Hearing the news about the Las Vegas massacre on the morning of the Feast of the Guardian Angels was both horrifying and ironic.
Early Monday morning, my husband and I helplessly took our kids to Mass to pray for the victims and for all of those who had lost loved ones. The presiding priest addressed the feast day, but he had obviously not yet heard the news of the concert shooting. He preached about the guardian angels nonchalantly and joyfully, and while I said my thankful prayers for the guidance and protection of my own heavenly companion, I wondered if I would have felt differently about the whole idea of these appointed celestial friends if I had known or lost someone dear to me in the previous night’s tragedy. Where were their guardian angels? Why didn’t they cause some kind of traffic jam to keep their “assignments” from making it to the concert? Why couldn’t they have conjured up a plane delay or even a stomach bug to delay or prevent their attendance? At the limit, why couldn’t they have redirected those hate-filled bullets, acting as bodyguards for the humans they were sent to protect? What is the point in being a guardian, really?
While I know that this is an overly simplistic view of the guardian angels, and I am aware that this question is an extrapolation of the problem of evil writ large, I added to my growing list of regrets that this terrible tragedy would be a stumbling block to faith in all regards, and in a particular way, the faith we place in our own guardian angels.
Then, I remembered the time I heard my good friend Father Steve Grunow explain the role of St. Michael the Archangel to a mother who had lost her beloved child tragically, a mother who had prayed daily without fail for St. Michael to protect and defend all of her children, to keep them safe from the forces of evil. Father Steve said that when we pray to St. Michael or to our own guardian angels, we must remember that their chief goal is not to preserve our earthly life, to step in the way of our choices or the choices of those around us, but to lead us safely into the arms of Christ when, upon our death, Satan struggles to obtain our souls for himself. St. Michael battles on our behalf on this earth, he said, but his primary assignment is after this life ends. Keeping us “alive,” is not his highest good, nor is being alive ours. His greatest mission is to allow us to truly live, to win us for Christ, to fight on our behalf at the moment of death and to stand athwart the dark power of the Accuser. Our true faith in him resides in a place and time beyond our understanding and existence, in those moments after our own death.
I think that the same could be said of the guardian angels.
As a new mother, I can hardly imagine anything worse than losing a child, especially in the senseless, tragic, hate-fueled, preventable way that the lives of victims of the Las Vegas massacre were taken. Daily, I do my best to “secure” and “protect” my children, to keep them alive, to act as a guardian and fend off any and all threats to their physical person and earthly existence. And, while this is a good thing, this situation in Las Vegas has tragically made me more aware of the fact that my children’s being is contingent upon so many things out of my control. The great gift of free will allows the reality of sin and all of its accoutrements, all of the sadness and loss that is part of our lives this side of heaven. The greatest joy is only attainable with the freedom to choose it, and thus, evil exists and affects all of our lives. We live with the consequences of our own choices and with those of every other member of the Body of Christ, every other inhabitant of this world. My measure of success as a mother, then, is not in keeping my children alive, but in directing them to Christ in the small amount of time with which I am entrusted with their precious souls so that they can truly live. And if that’s the best I can do as a “guardian”, how much more perfectly can my guardian angel carry out this task, should I request his assistance?
Today, we pray fervently and with deep sorrow for those who lost their lives in the recent horrors and for those who will feel this loss most acutely, who will suffer through the intense grief of having to live without their loved one. And in the wake of the Feast of the Guardian Angels, we pray in thanksgiving for those 58 guardian angels, walking hand-in-hand with their coupled soul toward Christ, handing them over to his embrace and fighting all that is dark so that in the last moment of their earthly existence they might come to know the glory of Christ’s eternal light.