Urban-dwellers might hear the words “Guardian Angels” and remember having seen some. This was not a mystical experience. The Guardian Angels were formed over 30 years ago and are famous for their red berets. Their service is one of vigilance on neighborhood streets where they brave themselves to break up violence and report criminal activity. They seemed to some to be vigilantes and they have been, although not in a negative sense. The one who keeps vigil is the one who watches.
The Guardian Angels whom minister to each soul and whose feast the Church celebrates on October 2nd also keep vigil. These mysterious beings that are a gift to us are often last thought of when our days of nursery and primary education begin to wane. Their introduction to us often takes place in two ways.
First, they belong to the category of saints and holy beings to whom rhyming prayers are addressed. An Irish-American woman in my undergraduate days said that women in her family prayed thus to Jesus’ grandmother: “St. Ann, St. Ann, find me a man.” An Italian-American monsignor, with car trouble, got into the car saying: “Mother Cabrini fixa my machini.” More universal in our language is the prayer to the Guardian Angel:
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,
Rule and guide.
Rhymes can be helpful and most prayerfully uttered, but they can also become a kind of kitsch-in- words in which something is whimsically recalled, but not taken seriously. The sing-song of the playful phrases can remain merely nostalgic.
Another introduction to the Guardian Angels was the work of an illustrator. Remember the picture of an angel looming above a tattered wooden bridge on which a Hummel-like boy and girl crossed a roaring creek? This could be confusing to the imagination. Were these two children, crossing the bridge in a dark wood, Hansel and Gretel? Yet, we don’t recall an angel from Hansel and Gretel hip-checking the evil crone into the furnace. Why are there not two Guardian Angels looming above the bridge scene?
Each of us has a Guardian Angel from the beginning of life. What tends to be forgotten in the rhyme and art of the Guardian Angels is that the children stand for the childlikeness to which all Christians are called. In the gospel for the feast we read:
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Matt 18:3-5, 10)
Various saints meditated upon the reality of the Guardian Angel’s presence and prayed prayers of intercession taking into account these beings who watch over us, who see and know our faces and who see God. Blessed Peter Faber, roommate of St. Francis Xavier at the University of Paris and one of the first Jesuits, prayed to his Guardian Angel always before preaching and to the Guardian Angels of all who would hear him preach. St. Jose Maria Escriva was said to silently greet the Guardian angel of all whom he met.
Our Guardian angels are concerned for us as wayfarers, as people on a journey that is sometimes dangerous, on which we can lose course. The permanent home of the angels is our destination; it is heaven where Jesus Christ has ascended, He who has taken our nature and flesh to himself so that heaven may be our home too. May these messengers of God guide us in the ways of humble adoration before the God who seeks for us, for our happiness.