Vol.IX, August 2003


"In the Shadow of Thy Wings..." (Ps 57:1)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We are invited by our Holy Father to reflect upon a Psalm, where we think that the holy angels are not even mentioned. In his Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles used in the Liturgy of the Hours, he reflected on Psalm 57 at the General Audience on Wednesday, September 19, 2001.

1. It is one of the many Psalms, in which a man in extreme needs is crying out to God; in his anguish, he finds help from God and ends with deep peace and confidence.

a) Man finds himself in need.

"I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfils His purpose for me…I lie in the midst of lions that greedily devour the sons of men; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords...They set a net for my steps; My soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in My way, but they have fallen into it themselves" (Ps 57, vv.2,4,6). Our Holy Father states in his Catechesis: "It is a dark night; devouring wild beasts are perceived in the surroundings. The one who prays is waiting for the coming of dawn so that the light will dispel the darkness and fear. This is the background of Psalm 57."

We know the comparison of the infernal forces with the lions from St. Peter who wrote, "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Or again Psalm 91, very similar to our present Psalm, sings with joy of Our Lord as the refuge Who "will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot" (vv.9-13). These quotations confirm, first, that the Psalmist understands well his situation. He is exposed not just to natural dangers, but also to spiritual attacks, coming from the fallen angels, the demons! In fact, how many testimonies are necessary in order to believe that man is really fighting not just "against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12)? And secondly, it confirms that man is right not to trust in himself, but to seek help from above.

b) "In the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge."

The Psalmist realizes his need and cries out humbly to God in his helplessness, "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in Thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry to God Most High" (vv.1-2). Humility and the sincere love for the truth always gain the grace and favor of God. The humble soul accepts himself in his limitations, and believes and trusts in the other. May it be that he hesitates to "bother" God, considering his problems to be not so significant as to warrant God’s attention? So he just trusts saying, "In the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge" (v.1), and God "will send from heaven and save me, He will put to shame those who trample upon me. God will send forth His steadfast love and His faithfulness!" (v.3).

2. Here we find two expressions, which are interpreted as referring to the holy angels.

a) The divine wings refer to the angels.

"The protective symbol of the divine wings appears which refer, specifically, to the Ark of the Covenant with the winged Cherubim, sign of the presence of God among the faithful in the holy temple on Mt. Zion" (John Paul II, ibid.). In other places we read similarly, "He rode on a Cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind" (Ps 18:10). Or, in Psalm 63, "My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises Thee with joyful lips, when I think of Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the watches of the night; for Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Thee; Thy right hand upholds me" (Ps 63:5-8). Again, we have the reference to the Cherubim, the powerful companions of the Divine Word, the fighter against the evil ones.

b) God sends His angels to save man.

St. Augustine, in his commentary on the Psalms, also sees the angels mentioned in our Psalm. When the Psalmist says God "will send from heaven and save me", St. Augustine asks, "Whom did God send from heaven?" First he interprets it–as in all the other Psalms–with regard to Christ. But then he confesses, too, that heaven constitutes the dwelling place of the angels, of the Thrones, the Dominations, the Principalities and the Powers. In fact, in heaven the angels praise God; they see the proper beauty of the Truth in a vision without shadows, without admixture of any falsity. They see, love and praise without tiring, affirms the saintly doctor of the Church! So we can affirm with John Paul II (ibid.), "The one who prays, asks God insistently to send from heaven His messengers to whom He assigns the symbolic names of ‘Faithfulness’ and ‘Grace’ (v. 4), the qualities proper to the saving love of God". Through the angels, therefore, God "will put to shame those who trample upon me. God will send forth His steadfast love and His faithfulness" (v.3), i.e., His angels.

c) The angels’ power extends over the devils.

It is not necessary that God personally bow down to the poor man; His angels are enough help for man. It is true that the fallen angels have kept their natural power even after their fall, and consequently, those faithful angels from lower ranks might, by nature, not be strong enough to overcome a fallen spirit from a higher rank. But the angels, from their trial on, are no longer just those who they were "by nature". Now they are forever with God, in their irreversible state of grace. This means that they are "vested" with the grace of God, with His presence in them, which allows us to assign them the "symbolic names of ‘Faithfulness’ and ‘Grace’ (v. 4), the qualities proper to the saving love of God" (John Paul II, ibid.).

With God, they have more than enough power to fight against the fallen angels or devils. Through the authority received from the Almighty, they can take care of all mankind and so also protect any single individual, restoring his peace. Finally, revelation affirms precisely that to help man is the mission assigned by God to the angels. Helping man means for them, then, to fulfil the will of God, to respond to His petition, and even to stay in His service or to serve Him (cf. Ex 23:20ff. and Heb 1:14).

The angels are for man guarantees of God’s faithfulness and of God’s goodness and grace. In them, God is near us. In them we can trust as in God Himself, as since they are one with Him. This encourages us once more to renew our confidence in these heavenly helpers; they are our friends because they are friends of God!

3. So we can say once more with the Holy Father that "In fact, the Psalm passes from dramatic lament addressed to God, to serene hope and joyful thanksgiving, the latter using words that resound again in another Psalm (cf. Ps 108:2-6)" (ibid.).

a) The angels are light, strength, joy.

Our Psalm, then, showed us the change in human life through the help of the angels in man’s life in any kind of struggle, even when man is attacked by the fallen angels. "In reality", says the Holy Father, "one assists at the passage from fear to joy, from night to day, from nightmare to serenity, from supplication to praise. It is an experience that is often described in the Psalter: ‘...You changed my mourning into dancing, you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. Lord, my God, forever will I will give you thanks?’ (Ps 29:12-13)" (John Paul, II, ibid.). We truly believe that the angels are for man a light in his darkness, consolation in his suffering, strength in his powerlessness, confidence in his despair. Through the angels man has always someone near him, even in the darkest abandonment. The angels are somehow "joy in person" when man passes through sadness, like a word in solitude and silence.

b) Let us praise God with the angels.

For man, this is the lesson: In all circumstances, we ought to put our trust in our living and all-powerful GOD, and so also, in the holy angels. It is even our duty to put our confidence in those who are willing to hasten with all their power and love to our assistance. We should believe that they are present in our life! We need to trust in them as messengers of the good Lord! We have to be people with confidence in the midst of despair; people of joy because of the presence of "heaven" on earth and in our life. This is the duty of Christians in this world of today: to give testimony to the freedom of the children of God and to bear witness through realistic optimism! We ought to sing with the Psalmist, "I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations. For Thy steadfast love is great to the heavens, Thy faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let Thy glory be over all the earth!" (vv.5,9-11).

This is the conclusion of John Paul II: "For that reason, even if he shudders at the terrible roaring of the wild beasts and the perfidy of his persecutors, the faithful one remains serene and confident within, like Daniel in the lions’ den (cf. Dn 6:17-25)…Sooner or later, God sides with the faithful one upsetting the maneuvers of the wicked, tripping them up in their own evil plots" (ibid.).

4. Dear Brothers of the Priesthood!

Does this reflection not place us again before the question of whether or not we really believe in the holy angels, in their presence and help? Do we not often live just in this natural world? And further, do we really pray? Do we place first our life into the hands of God and His servants before we take things in our own hands?

Surely, when we pray, we go to Christ. But is this the full scope of God’s plan? Does He not also wish us to enjoy and share His joy over His friends, the holy angels and holy men? If we attend, therefore, to His friends in prayer, this little difference makes a difference in the attendence of our prayers by God. For not only, to cite an example, not only, did God send help to Tobit through St. Raphael (Tob 3:25), but St. Raphael himself brought Tobit’s prayers before the Most High (Tob 12:12). To call upon God through the holy angels is to truly join their intercessory prayers to our own!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC