Vol. XII, July 2006


“You said, ‘I will not serve’” (Jer 2:20).

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The prophet Isaiah is the prophet of the life of Jesus: His birth (cc. 1, 6), Passion (ch. 53) and Resurrection (cc. 60-62). We are moved when we hear him speaking about the “angel of peace” (cf. 1st chapter and the angels’ Christmas message, Lk 2:14) who is weeping (cf. ch. 2 and Lk 19:41) while the “angel of His face” consoled and adored His Lord (cf. Lk 22:43; Acts 1:11).

The message of the prophet Jeremiah, by way of distinction, is very much concentrated on the sufferings of Christ. He finds himself practically immersed in the Passion of Jesus and calls the Chosen People constantly to His Cross. Even the angels are, in his words, confronted with the Cross of Our Lord, the sign of the truth about His sacrificial, redeeming love!

1. “Long ago you broke your yoke and…said, ‘I will not serve’” (Jer 2:20).

The prophet Jeremiah starts with the description of his call and God’s assurance: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you” (Jer 1:9, 19). Then in chapter two we read about God who reproaches Israel: “Your apostasy will reprove you… The fear of Me is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts. For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve’”(Jer 2:19-21).  

Many authors have related the reference concerning the time “long ago” to the fall of the angels. In his catechetical talks on the Creed, John Paul II showed approbation for this interpretation, when he said:

How are we to understand such opposition and rebellion against God in beings endowed with such profound and enlightened intelligence [the fallen angels]? What can be the motive for such a radical and irreversible choice against God? Of a hatred so profound as to appear solely the fruit of folly? The Fathers of the Church and theologians do not hesitate to speak of a ‘blindness produced by the overrating of the perfection of their own being’, driven to the point of ignoring God’s supremacy, which requires instead an act of docile and obedient subjection. All this is summed up concisely in the words: ‘I will not serve’ (Jer 2:20), which manifest the radical and irreversible refusal to take part in the building up of the kingdom of God in the created world. Satan, the rebellious spirit, wishes to have his own kingdom, not that of God, and he rises up as the first ‘adversary’ of the Creator, the opponent of Providence. (July 23, 1986, n. 5)

This explains, what “non serviam [I will not serve]” means. Today, we read in the Catechism about the “fall of the angels”: “Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This ‘fall’ consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign” (CCC 392). On another occasion we hope to discuss St. Thomas’ question whether the angels wanted to be like God and about their seductive proposal to men (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theo., I, 63, 3). Here we will consider why the call to “serve” was so decisive.

2. The critical question is the readiness to serve!

The fallen angels rejected God’s plan with “His reign” in which all creation is included. His plan is that all creatures find their eternal blessedness in the presence of God. We read in the Catechism: “The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels’ fall and man’s sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of His arm and the whole measure of the love He wanted to give the world” (CCC 760; cf. Vat. II, Lumen Gentium, 2).

a) “May…all nations serve him!” (Ps 72:11)

To realize His plan, the Son of God became man, the “Servant of Yahweh”, as Isaiah had foretold. He said of Himself: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). He inclined Himself to people in need and asked: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51).

He asked His disciples at the Last Supper: “Which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves”. Consequently, “let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Lk 22:27, 26). And “I have given you an example… If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn 13:15, 17). John Paul II comments “the account of the ‘washing of the feet’,” saying: “Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and of service (cf. Jn 13:1-20)” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 20).

b) The Apostles are servants of Jesus Christ.

 The Apostles seem to have understood Jesus’ manner of thinking, or rather might we say, this lesson of love. They all came to call themselves simply “servants”: “Simon Peter, a servant and Apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 1:1), “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1), “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1), and “His servant John” (Rev 1:1). St. Paul, also “a servant of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ” (Tit 1:1) is certainly the most explicit. He says: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all that I might win the more... I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:19, 22). “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race” (Rom 9:3). Here shines through the same wisdom that inspired the Incarnation of the Son of God, which he describes with similar words: “Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. …He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:5-8). If we look behind this consciousness of being a servant, that is either to the love which motivated it or to salvation as the goal, it becomes evident that we attain both the love of God and the salvation of souls when we resolve to serve.

3. To serve is a “criteria of discernment”.

Our Lady’s decisive words at the turning point of history were: I am the servant or “the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me…” (Lk 1:38). The passive term “be it done” reveals the depth of her surrender. She is willing to offer her service with all she has and is! This attitude of the Mother of God allowed the Son of God to become man and servant of all.

a) “To serve” or “not to serve” is the question of living or not living love.

We see this same holy disposition more deeply in Jesus. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing; For whatever He does, that the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19). And “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4:34), that is, to serve Him. His entire mission reveals the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity. We can humanly think that One Person puts Himself at the disposition of or serves so totally the Other that they are of just one will. None of the three Persons has anything or reserves anything for Himself. They all live an active “sharing” as well as a passive “being at the disposition of” the will of the other so completely that they are just one Being, one will: “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).

If it is somehow true that we can understand the mystery of the One God in three Persons in terms of “serving” each other totally, then we can say for the moral life of rational creatures that “to serve” or “not to serve” is really the question of “to live love” or “not to live it”. It is not a question of “being” or “not being”, but of loving or not, that is, of “living before God” or of “not living before God”, and, herewith, to belong to God or to be separated from Him. To serve is to love, and this is the law of life in God.

Consequently, the refusal to serve God caused the separation of the angels. We can almost sense a reverent trembling in the good angel who chose to serve when St. John fell to his knees before him. The angel corrected him instantly, saying: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you” (Rev 19:10; cf. Mt 4:9-10). St. Paul says: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve” (Heb 1:14). In these terms the Church explains to us about the angels: “With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God” (CCC 329).

b) To serve unites us in a way with the holy angels.

The attitude of serving makes us similar to Jesus and Mary, similar to God, similar to the angels, by disposition every angel is all “ears” and “eyes” towards others. Everything in him says “you”, instead of “me” and “mine.” We can contemplate this in our Guardian Angel, in his faithful, selfless service at our side throughout our life. The division or separation of the angels over the question of serving or not, though, is the universal principal for the discernment of spirits, a criteria of discernment for our spiritual life, since all angelic sin and glory go back to this decision (“may… all nations serve Him!” Ps 72:11; cf. Jud 16:14).

The readiness to serve reveals how much one thinks about God and one’s neighbor or about one’s self. To serve reveals selflessness, humility, obedience. It requires renunciation of self (cf. Mt 16:24), of our intellect in faith and of our will in obedience, which becomes a very powerful weapon. In the “Total Consecration” according St. Louis de Montfort, we are even invited to offer the graces we merit in favor of others (cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent III, 16 ff.). Such renunciations lead even beyond a sensitive experience of God’s presence which comes in the form of lights and consolations. They also dispose the soul for the substantial touches of God in the spiritual marriage, as may be witnessed in the lives of many saints (cf. “Happy who does not see and yet believes” Jn 20:29).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We have heard so much about our ministerial priesthood. Yet, often we just spend our time administrating, which could potentially elicit the mind-set of a “hireling”, a paid employee. However, the contemplation of the holy angels as servants can help us to understand the seriousness of this prosaic dimension of our priesthood. It, too, is an unconditional and total surrender to sharing love in the imitation of Christ, the “carpenter’s son”. The holy angels share with us already their bliss: “His servants shall worship Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:3-4).

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC