No one likes to be taken for granted. I suppose even pure spirits bristle at neglect. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time these past few years apologizing to my guardian angel.
Many adult Catholics dismiss the presence of these protectors as harmless residue from their parochial years. The widespread belief that each person receives a special angel to watch over their bodily and spiritual health has often been associated with the protection of children in both prayer and art.
Catholics are not required to give credence to these “beings of light,” and you don’t see many bumper stickers reading “Honk if you believe in angels.” Yet these traditions are hardly new and not solely the province of the Judeo-Christian lexicon. Greeks, Celts, Armenians, and Japanese, among others, have their versions of spiritual guides assigned at birth. In the Bible there are hundreds of references, from the Garden of Eden to Jacob’s Ladder to the Annunciation and the temptations of Christ. Moses was specifically promised a guardian angel by God.
There are some true believers, of course. A Creighton University Jesuit named Father Francis Deglman used to fascinate me and other students with his recital of encounters with his personal angel. He carried on a spirited discourse with this being—argued even, and complained.
His most dramatic episode occurred early one morning when he was awakened from sleep.
“Francis, get up!”
Father Deglman glanced at his alarm clock. “It’s 3 in the morning,” he managed to object. But he arose. The guardian angel instructed him to turn on the light. Reluctantly he fumbled for the wall switch.
“Now turn it off. And get back to bed.”
Deglman shook his head, plunged the room into darkness again, and crept beneath the solo blanket, still wondering what this was all about.
The next morning a student came to see him.
“Father,” he began, “Last night I was thinking of taking my life. I tried to get into the campus church but it was locked. It had to be about 3 o’clock. I sat on the wall outside the Jesuit residence, certain that God didn’t care if I lived or died. Then I said, ‘If there is a God, let a light go on in that building.’ I looked back up and your light was on.”
If this were a television script, Twilight Zone music would be called for here.
But most confrontations with guardian angels must be less biblical in scope, more uncertain. We generally don’t recognize the event until later.
During World War II, I had a number of close calls, when people around me died and somehow I survived. I thought my number hadn’t come up. Once I nearly drowned but wound up on shore, exhausted, not knowing how I got there. Luck, I figured. Lying in bed after a serious operation, I sensed a presence but hesitated to give it a name.
But the clearest example of divine interference happened one moonlit night when I was driving in Wyoming. A Jesuit brother sat beside me, and my wife and a Franciscan nun occupied the rear seats. Since I could see forever on this straight apron of concrete, I was doing a comfortable 60.
Suddenly a herd of wild horses lunged up from the draw on my right. I was in them before I knew it. I can play that scene in my head anytime I wish. A mustang reared up to starboard and I swung to port, just beneath those hooves. Another horse was static there, so I veered right. Still another, and I returned left. Within seconds I was clear of that stampede, my foot still on the brake and the car still registering over 40 miles per hour.
“Nice driving, Bob!” gasped the scared young Jesuit.
But it all seemed easy to me, as if it happened in slow motion and I had ample time. Listen, I’m a decent driver, but I couldn’t have pulled that off.
So? All I know is that when I recite the familiar “Angel of God” prayer every night, I try to make it personal. He or she has to be listening.
Image: Unsplash/Daniel Pascoa