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In the Beginning

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

“From the beginning of creation…” When Jesus is asked about divorce in this Sunday’s gospel reading, his response hearkens back to the beginning. So it is fitting that the first reading from this Sunday’s Mass also takes us back to the beginning, to the account of the creation of the first man and woman.

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Having an Adult Relationship With Your Guardian Angel

Today is the memorial of the Guardian Angels. It is Catholic teaching that each person has a guardian angel assigned to them by God to guide and protect them throughout this life on the journey to heaven. The Catechism teaches us:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God (CCC 336).

The fact that each of us has our own personal angel who is with us all the time is a pretty amazing thing. How cool is it that we each have a super-powerful spiritual creature accompanying us all the time whose sole interest is helping us to get to heaven?! And yet most of us spend approximately zero time each day thinking about our guardian angel. We ignore them. We don’t ask them for help. We don’t listen to their gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) guidance. We don’t even acknowledge their existence.

A Child’s Fairy Tale?

Why is this? I think a lot of it has to do with the “Guardian Angel Prayer” that most Catholic children are taught growing up.

Angel of God

My guardian dear

To Whom his love

Commits me here

Ever this day

Be at my side

To light and guard

To rule and guide. Amen.

What’s wrong with this prayer? In and of itself, nothing. It’s a beautiful prayer. There is nothing at all wrong with the sentiment it expresses. But let’s be honest. It comes across as a little childish — especially when accompanied by images such as this…

Or this…

Every single prayer card I have seen with the Guardian Angel prayer has an image just like this, featuring a very gentle, soft, effeminate angel leaning over a baby or a small child. That, combined with the very simple rhyming structure of the prayer, gives the distinct impression that devotion to one’s guardian angel is a thing for small children.

And that’s true. It is a great devotion for small children. Children find it very comforting to know that they are being watched and cared for, not only by their parents, but by God through his protecting angel.

But the downside to this over-emphasis on the child-like is that we tend to associate devotion to our guardian angel as something that’s strictly for kids — and so we grow out of it.

Not Just For Kids

It is true that we are all called to be child-like. Jesus said that we must be like a child to enter into heaven (Mt 18:3). So there is absolutely nothing wrong with an adult praying the very simple Guardian Angel prayer. But it is also true that we are called to grow and mature in our faith, and as we grow we should develop an adult relationship with our guardian angel.

Too many of us think of our guardian angel like the imaginary friend we had as kids, or like the stories our parents told us about the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. As we grow up we don’t believe in these things any longer.

But your guardian angel does not go away when you become a teenager or an adult. If anything, that’s when the real work for your angel begins, as we become exposed to more serious temptations which can lead us to more grievous sins.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Guardian Angel!

This is why it is important to re-learn about our guardian angels as adults. They are not just a fairy story told to Catholic children. They really do exist, and they are powerful creatures.

Do you remember last Sunday’s gospel, where Jesus warns that it would be better for us to have a millstone tied around our neck and be cast into the sea than to cause a little one who believes in him to sin (Mt 18:6)? Well, later in that same passage, Jesus continues: “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” (Mt 18:10).

Jesus himself says that each of us has a guardian angel who in addition to protecting us, is always looking at the face of God! Angels can do this because they are spiritual creatures. They have no physical bodies and so are not bound by place as we are. They can be at our side guarding over us and in God’s presence at the same time. In this way they can be a conduit for us, bringing our prayers and petitions before God. They see us as we are now, and they also see our goal — God — and so know how best to guide us toward that goal.

Angels are power-houses! Far too many images of angels show them as rosy cheeked, pastel-toned, winged babies.

But to behold the face of God, angels have to be extremely holy, which means they are extremely powerful. Remember, in Exodus, when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told him, “My face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still live” (Ex 33:20). The greatest glory of heaven is that we will finally be able to behold God face-to-face. This is called the beatific vision. Our guardian angels experience this now!

Rather than rosy-cheeked infants, we ought to be thinking of our guardian angels as the super-heroes that they are! More like this…

Just listen to how angels are described in the scriptures;

See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and heed his voice. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority resides in him. If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foe (Ex 23:20-22).

And remember — these powerful beings not only serve God, but they serve us. Because this is what God has commanded them to do.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Heb 1:14)?

Wisdom from the Saints

The saints enjoy fellowship with the angels in heaven now, but also had a strong devotion to the angels during their earthly life. So should you befriend your guardian angel. No one else, other than Christ himself, desires so much to get you into heaven. Your angel truly is your best friend and your must trusted protector. I will end with these words from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century Benedictine abbot, from a sermon he preached about the guardian angels.

Be alert in your every action as one should be who is accompanied by angels in all your ways, for that mission has been enjoined upon them. In whatever lodging, in whatever nook or corner you may find yourself, cherish a reverence for your guardian angel. In his presence do not dare to do anything you would not do in mine. Or do you doubt his presence because you do not see him? Would it really help if you did hear him, or touch him, or smell him? Remember, there are realities whose existence has not been proven by mere sight.

Brethren, we will love God’s angels with a most affectionate love; for they will be our heavenly co-heirs some day, these spirits who now are sent by the Father to be our protectors and our guides. With such bodyguards, what are we to fear? They can neither be subdued nor deceived; nor is there any possibility at all that they should go astray who are to guard us in all our ways. They are trustworthy, they are intelligent, they are strong — why, then, do we tremble? We need only to follow them, remain close to them, and we will dwell in the protection of the Most High God. So as often as you sense the approach of any grave temptation or some crushing sorrow hangs over you, invoke your protector, your leader, your helper in every situation. Call out to him and say: Lord, save us, we are perishing.

The Disease of Scandal

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

We hear the word scandal a lot these days. Every time we turn on the news there is a new revelation about some celebrity misbehavior, secrets from a politician’s past, and — sadly — sins of the Catholic clergy. We call these salacious reports “scandals,” and so they are. But why? Is scandal just another word for shocking news about another’s behavior?

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Divine Friendship

I was blessed this past weekend to accompany thirteen of our students on a retreat to Folly Beach, the theme of which was holy friendship. Students shared with one another about how friendship is a form of love, and the importance of having healthy friendships with yourself, with others, and with God. It is this latter form of friendship that I’ve been reflecting on lately.

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Faith in Action

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

What is the relationship between faith and works? This question has divided Christians since the time of the Protestant Reformation. One of the foundational principles of the Reformation was sola fide or “faith alone.” Martin Luther believed that only faith in Christ could bring salvation, apart from any works of man. The Catholic Church has always taught that both faith and works have a part to play in our salvation. So where does the truth lie?

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