If we call upon them while listening to the Lord’s Prayer, we will find our guardian angels very ready to help. It may be some time since we have thought of, not to mention called upon, our guardian angel. For many the guardian angel is something that perhaps belongs to childhood, a charming, comforting fantasy, helpful in putting infants to sleep.
We don’t think of them as awakeners. Or as, a familiar prayer to the guardian angel has it, beings who have the capacity “to light, and guard, to rule and guide.” Indeed the chief role of the guardian angel is illumination. This being is “a communication of Divine life by the power of God, and a most intimate indwelling of His substance in the creature.” Our guardian angel is charged with our liberation and deliverance, and equipped for the task.
Both Christian and Jewish traditions and many others affirm the presence of guardian angels. “The angel is the daily gateway to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father: that is, the angel helps me to go forward because he looks upon the Father, and he knows the way. Let us not forget these companions along the journey,” Pope Francis enjoined us last fall. Not an ancient call but one from October 2018.
This convinces only if one is already convinced. And for this, an encounter with one’s guardian angel is needed. I don’t know why or how, but at some point quite early on during the last fifteen years of grounding spiritual practice on listening to the Lord’s Prayer, I found myself beginning, after a few moments of being attentive to the breath, to the sensation of the weight of the body on the seat of the chair, feet on the floor, to ask: “Angel Guardian of mine, help prepare me to pray.”
If we ask this before beginning to listen to the Lord’s Prayer, help will come. But we must allow sufficient time for it. Not asking and quickly rushing ahead. Watch as the angel ministers to you, melting away tensions of which you were not aware, repositioning the posture minutely, at times clearing the way with a deep breath.
“He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,” (Ps 91:11)” wrote Bernard of Clairvaux, “Think of it! To those sublime beings, who cling to Him so joyfully and intimately, to His very own He has given charge over you!”When the action of the guardian angel is felt and experienced, gratitude inevitably appears. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church has it, such experiences engender “devout gratitude to God for having placed these heavenly spirits of great sanctity and dignity” at the service of human beings.
In a very telling passage, Aquinas writes that guardian angels can act upon our senses and upon our imagination— not, however, upon our will. This means our will is free to call upon the guardian angel—and if the call does not come?
“It may not be surprising that we pay to little heed to these our zealous guardians – for we find it hard to emancipate ourselves from the thralldom to the sensible world,” writes Father Raphael V. O’Connell in an essay, “The Holy Angels.”
THE THRALLDOM TO THE SENSIBLE WORLD
And here is found the root of our skepticism and wariness. This thralldom to the sensible world is compounded in our day by the cult of materialism growing ever more pervasive. The perception that we live in a deeply spiritual world becomes consequently ever more elusive.
But not, for all that, any less true, any less verifiable. “We have the assurance of the presence in the world about us of a multitude of glorious beings, friendly to us, deeply solicitous in our behalf;” assures the same writer, “our elder brethren, in fact, charged by our common Father to watch over us and to lead us.”
“The nature of the angel is …to constitute a permanent contact between our world of action and the higher worlds,” writes Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. “An angel’s missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward… and it may also serve as one who carries things upwards from below.”
The icon above indicates these two directions, a cross uplifted in the right hand of the angel, a sword pointed downward in his left. Ready to light and guard, to rule and guide. When asked.
Image:The Guardian Angel, Mid 19th Century Russia/creativecommons.org