Vol. IX, April 2003


"The Angel – to Chase, to Hound" (Ps 35:5-6)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The references to the angels in the Psalms lead us along a surprising path: From the harmony among all creatures we were led up to the angels’ contemplation of God, and then again down to their help of man. Now we must consider how they even fight against man’s enemies. The Psalmist prays:

"Accuse my accusers, Yahweh, attack my attackers...
Give me the assurance, ‘I am your Saviour.’
Shame and humiliation on those who are out to kill me!
Defeat and repulse in dismay on those who plot my downfall.
May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of Yahweh to chase them.
May their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of Yahweh to hound them" (Ps 35,1.3-6).

This Psalm emphasizes, therefore, the point of our last meditation on Psalm 34:7, where we considered that the angels can and wish and, in fact, do help man! There is mention of freeing man from his enemies, and here of even chasing and driving them off. A very serious question arises here: Is it correct? Is it proper and fitting to ask the angel’s help against our enemies?

1. What happened?

Granted, the Psalmist experienced unjustified persecution: "Unprovoked they laid their snare for me, unprovoked dug a trap to kill me...False witnesses come forward against me…they cross-examine me, repay my kindness with cruelty, make my life barren,...gather around me;...grinding their teeth at me" (vv.7,11-12,16). But, is this reason enough to wish: "Ruin comes upon them unawares; the snare they have laid will catch them, and into their own trap they will fall" (v.8)?

a) According to God’s promise in the Old Testament and Christ’s example in the New Testament

On one side, the Psalmist’s words, "Accuse my accusers, Yahweh, attack my attackers", reminds us of the promise of God to help the people of Israel against its enemies, "with the angel of Yahweh". The Lord Himself said through Moses to Israel: "Look, I am sending an angel to precede you, to guard you as you go...If, however, you obey what he says and do whatever I order, I shall be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes" (Ex 23:20-22).

On the other side, however, this type of persecution makes us priests of the third millenium after Christ think of Christ Himself. He was unjustly persecuted and ill-treated; He could very well apply the claims of the Psalmist to Himself: They "repaid My kindness with cruelty, make My life barren", etc. (cf. Is 5:1-7; 53; Mt 21:37-41; 27:27-31, 41-44).

St. Peter wanted to be like an angel of salvation for Christ and "grasped his sword and drew it;" Jesus told him, "Put your sword back...Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, Who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to My defense? But then, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?" (Mt 26:51-54). He spoke in a similar way to the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:25-27) and also "rebuked" James and John, who asked Him: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?" (cf. Lk 9:54-55). There is no lack of clarity in Jesus’ answer: "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you, too" (Jn 15:20).

b) The example of Mother Church

The Church nowadays does not repeat this petition of the Psalmist when she recites Psalm 35 in the Liturgy of the Hours. Does the Church do so in imitation of Christ? Or did the Church learn from St. Michael who cried out, "Who is like God!", that somehow calling upon the very glory of God actually is a defense against her enemies (cf. also Jude 9)? The Church tries to overcome injustice not simply by returning strict justice, but above all, by charity, by love and mercy, and by revealing lies through the confession of the truth. Before resorting to an exorcism, she first endeavors to draw people nearer to God. There the devil cannot follow; there he must desist from souls (cf. Jas 4:8).

The Psalmist, while knowing the greatness and uniqueness of God, still desires to praise Him after having seen his enemies put down: "Then I shall delight in Yahweh, rejoice that He has saved me. My very bones will all exclaim, Yahweh, who can compare with you in rescuing the poor from the oppressor...?" (vv.9-10).

2. Should we be like a slaughtered sheep or like a chasing and hounding angel?

The question is still to be answered: Is it correct and even if it were correct, is it proper and fitting to pray that God send His angels to chase and hound his enemies? Or is it rather Christ’s teaching, that man has to accept any cross, that he has to accept to be "massacred all day long, treated as sheep to be slaughtered" (Ps 44,22 and Rom 8:36)?

a) Our Lady’s interpretation of the historical facts before Christ

Our Lady reflected upon the goodness of God in her Magnificat, which is repeated throughout the entire history of the Church until today: "He has looked upon the humiliation of His servant,...the Almighty has done great things for me...He has used the power of His arm, He has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled down princes from their throne and raised high the lowly" (Lk 1:48ff.). Does not the Psalmist’s petition correspond here to Our Lady’s confession of faith? Of course, Our Lady looked backwards into the history of Israel, where we find the angels sent "to chase and hound":

"[The Sodomites] forced Lot back and moved forward to break down the door" of his house, but the angels "reached out, pulled Lot back...dazzled those who were at the door of the house, one and all, with a blinding light. Then they said to Lot: ‘... we are about to destroy this place,...Yahweh has sent us to destroy it’" (Gen 19:9-14).

In the book of Tobit we read of "the demon, who fled through the air to Egypt. Raphael pursued him there, shackled him and strangled him forthwith" (Tob 8:3). And when Zechariah hesitated to believe, St. Gabriel told him: "You will be silenced..." (Lk 1:20).

b) And after Christ...

What happened to Herod who put the apostles in prison? It is rarely remembered, that "the angel of the Lord struck him down, because he had not given glory to God. He was eaten away by worms and died" (Acts 12:23). St. Paul decided concerning the one, who was "living with his stepmother" to "hand such man over to Satan, to be destroyed as far as natural life is concerned (his flesh), so that...his spirit may be saved" (1 Cor 5:1,5). And the Apocalypse we scarcely need to mention, for there the holy angels act so often as ministers of the justice of God, "to take away peace from the earth and set people killing each other. He was given a huge sword" (Rev 6:4, etc.).

c) The entire picture of the Church

In fact, who can deny the strict rigor of Christ’s words: "I have never known you, away from Me, all evil doers!" (Mt 7:23; 13:27); "You serpents, brood of vipers" (Mt 23:33); and, He cleaned the temple from any unworthy use (cf. Jn 2:13-18). Hence, the Church, even though she looks today first to what is right and good and unitive, she still stands up and declares "wrong" what is wrong, "that the necessary for salvation" and that there are those who "...could not be saved..." (cf. Vatican II, LG, 14-16). In this sense, of course, no one excludes, that God can and has sent and still might send His angels for some judgement (Mt 13:39-43). Consequently, it has to be stated: the angels are not just missionaries of God’s love, but also servants of His justice.

3. Conclusion

Therefore, we may pray as the Psalmist did; yes, it is possible, correct and in some cases it might be fitting to pray that God send His angels to chase man’s enemies. But this we must always do in docile surrender to the will of God, Who may wish in one case to extend the sword of justice, and in another case to extend the scepter of mercy.

First, even a prayer crying out for justice is directed to God in his sovereign wisdom. When the Psalmist asked Him to be his help saying, You, "Yahweh, attack my attackers", he is ultimately seeking salvation. Jesus did not ask for "twelve legions of angels", but for the will of the Father, since His acceptance of death was man’s only hope for salvation. Hence, in that case God chose to send an angel to help Him in His deathly agony (cf. Lk 22:43). Our prayer is substantially answered in salvation, be in it peaceful service of God in this world or through the glory of martyrdom. And, like the Psalmist, we "will give You thanks in the great assembly" (v.18).

Secondly, we might pray as the Psalmist did, calling on the angels themselves, confident that they will refer our petition to God and bring us His response for our salvation.

In their test, the faithful angels surrendered their own judgement forever to the wisdom and omniscience of God and serve Him without questions and without proper wishes. The angels’ petitions are always in the spirit of Mary’s "fiat mihi" (cf. CCC 2617) and their activities similar to the exemplary life of Our Lady. For example, Tobit and Sarah prayed for death and God sent Raphael, who had brought their prayer before the Most High, with an answer of liberation, life and salvation (Tob 3:6,15,24-25; 12:12-13). In a word, the angels undertake nothing, if God does not give them the order (cf. 2 Sam 24:16).

We might pray as the Psalmist when we find ourselves in spiritual battle, and ask for the help and mission of the angels. But we should always add: "Deo volente", "If it be the Lord’s will" (James 5:15). For we should never be pleased about something done against the will of God.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

Surely, we have to carry the Cross of the Lord and with Him. While it remains uncertain whether the Father in Heaven will send an angel of strength or an angel of liberation, it remains sure that He will send an angel to our assistance. If we leave this principally up to Him, then we might pray how the Psalmist did and teach the faithful to do the same, trusting in the help of God through His holy angels.

Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle;
be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you,
O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits
who prowl about the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC