The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Homily: Memorial of the Guardian Angels

Before turning to today's homily, posted below, please join me in prayer for all those innocents who lost their lives in last evening's horrific shooting in Las Vegas. We pray that God will take them into His loving embrace and enfold them in His mercy.

We pray, too, for the hundreds of people who were wounded by the shooter or otherwise injured, that they will find healing of both body and spirit in the wake of the trauma they have suffered.

And we pray for the families and loved ones of all who died and were wounded, that they, too, will experience God's merciful touch and the healing that comes only from Him.

Finally, we pray for the man responsible for this tragedy. We  know neither his motives nor his mental state and so we place him in God's hands and trust in His mercy and justice.

We must also acknowledge not only the first responders who came to the aid of the many victims, but also the many brave men and women who, placing their own lives at risk, thought first of helping others -- those who were wounded, dying, and trying to reach safety -- even as the shooting continued. Last night was a national tragedy, but it was also a reminder of the goodness and courage of so many of our fellow citizens.

Keep them and our country in your prayers.

...and now my homily. Today we honor our guardian angels.

Readings: Exodus 23:20-23; Psalm 91; Matthew 18:1-5,10


Some years ago I attended a seminar conducted by a highly respected scriptural scholar. It soon became apparent he really didn't accept the miracles described in the Bible. All of them, he argued, could be attributed to natural causes.

And despite the presence of angels in Sacred Scripture, he didn't believe in their existence either. He was certain those many passages were just examples of a kind of over-zealous piety among the Jews and early Christians.

Indeed, he soon made it clear he didn't accept any manifestations of the supernatural, the many theophanies described in the Bible.

Exasperated, I finally raised my hand and asked him what he did believe in. "Do you believe in the Trinity, in Jesus Christ, in the Resurrection, in Christ's Eucharistic Presence?"

He laughed and replied, "Of course." And then he proceeded to cast doubt on each. In humility, and somewhat cowardly, I just shut up.

But how very sad for him -- that the object of his life's work had become almost meaningless to him. After all, if you doubt so much of Sacred Scripture, what can you believe? Where do you draw the line between what you accept and what you reject?

As for me, I have witnessed hundreds of miracles in the lives of so many people, including my own. And angels? Well, I've had some encounters that removed all doubts.

But like our scholar, so many today, even many who claim to be believers, seem to think that God doesn't act in the world. That a Christian could believe this is strange indeed, since the Incarnation, a central belief of Christianity, is God's ultimate act, His personal entry into the world.

Yes, Jesus Christ is the Lord of History, the creative Word of God. And if Sacred Scripture shows us one thing, it's that God uses not only men and women to carry out His plan for humanity, but also His angels.
"I am sending an angel before you..."
When His angels act, as in our first reading [Ex 23:20], it is God Himself who acts, for no creatures are more faithful doers of God's Word than the angels. God sends that angel in Exodus before His People to protect them as they enter the Promised Land. We encounter this angelic protection manifested again and again throughout the Old and the New Testaments.

When we turn to our Gospel passage from Matthew, we find the disciples, once again displaying their pride, asking Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" [Mt 18:1]

But Our Lord, knowing their hearts, again calls them to deep humility -- to the emptying of self that Paul described to the Philippians [Phil 2:6-8]. Just as the divine Jesus humbled Himself through the Incarnation and His passion and death, so too must His disciples, and that's you and me, be childlike in our humility.
"Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?"
To emphasize this, Jesus calls a child to Him, just as He had once called His disciples, one after another, thus reminding them that it is God who acts, God who calls, while we only respond in humility or turn away in pride. Now what had that small child done to humble himself? Nothing that we know of. Jesus is not talking about actions here; rather he's describing an attitude of being. Unlike the disciples, the child is aware of and content with his lowliness. He is "poor in spirit" as in the first Beatitude. And in his humility he experiences a radical freedom, seeing himself depending solely on God.

We see the same attitude manifested by Mary when she proclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord..." Indeed, the entire Magnificat is a hymn of personal humility in the presence of God's greatness. Yes, lowliness, emptiness, hunger...all allow God to raise up, to fill, to make the last first, to place us at the center of His divine life.
"My soul magnifies the Lord..."
But then, according to Matthew, Jesus declares something truly remarkable. He declares that the angels of the childlike, the little ones, "always behold the face of my Father in heaven" [Mt 18:10]. In other words, that which is scorned on earth, the humility of the childlike, is raised up to the very highest level of being.
Their angels look upon the face of my heavenly Father
We are struck by the wonder of it all: Those who are closest to God Himself, who stand in His presence, are those whom God has appointed to serve His little ones.

Do you see how greatly God esteems and honors the angel He has chosen to guard and lead you? Let your angel lead and guard. Turn to him in prayer, plead for his protection and intercession, for this constant companion forever beholds the face of the Father. Can you imagine a better guardian and friend?

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