24,18.24). How well he had come to understand that our gift to the Lord must come from the very substance of our being.

b) The penance which God required for David’s sin manifests its gravity; and yet, when David had recognized his fault, the grace of God’s purification penetrated so deeply into him that in the end the rightousness of David prevailed. God purified the eyes of his heart to the extent that David was able to see the Angel! This does not yet mean familiarity with the Angel, but it does show a certain contact with the world of the Angels through the grace of God and the purification of man’s heart. Is it not true, that God considers less the falls of man than his rising again through repentance? Since God is infinite goodness, He is more concerned with (awakening) man’s desire to find his way back into His grace, than with (punishing) his former disobedience and aversion: "Because Israel was a child and I loved him: and I called my son out of Egypt. ...I was like a father to Ephraim,... I will draw them with the bands of love, and I will be to them as one that taketh off the yoke from their jaw" (Hos. 11,1.3-4). Even so did God deal with David, and so we find David, who cooperated with the grace of God, again enjoying God’s favor. It is important for us to observe the steps that drew him back "home", so that we can both imitate them and guide others: He acknowledged his fault, repented and confessed it before God, he implored God’s pardon, accepted God’s judgment, did penance, and resolved forever to obey the Lord. Thus, he was restored to God’s favor!

4. There is a parallel way for Angels and man: from nature, through faith in the trial, to glory in the beatific vision. We have seen David in trial: through his increase in power, he was exposed to greater temptations. The holy Angels and David, once converted, teach us: an elevation to a higher position by God should inspire a freely chosen self-emptying out of humility, a love which wants to serve out of gratitude, a desire for conformity with the mind of God in perfect obedience.

Whoever wants to grasp at glory will lose it! He alone should be called to leadership who is willing and able to serve.

Let us ask ourselves: Does our bishop (superior) find in us a faithful servant, even as God finds his angelic servants, as obedient, as faithful, as trustworthy as the Angels are? Can he really consider us his "extended arm," through which He can act as he wishes?

Let us say with confidence the prayer we recite daily at Mass with holy Mother Church, accompanied by the intercession of Our Lady in Heaven:

"Look not on our sins, but on the faith of Your Church."

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC