Ian Thorpe, the Australian gold medalist from the 2000 Olympics, was visiting the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11.
Reportedly, he was half way to the observation deck when he realized he had left his camera in the car. Mumbling under his breath, he returned to street level to retrieve it. As he prepared to reenter the building, the attack began. Surely, his guardian angel was with him that day.
In the past few days, we've all heard similar stories. It seems there are thousands of cases of people who were “almost” at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Do we really need a national disaster to notice the presence of our guardian angels? We know that God does permit tragic things to happen to people—but we also know that he assigns angels to be our protectors.
These stories—and the Oct. 2 feast of the guardian angels coming up—show us that angels aren't cuddly useless creatures, nor are they imaginary. They're real, they're powerful and they keep us safe.
As parents concerned for the safety for our children, we can and should encourage them to pray to their guardian angels, for their physical and spiritual safety. Even as we do so, we need also to introduce them to these special friends, so that they can begin to form a strong and prayerful relationship of their own.
At our house, this is an organic process which begins very early with the nightly recitation of the traditional Catholic prayer to the guardian angels:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this night be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule and to guide.
Another delightful introduction to guardian angels is found in the stories from The Catholic Children's Treasure Box. In them, we meet a little angel named Wupsy, who is assigned as guardian angel to a child born in pagan Africa. The action centers around the different strategies Wupsy uses to bring the local missionaries to his young charge. Children are captivated by Wupsy, and he makes their own angels more real.
Once Wupsy is mastered, we introduce lives of the saints at family reading time.
Sacred Scripture is full of wonderful angel stories too. In the book of Tobit, Tobias takes a long journey with the angel Raphael, never knowing until the end that he has been in heavenly company. Angels are found freeing the three young men in the Book of Daniel. In the Acts of the Apostles angels walk St. Peter right past the prison guards (boys especially enjoy this story).
As Padre Pio found, our guardian angels are happy to be of service to us, even in the smallest way. His angel was a translator, mine is an alarm clock. Whenever I ask him to wake me for morning Mass, I find myself wide awake at cock crow.
If we make our angels part of our lives, even in these small ways, our children will naturally make them part of theirs. Many of the saints had a kind of running conversation with their angels, which we can imitate. They especially called upon the angels in times of temptation, and those prayers were always answered.
If we've done our job well, our children will be comfortable with their guardian angels, but as they approach their teen years, they may be challenged by a skeptical culture. Yet it is during these years that their need for their angel is greatest, as they face down the temptations of that culture. Now is the time for hard facts. Does the Church really believe in angels?
Father Michael Duesterhaus, administrator of St. William of York Parish in Stafford, Va., points us to the Mass: “One of the key ways to test whether a teaching or devotion of the Church is true is to see whether it is ... used in the prayers of the Church. At each and every Mass [there is ] the invitation to join the angels in praising God; ‘Holy, Holy, Holy ...’ “”
But what of guardian angels? What does the teaching Church have to say about these? Christ is a good place to start. In the Gospel of Matthew, he says: “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
We can also point our teens to the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. Not for nothing is he known as “The Angelic Doctor.” In the Summa Theologiae, he speaks of guardian angels in particular, “Man, while in this state of life is, as it were, on a road by which he should journey toward heaven. On this road man is threatened by many dangers both from within and without ... and therefore, as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass along an unsafe road, so a guardian angel is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer.”
These teen years can be a time of experimentation, and it is important to battle with good, solid doctrine some of the current pantheist views of angels that our teens might hear. They may hear the term “spirit guide,” or find angels equated with innocent children who have died very young or with the spirits of kindly ancestors.
We see from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.”
Being created as pure spirits, they cannot be equated with innocent children, ancestors or other worldly creatures. Yet because they surpass us in power and perfection, they can take on an appearance if they need to, as Raphael did for Tobias.
Ten-year-old Bethany Nash, of Stafford, Va., puts it all in a nutshell when she says, “They help my brother Thomas by keeping him safe when he crawls up the staircase. They watch over him really well.” Indeed watching over us is their main purpose in our lives, as the psalmist says (Psalm 91:11), “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.”