Vol. IX, February 2003


The Angels – Contemplative and Active? (cf. Ps 34:7)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The world of the holy angels is the world of God because they always and definitively live in the presence of God. They live with and through and in God. By contrast, the life of the fallen angels is characterized by the absence of God. The Psalms, as songs of praise of the greatness and majesty, of the power and goodness of God, lead us into the presence of God and, thus, into the "world of the holy angels".

1. Those who recite Psalm 34 are led into this world of the angels. Here, the holy angels are mentioned as those who are with man and rescue him.

a) Before the Psalm refers to the needs of man, it first refers to the greatness of God. It insists on man’s innate need to praise Yahweh our Lord, Who in turn favors those who fear and serve Him.

I will bless Yahweh at all times, His praise continually on my lips.
I will praise Yahweh from my heart; let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh,
Let us acclaim His name together.(Ps 34:1-3)

First we are placed before God, where everything is in order, where "you will never hang your head in shame" (v.5), for He, God "saves [man] from all his troubles" (v. 6). He "frees me from all my fears" (v.4), so that generally it can be said: "Those who fear Him lack for nothing" (v. 9). "The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright, His ear turned to their cry" (v. 15). "Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, He helps those whose spirit is crushed. Though hardships without number beset the upright, Yahweh brings rescue from them all. Yahweh takes care of all their bones, not one of them will be broken" (v.18-20). "Yahweh ransoms the lives of those who serve Him, and there will be no penalty for those who take refuge in Him" (v. 22).

b) It is important to be aware of this spiritual climate, in order to notice where we find ourselves, when the discussion finally turns to the consideration of the holy angels. Various statements in this Psalm, which even Our Lady repeats when she praises God in her Magnificat (cf. e.g., vv. 8-11, 16, 18-19), confirm the following observation: Whoever tries to live in the company of the holy angels should grow in the knowledge of God such that no storm can weaken his faith or diminish his hope. Rather, he possesses spiritual peace of heart that arises from a deep trust in God. "If God is for us, who can be against us?...When God grants saving justice who can condemn? Are we not sure that it is Christ Jesus, who died–yes and more, Who was raised from the dead and is at God’s right hand–and Who adds His plea to ours? Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ...[or] come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ JESUS, our Lord" (Rom 8:31-34, 39)?

2. One reason for our firm confidence and unceasing praise in the company of the holy angels is our knowledge of the active and concrete assistance which God grants us through their ministry. This might surprise us because the last Psalms and meditations always present the angels as turned towards God. Likewise, JESUS also says, "Their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of My Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Of course, we know that "with their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God" (CCC 329); hence, they receive the name "angels". Were we then mistaken in the former meditations that considered angels as creatures who adore God? Perhaps we can formulate the question better: Are the angels able to unite adoring contemplation and active mission?

a) The answer to this question lies in the surrender of the angels to the divine will. The total surrender of the angels to God does not imply that they "chose God" like someone "chooses" a car or a book! God is much more than a thing to be utilized, not only since He is a person, but even more so, since He is a divine Person. He can never be chosen and then secured for oneself. God remains always free. It is not that creatures–be they angels or men–first choose God. Rather, God first chooses them and loves them before they even know Him (cf. 1 Jn 4:19). God "captures" them with His patient love such that they sing and praise Him with their whole being and without end, just as He is forever and without end. This union of creatures with their Creator is not bound to any space, but consists in their being of one spirit, one will, and one intention with Him (cf. 3rd Eucharistic Prayer). Immersed in the Spirit of God, the created spirit loves and thinks and enjoys all that the Divine Beloved loves and thinks and enjoys. That is spiritual union. Consequently, we begin to grasp that turning to the adoration of God and turning to a mission for God are not contrary and irreconcilable but are one and the same with regard to God’s holy and divine will! This should not astound us since we know the angels first as adorers and then as missionaries. They serve the one and unique Lord in both cases; they remain in union with Him here and there, in the same happiness. Their relationship to God does not change either in their contemplative surrender to His will nor in their expression of love as mission. We might even surmise that the fallen angels were not able to reconcile adoration with the required humble service to mankind because their adoration was imperfect. They were somehow seeking themselves in adoration with the love of hope, which is a love of God for one’s own sake, instead of a simple loving response to God’s primordial love.

b) Sacred Scripture does teach us about the union of wills. The many occasions where it speaks about God and the angels as if they were one (cf. Ex 3; Circular III,1; or II,10) bear the deepest testimony of it: Where God is, there also are His angels. And if God wills to care for us men, so too do the angels. Likewise the angels "say" what God wants them to "say", and they remain silent when God wills them to be silent. Moreover, we are not talking about a merely "conditional surrender" that characterizes the surrender of man when he is not sure of the will of God (cf. as in the case of Our Lady and her vow of virginity according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas, ST III 28,4). Because the holy angels are pure spirits, they already had in their trial a clear view with regard to the will of God. In their trial, they decided whether they were going to be forever united or opposed to God and His plan. In this mystery of this utter surrender to the will of God lies the union of contemplation and action which Jesus lived, the angels live, and into which man has to grow.

3. This reflection, together with the actual help of the angels–"the angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear him, and rescues them" (v.7)–leads us to a very important point in the spirituality of the Work of the Holy Angels: As much as man binds himself to God, the holy angels will be unbound! Did not the angel come and strengthen Jesus after He had surrendered Himself with His human nature to the Father (cf. Lk 22:42-43)?

a) Of course, the holy angels will attend those who pray to them as servants of God and will lead them as quickly as possible to the Lord! The goal for both angel and man, which is union with the will of God, requires the same attitude or openness from both. And as much as they become similar and approach each other in this attitude, they become friends. That leads to a hierarchical order in the help of the angels. First, they help man to God, then they help him as a friend in everything else. But in all, they orientate themselves according the will of God such that it is always God Who responds to those who seek Him with and through His holy angels. On the contrary, when the heart of man is closed God and His angels are practically "bound" and "impotent".

b) How should or can man dispose himself so as to receive the help of God through His holy angels? The Psalm, speaking of the help of the angels, offers us indications, advice, or even conditions in regard to our role in communication with the holy angels. Concretely speaking, the angels help those who fear the Lord! But looking to the whole Psalm and more to God than just to the angel according the principle mentioned, we find five counsels:

First, there is needed openness by humbly seeking and praying to God: "I seek Yahweh and He answers me" (v.4; cf. 10.14); "fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright" (v.5); "a pauper calls out and Yahweh hears, saves him...those who take refuge in Him" (vv.6,22).

Second, humility is shown by holy fear: "The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (v.7); "fear Yahweh, you His holy ones; those who fear Him lack for nothing" (v.10).

Third, we have to be able to listen with the attitude of a docile child: "Come, my children, listen to Me, I will teach you the fear of Yahweh" (v.11).

Fourth, we have to be sincere and upright: "The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright" (v.15 and 19); "Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, He helps those whose spirit is crushed" (v.18).

And fifth, we have to obey His counsels and lessons by serving Him: "Yahweh ransoms the lives of those who serve Him" (v.22).

To respond to God’s love, therefore, we must approach Him with humble supplication, convinced of our utter nothingness. Acknowledging His sovereignty with holy fear, we must maintain a profound spirit of thanksgiving and be always disposed to fulfill His will.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood,

Experience shows that if man reveres God, then the holy angels will help him in the name of God. Let us give thanks for this clear instruction; let us concentrate on this lesson in this coming month. Like the holy angels, let us lead those souls entrusted to our care to God and assist them in opening their hearts to God so they may also receive the assistance of the holy angels. The holy angels, who are always our friends and brothers, are holy examples before our eyes. If we leave all mistrust and depression behind and lift up our eyes to God in imitation of the angels, then supernatural help will stream into our soul and spiritual joy will fill our heart. We will become, with and like the holy angels, witnesses to and missionaries of the divine love for man. May they help us advance in the spiritual life for our Lord’s sake!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC