A little child is born into this world and as it opens its eyes for the first time to God’s blessed light, swiftly a heavenly messenger descends and unseen how – often too unthought of – takes his place beside the cot of that tiny babe. He hath given His angels charge over us, to guide us, to guard and shelter us from dangers, to lead us safely through this world of sin and bring us to the throne prepared for us in heaven. Ever beside us our faithful angel stays. We heed him not; his spotless purity, his majestic dignity, checks us not in our career of sin; but could we see our guardian spirit when passion urges us on, the sight would check our downward path.
COMMENT: If today were not a Sunday we would be celebrating the feast of the Guardian Angels. Too often we can fall into the trap of thinking that guardian angels are for children, and can ourselves forget their close companionship and protection.
Fr Doyle had a lively sense of his angel’s closeness. Commenting on an outdoor Mass at the Front in a letter home to his father he said:
I had never celebrated Mass in the open before, and I think the men were as much impressed as I was. It was a glorious morning with just a sufficient spice of danger to give the necessary warlike touch to the picture by the presence of a German aeroplane scouting near at hand. I was a wee bit anxious lest a bomb might come down in the middle of the men, but I fancy our unwelcome visitor had quite enough to do, dodging the shells from our guns which kept booming all during Mass ; besides I felt confident that for once our guardian angels would do their duty and protect us all till Mass was over.
And on another occasion he comments on the danger he faced when burying a dead soldier in a dangerous spot at night:
As soon as it was dark we carried the poor fellow out on a stretcher, just as he had fallen, and as quietly as we could began to dig the grave. It was weird. We were standing in front of the German trenches on two sides, though a fair distance away, and every now and then a star-shell went up which we felt certain would reveal our presence to the enemy. I put my ritual in the bottom of my hat and with the aid of an electric torch read the burial service, while the men screened the light with their caps, for a single flash would have turned the machine guns on us. I cannot say if we were seen or not, but all the time bullets came whizzing by, though more than likely stray ones and not aimed at us. Once I had to get the men to lie down as things were rather warm (dangerous); but somehow I felt quite safe, as if the dead soldiers guardian angel was sheltering us from all danger, till the poor dust was laid to rest. It was my first war burial though assuredly not my last. May God rest his soul and comfort those left to mourn him.
And here Fr Doyle recounts how his guardian angel helped save him from a poison gas attack:
I saw both right and left of where I stood the green wave of a second gas attack rolling towards me like some huge spectre stretching out its ghostly arms. As I saw it coming, my heart went out to God in one fervent act of gratitude for His goodness to me. As probably you know we all carry smoke helmets slung over our shoulders in a case, to be used against a gas attack. That morning as I was leaving my dugout I threw my helmet aside. I had a fairly long walk before me, the helmet is a bit heavy on a hot day, and as I said, German gas was most unlikely. So I made up my mind to leave it behind. In view of what happened, it may appear imagination now, but a voice seemed to whisper loudly in my ear: “Take your helmet with you; don t leave without it”. I turned back and slung it over my shoulder. Surely it was the warning voice of my guardian angel, for if I had not done so, you would never have had this letter.
Later on, recounting the above close escape, he further noted: “Some invisible, almost physical, force turned me back to get my helmet”.
Devotion to the guardian angels is not unique to Fr Doyle; many saints and holy people had a similar devotion and felt that they were saved from danger by their intervention.
St Josemaria Escriva, who first “saw” Opus Dei on this feast day in 1928, had great devotion to his guardian angel and felt that he was saved from physical danger on several occasion by his intervention. St Pio of Pietrelcina had a lively devotion to his angel who provided many favours for him throughout this life. St Francis de Sales greeted the angel of each town he passed through and gave this advice:
Seek to be familiar with the Angels; learn to realise that they are continually present, although invisible. Specially love and revere the Guardian Angel of the Diocese in which you live, those of the friends who surround you, and your own. Commune with them frequently, join in their songs of praise, and seek their protection and help in all you do, spiritual or temporal.
The missionary Bishop Alain-Marie de Boismenu, who did so much heroic work in New Guinea and who died in 1953 had this to say of the angels:
By nature equal to the demons, the Holy Angels have the advantage of grace. They expose the adversary’s ruses and schemes. None of the dangers that confront us escapes their notice. They remove them, sometimes instantaneously. They always warn us about them, and is we wish, powerfully help us to confront them, calming our passions, enlightening our intelligence, strengthening our will, and uniting themselves with us to obtain an increase in grace and strength. Happy to serve God by serving us, their service is a service of love. For our dear Angels love us with a friendship that goes beyond our dreams. Knowing precisely the price paid for our souls, they desire their salvation more passionately than Satan desires their loss…Ah! If our faith were more simple, and we had a more lively sense of the presence of our angels, of their love, of the value of their services! If we were more attentive to their inspirations, more ready to call on them and more confident of their help, what a strength for ourselves and for our ministry!
There is a curious renewed interest in angels in contemporary spirituality, but much of this is of a distorted, New Age variety. May we all learn an authentic devotion to the angels from the example of Fr Doyle and from the saints.