When I think upon my faith as a child, I know that it was a safety net that saw me through traumatic and happy times. Faith in God is an anchor that can make a world of difference to a child. This is why it is essential to honour the art of catechesis and commit to helping children learn and grow in faith. This is not about indoctrination, but rather experience. As our lives unfold in mystagogy, we come to know about teachings and we develop a deeper understanding of scripture and how it applies to our lives. But, the faith of a child is profound. It resides in the heart of imagination. This is how I developed my own devotion to my guardian angel.
The devotion to angels is believed to have begun in the first century AD. Over the centuries, the Catholic teaching on angels has developed. We sing about them in hymns. “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” comes to mind. They are pure spirits, higher beings who are at our service throughout our pilgrim journeys. The Holy Guardian Angels are for our sanctification and salvation. In fact, it is Catholic teaching that all souls have an angel to give guidance through life on earth. In 1608, Pope Paul V was the first to authorize a feast day to honour the Holy Guardian Angels.
Angels are referenced and depicted in many forms of popular culture: fine art, television, film, music, trinkets in the dollar store, craft markets and cartoons. In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship wanted to clarify the Catholic teaching. There is a hierarchy of angels with the recognized names of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael as Archangels and several other titles and levels below them. Think of the world as a place where goodness reigns. God and a legion of protectors and messengers float around us. Or, as Psalm 90 reminds us: “For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”
A sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminded the faithful to “walk carefully, as one with whom are angels.” He spoke of our need to reverence and thank the angels who protect and guide us.
Our faith is formed by our experience of images, prayers, scripture, encounters and God’s grace. As a young child, I had a bookshelf beside my bed with many books to read before sleep. There was a tell-a-tale book of Catholic prayers for children. One page was an image of a tall angel beside a child’s bed, illustrating the Guardian Angel prayer. The image has stayed with me. This beautiful prayer has been a comfort my whole life and the last words uttered before I sleep. Our faith gives us comfort. No arrow can come our way, no pain too great, and nothing that can take us away from our Creator. Our guardian angels make sure of this.
“Angel of God, my guardian dear; to whom God’s love commits me here.” What a wonderful place to be held throughout life.
In 2016, Van Morrison recorded a song entitled “Holy Guardian Angel.” “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody but me. And so I pray to my holy guardian angel.” Let us give thanks for these protectors and intercessors who keep us safe and close to God.
–Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.