New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The True Role of Guardian Angels - Dr. Plinio Correa

The True Role of Guardian Angels - Dr. Plinio Correa

While the role of Guardian Angels is to guard men, institutions, cities and nations, we often have a distorted image of the functions of these angels. Many see them as beings that are good just to obtain advantages for us. However,this is not their only role. They exist above all to help us in spiritual difficulties. God accompanies us through the action of the angels and they participate in our struggles to help us fulfill our vocation.

Indeed, Guardian Angels run contrary to the Hollywood vision of life. According to that mentality, there is a great propensity to think there are no struggles, difficulties or dangers and everything will have a happy ending. The Church teaches us the contrary. Life is full of struggles and dangers, both material and spiritual. Because of this, Divine Providence has placed an angel to watch over each and every one of us.

God has done this with such magnificence, that in addition to one angel for every person, there is also an angel for every city and every nation. There is an angel to watch over the Holy Catholic Church: St. Michael the Archangel.

There are angels to watch over groups, families of souls, societies and other institutions, so that everything that exists is guarded by angels. This, incidentally, is part of the role of the angels, for they maintain the whole material universe executing all of the decrees of God. Therefore, since life is an intense struggle with dangers and difficulties, each of us has an angel to guide him because we would otherwise not be able to make it on our own.

The first lesson to draw from the fact we have Guardian Angels is one must have a supernatural spirit or outlook. The Cistercian abbot Dom Chautard condemned the erroneous attitude of one who thinks: I am very capable, very intelligent, resourceful, and, above all, very proud. I can fend for myself with my great qualities, as long as God keeps away from me those very large obstacles. I do not need God’s help in my spiritual or material life. I can take care of myself and accomplish what I need to do by myself.

There is something fundamentally wrong in this attitude. God Himself delegated an angel to accompany and protect each of us precisely because we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. The fact that we are given an angel is a proof that we need God’s help at every moment, in everything, even those small things, that we do.

On the other hand, the Guardian Angel is usually presented as the protector of little
children. Sentimentality has distorted all devotions, holy cards and pictures showing the angel watching over a small child. What is implicitly conveyed is that, first, only toddlers need angels; and second, only little children believe in angels.

Those with a more developed, freethinking or liberated mindset neither need nor believe in angels. Such characterizations of the holy angels convey another message. These sentimental holy cards often show a very beautiful little brook with a fat, rosy-cheeked little toddler walking over a bridge. The child is crossing the bridge with a broken board, and about to step in the hole with his little foot. We see the Guardian Angel is watching over him. One has the impression that this is a child’s imaginary world, and with this mentality, the little child crosses the bridge. At best, we could imagine that the Guardian Angel does the same with adults. Thus, comes the idea that we need to pray to our Guardian Angels to avoid car crashes, illnesses, and small accidents since they specialize in preventing us from such sufferings.

No doubt, Guardian Angels do help us with such material needs, but that is not their only task. No one speaks of Guardian Angels helping with spiritual needs. This attitude is consistent with a certain festive piety that many people exhibit when going on pilgrimage to special sanctuaries. What do they ask for? The healing of a sore throat or some wound. The testimonials and petitions compiled in these places of pilgrimage show requests for help for all kinds of strange symptoms, wounds and material requests. Naturally, the pilgrims also ask for money, reconciliation in families, avoiding bad luck and many other things of the same nature yet with little to no reference to spiritual needs.

It’s evident that many have little notion that Guardian Angels are given to us to help with the most important matters: the needs of our soul. The greatest function of our Guardian Angel is to watch over our soul and to obtain graces for us so we can overcome our spiritual difficulties.
What a great a comfort we would have in the hours of tribulation and temptation, those times when we feel all alone weighed down with the problems of our spiritual life, if we would have the certainty that our Guardian Angel is right next to us. Though we cannot see or hear him, he does not leave us even for a second. He is waiting for our prayers to go into action for us. He often acts without our asking, but will act much more if we ask. He is well within our reach.

What a joy it would be to have this in mind when we are involved in the apostolate with others. When we suffer with spiritual problems, annoyances, struggles, abandonment, and difficulties of all kinds, we would know that this solitude is an illusion. Our Guardian Angel is right beside us. Even if we have the impression that the distance between our Guardian Angels and us is greater than between Heaven and Earth, the truth is that they are extremely close to us. As we pray to them and ask for their help, they will watch over and protect us. Having this present in our thoughts at every moment should encourage us in our spiritual life. We should feel a great satisfaction and sense God’s hand accompanying us at each step in our spiritual and material life.

This illustrates the affirmation of Our Lord in the Gospel that not a hair falls from our head, not a bird dies, or a leaf falls without God willing it. Such a perspective about the angels corresponds to Church teaching on Divine Providence. Because our Guardian Angel is providing and asking for everything we need, we can practice better the virtue of confidence. The assistance the angel provides for us in the hours of danger and trial is not the only assistance he renders. He also prays for us. There is, for example, the famous vision of Daniel in which he sees angels from the ancient empires as if fighting for their respective people before God’s throne. Our angel is our intercessor, advocate and our mediator. He is continuously praying for us. Therefore, the most appropriate thing for us to do is to ask continuously that our Guardian Angel fulfill this function of intercessor to obtain graces for us and drive away temptations and chastisements. This is something we should be doing constantly.

Thus, we have made some considerations that should help us to increase our love for our Guardian Angels, and thus invoke their patronage with greater devotion.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

St. Matilda of Hackeborn: Liturgy and Spirituality

St. Matilda of Hackeborn (1241/1242 - 1298), one of the outstanding figures of the German convent of Helfta, was the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis during his general audience, which took place this morning in St. Peter's Square.

Matilda was daughter of the barons of Hackeborn. At an early age she entered the convent of Helfta where her sister, St. Gertrude, was abbess for forty years. Gertrude gave "a particular imprint to the spirituality of the convent, causing it to flourish as a centre of mysticism and culture, a place of scientific and theological education". The nuns of Helfta enjoyed "a high level of intellectual learning which enabled them to cultivate a spirituality founded on Sacred Scripture, the liturgy and patristic tradition, and on the Rule and spirituality of the Cistercians".

The main source for Matilda's life is a book written by her sister and entitled "The Book of Special Grace", in which she is described as possessing exalted natural and spiritual qualities such as "science, intelligence, knowledge of human literature, and a voice of great beauty".

While still very young Matilda became the head of the convent school of Helfta, and later director of the choir and mistress of novices. She also possessed "the divine gift of mystic contemplation" and was "a teacher of faithful doctrine and great humility, a counsellor, a consoler and a guide in discernment". For this reason "many people, within the convent but also from elsewhere, ... testified that this holy virgin had freed them from their sufferings and that they had never known such consolation as they had with her", said Benedict XVI.

"During her long life in the convent, Matilda was afflicted by continuous and intense suffering, to which she added her own great penance for the conversion of sinners. In this way she shared in the Lord's passion until the end of her life.

"Prayer and contemplation", the Pope added. "were the vital 'humus' of her life. It was there that her revelations, her teachings, her service to others, and her journey in faith and love had their roots and their context. ... Of the liturgical prayers, Matilda gave particular emphasis to the canonical hours, and to the celebration of Mass especially Holy Communion. ... Her visions, her teachings, and the events of her life are described with expressions evocative of liturgical and biblical language. Thus do we come to appreciate her profound knowledge of Sacred Scripture, which was her daily bread".

This saint, "allowing herself to be guided by Sacred Scripture and nourished by the Eucharistic bread, followed a path of intimate union with the Lord, always maintaining complete fidelity to the Christ. For us too, this is a powerful call to intensify our friendship with the Lord, especially through daily prayer and attentive, faithful and active participation in Mass. The liturgy is a great school of spirituality", the Pope concluded.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Love is the Path to Eternal Life

Before praying the Angelus today Benedict XVI turned his attention to this Sunday's Gospel narrative of the rich man and the poor Lazarus. While the former lives in selfish luxury and, when he dies, goes to hell, Lazarus, who eats the crumbs from the rich man's table, at his death is carried by the angels to an eternal dwelling with God.

"This parable", the Pope told faithful gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, "tells us two things: firstly, that God loves the poor and raises them from their abjection; secondly, that our eternal destiny is dependent upon our behaviour, it is up to us to follow the path God has shown us in order to achieve life, and this path is love, understood not as an emotion but as service to others in the charity of Christ".

The Holy Father then went on to recall the fact that tomorrow marks the feast day and the 350th anniversary of the death of St. Vincent de Paul, patron of Catholic charity organisations. "In seventeenth-century France he personally experienced the great contrast between rich and poor. As a priest he was able to frequent aristocratic circles, the countryside and the deprived areas of Paris. Encouraged by Christ's love, Vincent de Paul organised regular forms of service to the marginalised, creating the ... 'Charitees'; that is, groups of women who dedicated their time and goods to helping the poorest".

In this context, the Pope made specific mention of St. Louise de Marillac who, together with Vincent de Paul, founded the Daughters of Charity, "the first female congregation to live their consecration 'in the world', among the people, serving the sick and the needy".

"Only Love with a capital 'L' brings true happiness!", the Holy Father exclaimed. "This was also made evident by another witness, who was proclaimed blessed here in Rome yesterday. I am talking about Chiara Badano, an Italian girl born in 1971 who died of an illness when she was just under nineteen, but who was a ray of light to everyone, as her nickname says: Chiara Luce".

The beatification of Chiara Badano, who was a member of the Focolari Movement, the Pope concluded, "is a feast day for all young people, who may see in her an example of Christian coherence".