Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of children and angels (Reflection on the Feast of the Archangels, Sept 29th, and Guardian Angels, October 2nd)

“Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom His love commits me here,

ever this day, be at my side,

to light and guard,
rule and guide.
Amen”.


This, if I remember correctly, was the earliest prayer I learned as a child. Yes, even earlier than the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary”. Perhaps because of its brevity and rhyme, it’s perfect for teaching little kids. I remember praying it with my parents right before going to bed, then with my brother and sister, when they were old enough to join in.

I don’t pray it that often anymore—though when I do find myself uttering it every once in a while—two things necessarily accompany it: a torrent of childhood memories, and that sense of life’s simplicity that seems to dissipate more and more as one gets older and moves farther and farther away from the innocence of one’s childhood years.

Indeed, most of us were taught, as children, to believe in angels and archangels and pray to those we were taught to call our guardian angels. They were, we were told, our constant companions, sent by God to stand always by our side to protect and guide us.

As we grow up, however, as the days of our non-complicated childhood lives recede farther away into the distance, the idea of heavenly beings keeping us constant company slowly loses its appeal, until eventually, it gets relegated to those things which we “believed in as a child”.

We grow up and mature; our lives become ever more complex, and we find other sources of security and safety: our education, our friends, our jobs, our possessions, our titles, our achievements. As we take leave of the spiritual companions of our childhood, we often replace them with what we believe to be more concrete, tangible, and material sources of comfort and strength.

Indeed, talk of angels doesn’t seem to belong to the world of an adult, and we would probably be thought odd if we were to think about angels like children do. The words of Jesus in the gospel though, are a gentle reminder—not so much about our need to believe again in angels or pray to them like when we were kids—but about what lies behind the idea of believing in these creatures sent by God to protect human beings.

Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.

Being like a child and believing in angels, Jesus seems to say, have something in common. They both mean trusting, believing, and having confidence in a Father, a God who is larger than ourselves, someone greater than even the greatest of our triumphs, successes, and accomplishments, and mightier than even the mightiest of our cares, worries and fears, and whose concern for our well-being extends to even the smallest concerns of our day to day lives.

And is that not in fact what we were taught our guardian angels do for us? Guide our steps—from the biggest to the smallest, guide our decisions—from the monumental to the minute, and protect our actions—so that none of them strays from the path God has set out for us.

“Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom His love commits me here,
ever this day, be at my side,
to light and guard, rule and guide.
Amen”.

We may no longer be children, and belief in angels may no longer be something at the forefront of our minds. But what these two things signify—humility before God and trust in his providence and care—these are qualities we must never lose, if we wish to be admitted into his Kingdom.

While these Feasts of the Archangels and Guardian Angels may be about angels, and the gospel readings may be about children, at their heart and core, they're really about us—we who call ourselves adults—and how we can perhaps recapture even a bit of that childlike confidence, trust, and humility before a Father who loves us, and who will never leave us to face the challenges of life alone.

Perhaps by being reminded not only of our dependence on God, but also of the constancy of his presence, we may yet recover even a small fragment of that innocence and simplicity of our childhood past.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)