Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Fairies and Guardian Angels

Fra Angelico. The Last Judgement. Detail: The Blessed. c.1431. Tempera on wood. 105 x 210 cm. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. 

I grew up a non-church-going Protestant with proper Protestant sensibilities. At least I think that's what I had.

I believed in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and had nightmares that the Big Bad Wolf was going to eat me. In my mind, this fairy-tale world was quite real and alive to me and no one could've convinced me otherwise.

Until the day I found out who really brought the presents at Christmas and replaced my baby tooth with a shiny coin and left me a big chocolate bunny on Easter morning. To say I was crushed is putting it mildly.

Nevertheless, deep within the recesses of my mind I still had the notion of something unseen that was real. Something or someone other than God (whom I knew without a doubt was real) would whisper cautions or give me sudden course corrections. I believe the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us, but this notion I had persisted alongside my belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For as long as I remember, I've had a deeply felt belief in a guardian angel who protected me on more than one occasion. Until now, I've only spoken about it to a very few people besides my husband and kids.

Keep in mind--I had never been taught this by anyone as far as I know. My belief in guardian angels persisted even when I was an adult Protestant with anti-Catholic tendencies. I knew that some being had stopped that car from hitting me when I was riding my bike on a crowded street in Annapolis with roads barely wide enough for cars. I knew that someone had caused my friend to hit the brakes on her car just in time to avoid a collision with another vehicle when I was in the car with her. And I have very vivid memories of driving home from a 12+ hour shift in Naples, Italy when I had a bad case of the flu and a raging fever and all I wanted to do was go home and go to bed and I entered a tunnel on the Tangenziale then a woke suddenly just as my car was exiting the tunnel and crossing several lanes of traffic. Someone had wakened me. I knew it and I said "Thank you!" aloud to whomever it was and I made it home safely with my heart beating wildly with the sudden knowledge that I had nearly died had it not been for my guardian angel. After each of these incidents my first and foremost thought was that my guardian angel had saved me.

I never spoke these thoughts to anyone until after I had been a Catholic for several years. I was married with three children, and I was out of the Navy and living in Virginia. I was visiting with some other Catholic moms with young children and I said something to the effect of, "It's too bad guardian angels are just a fairy tale. It would be so wonderful if they were real." (See, that's what my conscious mind would always tell my subconscious mind once the adrenaline would wear off after one of my "near death" experiences).

My two friends looked at me like I was crazy. They laughed and said, "But they are real!"

I was stunned, but delighted to hear the news.

Nevertheless, I needed verification of this information since my Protestant Bible-only-as-proof beliefs still told me I had to have some scriptural proof of this in order to really believe it. It didn't take very long before I read that Matthew 18:10 is the passage generally cited as evidence that each of us has a personal guardian angel. I know many Protestants don't accept that idea or even see it as a necessity because if God is for us, who can be against us? Of course, God doesn't need to give us guardian angels. He doesn't need to give us parents or teachers either. He could have just made us as fully functioning adults, or as quickly maturing adults rather than children for 18 years. Wouldn't that have made more sense? Why spend 18 years (or more) of our short human lives being dependent on another? But He made us dependent on parents and teachers to help us mature to adulthood.

I don't know why it is part of God's divine plan to give us guardian angels. But the thought of it gives me joy and helps me to know I am always looked after and will there will always be someone there to watch over me. I like the fact that not only does each of us have a guardian angel, but sometimes cities and nations do as well. When I was pregnant, I felt rather blessed because I had two guardian angels, since one of them was my unborn child's. I thought it would be super neat to be carrying twins, because then I could walk around with three guardian angels tagging along.

Parents, make full use of your children's guardian angels. They can be invoked to watch kids (along with the babysitter) when you're not around, or to keep an eye on sick kids when you're asleep, or help kids find missing shoes when they're running late for school, or even help your college kids stay safe when they're hundreds of miles away from home.

I like to tell my kids some of the stories of St. Padre Pio's guardian angel, whom he could see from the time he was a small boy. Pio often had no one to play with, but "Little Boy" would come and talk to him and play with him. Young Pio knew Little Boy was his guardian angel and he just assumed everyone could see and hear their guardian angel. When Padre Pio grew into adulthood and became a Catholic priest, Little Boy stayed the same and would still come to him and talk to him. (You can read more about St. Pio in C. Bernard Ruffin's book, Padre Pio: The True Story. By the way, Ruffin is a Lutheran minister.)

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about angels:

The angels in the life of the Church

In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.201
In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli . . . ["May the angels lead you into Paradise . . ."]). Moreover, in the "Cherubic Hymn" of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Catholics believe we each have a guardian angel assigned to us from the first moment of our conception. And I don't think I'm stretching it when I say from the first moment of our conception since we believe the soul is infused into the tiny person at the first moment of conception, it makes sense to me that the tiny person also has a guardian angel. The actual birth is just an event in the life of the person but it is not the birth that makes one a person. Angels, being pure spirits, don't have the limitations of time and space that we do. They are God's messengers and our guardians. What a tremendous help we have in all our struggles! As a mom, I depend upon my guardian angel, especially when I've had a sick child and I'm exhausted. I can sleep soundly knowing my guardian angel will wake me if I am needed. My guardian angel doesn't have to sleep!

I know all this may sound as crazy as fairies to some. Yet there is so much more to life than what we see and know now. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12.)

Our Catholic tradition tells us that when we die we will finally get to meet our guardian angel and he will lead us joyfully into heaven, telling us all about our countless near misses and we will realize just how tenderly our Heavenly Father cares for us.


Mary G said...

What a great post ... thanks ... and I love the Fra Angelico picture ... just beautiful!

TheFiveDays said...

Just what I needed to read today, thank you!