Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Guardian Angels
October 2, 2015
Exod 23:20-23, Psalm 91, Mt 18:1-5.10
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, we seek to deepen what we pondered on the Feast of the Archangels on Tuesday, that the angels “ascend and descend,” they worship God and they come to serve us and seek to help us both to ascend and descend with them, assisting us to love God with all we have and to love others with the love of God. On Tuesday, we examined the mission of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael in salvation history and continually. Today we get far more personal and look at the particular angels God has given each of us to help us become ever more God’s likeness.
- The reality we have to confront, however, is that many of us are oblivious in day-to-day life to the presence of our guardian angels. This is a larger problem of scientism, or the rationalistic understanding that the only thing we can know we can observe with our senses or with scientific instruments. And so many of us go about our life without an awareness of the supernatural realm, of angels on the one hand, of the devil and his fallen angels on the other. While we theoretically believe they could exist, we live as if they don’t. Today’s feast is an opportunity for us to open up to the truth that reality is much broader than we ordinarily think. And the guardian angels we celebrate today are one of the most important practical realities of that much broader order.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels. … In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance. … 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” (St. Basil the Great). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (CCC 334-336).
- Today in the readings we see some of what the guardian angels seek to do for us. In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, God tells the Israelites, “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. … 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 foes.” God calls us to acknowledge that he has sent his angel in front of us. He wants to protect us from harm and guide us to the place God has prepared. But God wants us to be attentive to him, to heed his voice, and to carry out all he tells us through him. If we do so, then God tells us he will be on our side because we’ve placed ourselves, through following the guardian angel, on his side. In the Responsorial Psalm, these points are reemphasized. “For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways.” The angels are in charge of us to guard and guide us in all aspects of our life. That’s all part of their “descent” in loving service. But they also do something perhaps even more important for us: they pray for us. Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “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.” What a great consolation to know that these personal celestial body guards, companions, and dark valley guides are always interceding for us as well.
- But God tells us today that we need to be attentive to our guardian angel and heed his voice, not to rebel against him, to carry out what he tells us and trustingly and freely to follow his commands in all of our ways. How we do that? None of us wants to disobey what God commands us, but how can we follow someone we cannot see, how can we heed someone whose voice doesn’t register on a decibel meter, how can we can we observe commands that are not communicated in ways that up until this point at least we haven’t been able to perceive?
- The first thing we need to be is to be aware of our guardian angel’s presence. To recognize we’re not alone. Even if we can’t perceive him with our five senses, to recognize that he is nevertheless there as the biggest supporter we’ve ever had, seeking to help us.
- Second we need trustingly to ask for his help. Today we can ponder how to do that with regard to our prayer, to our work and action, and to our mission to spread the faith to others.
- With our prayer, we can first pray to our guardian angel. There’s a great prayer that many of us learned as children that we should pray with fervor. It’s based on what we ponder in Sacred Scripture today: “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.” We can secondly rely on his prayers for us before God’s throne, because he is “always looking upon the face of the Heavenly Father,” and interceding for us. But we can also ask our guardian angel to help us to pray and pray better. We can ask him to pray alongside of us — when we’re aware of our guardian angel, we’re always praying in communion! — and then to teach us how to pray better. We know that there are four “forms” of prayer, four types of prayer we make to God, and our guardian angel can help us with all four. The first and most important form of prayer is praise, when we give God honor for who he is and how lovable he is. No one can teach us how to do this better than the angels who have been praising God before his throne since the foundation of the all. We wish to make our own the words we prayed on Tuesday, “In the sight of the angels, I will sing your praises, O Lord!” The second form of prayer is thanksgiving, and our guardian angels can help us not only to thank God for the graces of which we’re aware but of the vast many more of which we’re unaware. For example, our guardian angels are aware of the many times we may have died if God through their work hadn’t intervened to keep someone off the road who may have collided with us. They can fill us with thanksgiving for every grace, seen or unseen. Third, they can help us pray for forgiveness with great contrition. Our guardian angels know of every sinful thought, every lie or bad word, every sinful action, every time we should have been the Good Samaritan but walked by the other side. They were commissioned by God to protect us from those sins, but they can’t control our will, they need our cooperation, and for that reason how much shame we’ve brought them through our sins! But at the same time, how much joy we’ve brought them when we’ve responded to the graces they’ve sought to bring us to conversion, to confession, and to a new life. And fourth, they help us in our prayer of intercession for others and petition for ourselves. They’re constantly interceding for us and for our good intentions for others before God’s throne. They teach us similarly how to pray without losing heart.
- With our work and daily life, they can really help us. Many times when I’m faced with work I’m unenthusiastic to do, I ask my own guardian angel’s help to do it well, quickly and in a holy way, offering it to God and others. When I need to do something that we find hard, to solve a problem I can’t figure out, I ask my guardian angel’s help to find a way toward a solution. When I’m waiting on hold on the phone, I pray through my guardian angel to guardian angels of the employees on the other line, asking for them to come more quickly rather than go for another cup of coffee or waste time. When I’ve been looking for a parking spot in order to be able to anoint someone, I regularly ask his assistance through somebody else’s guardian angel to have someone in the neighborhood to remember to run an errand so that I can find a place and head into the home. They want to help us and guide us in all our ways and they’re not upset to be asked for this help for things that will help us to do what God is asking us to do.
- With our mission of spreading the faith to others, the guardian angels are particularly helpful. How many preachers have the pious custom of invoking the guardian angels of all those who are about to listen to their homily! When we’re seeking to have a conversation with someone about an aspect of the faith, we can pray to the guardian angel of the other to help open the person up to receive well what our own guardian angel wants to help us to say. I’d encourage everyone to get into the habit of recognizing that everyone to whom we speak has a guardian angel and not only to acknowledge that reality but to greet the guardian angel. St. Josemaria Escriva — who God asked to found Opus Dei 87 years ago today on the feast of the Guardian Angels — had the habit of always secretly greeting the guardian angel of the person who had come to see him — the “big shot” or personaje! — before he even greeted the person. In our apostolate, especially in doing something that the Lord is asking us to do, it’s never a one-on-one conversation, but often a three-on-one, with our guardian angel and the others’ guardian angel assisting us in that conversation. So we should never be afraid. Especially when we’re seeking the conversion of someone on a particular point or in general, we should never cease invoking the help of the guardian angel of that person, who is so happy we’re willing to collaborate with him to bring about the conversion of the person in that guardian angel’s charge.
- I’d like to finish by pondering how our guardian angel seeks to get us to pray the Mass. A few years ago, I came across the mystical reflections of a Bolivian woman, Catalina Rivas, that seem to be quite plausibly true. As Catholics we’re never obliged to accept private revelations given to others, but the reason why private revelations are given is to help us to remember something in the full public revelation or to apply it better. And her reflections have always helped me to open up to what I believe does in fact take place at Mass. At the time of the offertory, she said this is what she saw and heard Mary explain to her: “Suddenly some characters, whom I had not seen before, began to stand up. It was as if from the side of each person present in the Cathedral, another person emerged, and soon the Cathedral became full of young, beautiful people. They were dressed in very white robes, and they started to move into the central aisle and, then, went towards the Altar. Our Mother said: ‘Observe. They are the Guardian Angels of each one of the persons who are here. This is the moment in which your guardian angel carries your offerings and petitions before the Altar of the Lord.’ At that moment, I was completely astonished, because these beings had such beautiful faces, so radiant as one is unable to imagine. Their countenance was very beautiful with almost feminine faces; however, the structure of their body, their hands, their height were masculine. Their naked feet did not touch the floor, but rather they went as if gliding. That procession was very beautiful. Some of them were carrying something like a golden bowl with something that shone a great deal with a golden-white light. The Virgin Mary said: ‘They are the Guardian Angels of the people who are offering this Holy Mass for many intentions, those who are conscious of what this celebration means. They have something to offer the Lord.’ Offer yourselves at this moment; offer your sorrows, your pains, your hopes, your sadness, your joys, your petitions. Remember that the Mass has infinite value. Therefore, be generous in offering and in asking.’ Behind the first Angels came others who had nothing in their hands; they were coming empty handed. The Virgin Mary said: ‘Those are the angels of the people who are here but never offer anything. They have no interest in living each liturgical moment of the Mass, and they have no gifts to carry before the Altar of the Lord.’ At the end of the procession came other angels who were rather sad, with their hands joined in prayer but with their eyes downcast. ‘These are the Guardian Angels of the people who are here, but do not want to be, that is to say, of the people who have been forced to come here, who have come out of obligation, but without any desire to participate in the Holy Mass. The angels go forth sadly because they have nothing to carry to the Altar, except for their own prayers.’ Do not sadden your Guardian Angel. Ask for much, ask for the conversion of sinners, for peace in the world, for your families, your neighbors, for those who ask for your prayers. Ask, ask for much, but not only for yourselves, but for everyone else. Remember that the offering which most pleases the Lord is when you offer yourselves as a holocaust so that Jesus, upon His descent, may transform you by His own merits.”
- Today our Guardian Angels have guided us to Mass and are so pleased we’re here. But they want to help us truly to pray and to live the Mass. They want us to prepare for them “golden bowls” to carry our offerings to the Lord — our sufferings, our work, our prayers, our whole lives. Let’s ask their help to assist us every day to form those bowls, so that we may join them in praising God in this world and rejoice in their company praising God forever.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Ex. 23:20 “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 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. 22 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 foes. 23 “My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out.
Responsorial Psalm — The Lord has put angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways
Psa. 91:1 You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, 2 Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
3 God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, 4 Will shelter you with pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge
God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield. 5 You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.
No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. 11 For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways.
Matt. 18:1 At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3 and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. 10 “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.