I guess that a lot of people think that guardian angels rank right up there with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy – fine for children, but not for grownups. And yet Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, thinks otherwise. He is known as the Angelic Doctor for the considerable amount of space he devotes to angels in the Summa Theologica. He certainly believed that God assigns a guardian angel to each person – and he cited today’s gospel passage as proof that on our behalf, this angel prays for us and protects us from evil. (Mt 18:10).
Angels are pure spirits and exalted beings. And yet they are like children! What other type of being exerts a greater pull on our heartstrings than a child? “Guardian Angel” could be a grim concept, conjuring up the picture of a stern-faced prison guard. Instead our Guardian Angel remains forever the companion with whom we shared a seat in the First Grade. That is appropriate, for angels are the ministers and representatives of the One who made himself a child so that we might better comprehend the true nature of God, a nature that is lovable, approachable, unpredictable, full of surprises.
So, today’s feast is a reminder to us, that for all our supposed maturity and sophistication, “unless we turn and become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. Well, how do we do that? The late Pope John XXIII was a great aficionado of his Guardian Angel. When he had a meeting scheduled where there was likely to be conflict, he would ask his Guardian Angel to precede him and in conjunction with the other party’s angel smooth the way for a more successful dialogue. That’s a practice we might consider adopting .
Pope John also wrote on the occasion of this feast: “Everyone of us is entrusted to the care of an angel. That is why we must have a lively and profound devotion to our own Guardian Angel, and why we should often and trustfully repeat the prayer we were taught in the days of our childhood. “O angel of God, my guardian dear; to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide”.
Often we have to grow into a deeper understanding of prayers and beliefs that have been with us since our childhood. Guardian angels are one of those concepts. But just as Jesus frequently told his disciples that they must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven, so we should pray for that same childlike trust, confident that our heavenly Father will bring us safely home.
And when our lives come to completion may we be laid to rest with the beautiful prayer of the Church:
“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.” (Rite for Christian Burial)
- Fr. Damian Towey, CP is a member of the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center,North Palm Beach,Florida.