Vol. X, January 2004


"Upon their hands, they will bear you up..." Ps. 91:12

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The bond uniting a family is first of all love. Only on a secondary plane and only occasionally do the members realize that their union also constitutes a protection. By analogy these apply also to the parish family of the children of God: First, Christ’s love for His Church is reflected in the parish priest (cf. Eph 5:21-33); secondly, the vigilant love of the bride which offers protection is reflected in the parish community (cf. Jn 10:15; Acts 20:10ff; Pastores dabo vobis, 16, 21-23). The same can be said for the little community of God with the angel and man. We considered it in the last meditation. Psalm 91 justifies the term "guard" with some further remarks:

He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. (Ps 91:11-13)

1. The Spiritual Battle

Believing in the guardianship of the angels leads neither to an euphoric world-view nor to the idea of being constantly surrounded by devils.

a) "Man’s History Has Been the Story of Dour Combat."

The Fathers of the Vatican II found it necessary to teach: "The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of the evil one, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right. It is at great cost to himself and aided by God’s grace that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity" (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 37; cf. CCC, 409). It is true that "Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God. But the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle" (CCC, 405). In consequence, "there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (cf. 2 Tim 4)" (CCC, 2015). Because "of the daily experience of the spiritual battle" (CCC, 2516), we pray till the end of time: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Psalm 91 is recited in the Church’s Night Prayer on Sunday. Night is the hour of false spirits; it is the preferred time for persons with evil intentions, hidden before the light of the day (as if they could hide them also before the light of God–cf. Jn 3:19-22). Therefore, the Church invites us to renew at Night Prayer our surrender and confidence in God Who sends out His angels to protect us. During the day and in the spiritual daylight of grace, man can protect and help himself to quite an extent. It is, however, not the same during the night and in times of spiritual tests.

b) The Role of the Priest.

The priest has a special role in this story. He is most necessary for men according to John Paul II (cf. Nov. 9, 1978). In a way, he stands there like a lightning rod in the storm. The rage of the enemy is discharged against the priest. In fact, Saint John Marie Vianney was once asked if he would be willing to become the pastor in the village of the devil, and he answered: "Yes, if my bishop wants it."

In view of this role, the Psalm is quite opportune for us priests. St. Paul speaks to the elders of the Church: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you Guardians" (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 19:11-12). Thus St. Paul addresses the priest even more than the laity when he says: "Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph 6:11). As the hatred of the fallen angels is launched at us, so also, and even more, is the help of the faithful angels near to us, protecting us in all our ways (cf. v.11 and Acts of the Apostles)! This is what the Psalm wants us to understand; this is what the Church believes. Therefore, let us look to the angels for help!

2. Union with the Angels

God takes care of His children. In Him man takes his refuge and from Him he receives help. The Psalmist understands clearly that the angelic assistance is subordinate to the manifest sovereignty of God concerning all creation. He teaches an important theological and pedagogical lesson.

a) The Pedagogical Lesson

Man is assured: "No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent" (v.10), "because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place" (v.9). Further, it is said God "will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot" (vv.11-13). This protection is declared to be the reward for man’s love of God.

This, then, is the sequence of the chain: (1) First, man must make his free choice in favor of God. "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’" (vv.1-2).

(2) Then, God answers with a generosity which cannot be equaled. "Those who love Me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and I will honor them. With long life I will satisfy them and I will show them my salvation" (vv.14-16).

(3) Finally, the Psalmist gives us assurance with the third step and conclusion of the circle. For he assures us: "Because you have made the Lord your refuge...He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways..." (vv.9, 11). How God insists–nine times–in order to convince us of His goodness towards us. Man need only to call upon God and He will be with him. The presence of God will expel any evil far away from him and from "all your ways" (v.11)! He will "rescue" man from any evil. He will honor him before all men! He will satisfy man "with long life" and on the final day "show" him "My salvation". That means, He will lead him into the beatific vision of God’s glory (cf. vv.15-16)! In this marvelous union–involving man and God and the angels–God wants us to live every day!

b) "They will bear you up, so that..."

God wants to realize this perfect and all encompassing care for man through His angels, especially for His priests. They "will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them" (Mk 16:18). One reason for this ministry of the angels might be the fact that God wants them to be cooperators in His marvelous works so that they may enjoy also a greater share in His glory (cf. CCC, 306-308; 57 of the first edition of the Catechism).

Another reason might be that man might come to know and become a friend of these heavenly brothers. How many deceptions has he already experienced at the hands of human "friends"? Now he should learn with the angels that God’s family is sincere and faithful. The angels are trustworthy brothers for every moment and in any circumstance.

We might think also of this reason: The right choice of the faithful angels is thus made manifest and vindicated before the reprobate spirits. In man’s history it can be beautifully shown that the serving angels are more powerful than the proud and lording demons because they, the holy angels, are with God.

3. The Spiritual Battle

The help of the angels is described in three areas.

a) The Three Battlefields

The first battlefield, symbolized by the stone–"lest you dash your foot against a stone"–is the confrontation with the revealed will of God. This confrontation occurs first in the Ten Commandments written upon the stone-tablets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we observe the confrontation with Jesus Himself as the Cornerstone (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-8). Man’s "free choice and preferential love" (cf. CCC, 311) is rooted in his spiritual nature. In this trial man can always count on the illuminating and encouraging help of the holy angels (cf. Circular III, 4).

The other two battlefields are indicated by the adder or serpent and by the lion, symbols of the fallen angels (cf. Circular VIII, 9). One battlefield of trial is hidden, or better, disguised. It becomes all the more dangerous on account of the stealthy, dangerous approach (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theo. I,113,2 ad 1). This takes place, when the devil appears like an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). He might suggest, for example, a disorder in the love of neighbor against one’s clear duty before God or offer brilliant ideas and insights as arguments against an order of obedience, etc. The other battlefield, that of the violent and openly furious lion (cf. 1 Pet 5:8), is more powerful but evident. It can be identified more easily and so be rejected. Still, its power resides to a great extent in the fear it inspires! Here our confidence in the angel’s help strengthens us in the good.

b) Life with the Angels

For each form of attack we find examples in salvation history. The holy angel helped St. Joseph save the Child Jesus before Herod, who had pretended before the three holy kings to want to adore Him (cf. Mt 2:13ff). Similarly, Daniel could confess, "God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me..." (Dan 6:22).

Of course, the angel will not be sent to protect us from every evil. Jesus Himself came to fulfill His mission through suffering, through His self-offering in "obedience unto death" (Phil 2:8). However, all is measured by divine wisdom so that even the machinations of the enemies (cf. Rev 17:17) "work for good with those who love God" (Rom 8:28).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Before such an overwhelming testimony of God’s care for us, we have to confess that we depend too much upon our physical eyes and neglect the eyes of our hearts (cf. Eph 1:18). Let us see with the eyes of the heart that God’s words are our weapons, His presence our defense, His blessing our courage, Jesus’ example our model, His humiliation our elevation.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC