Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels
Today’s Gospel account brings to mind the challenge that Baptism must have been for the early Christians. In a way, it is still a challenge for us today.
We have no doubt that as the sacramental system was unfolding in the history of the Church, there must have been some who asked whether it was right to baptize children/infants. Jesus often had spoken of the choice that he expected his followers to make. “If you would be perfect, sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me. (Mt 19:21)” That citation seems to require an adult choice to become a follower of Jesus.
Others were asking whether or not it was possible to return to union in the Church after one’s betrayal through apostasy. Was forgiveness possible without a “re-baptism”?
In the search for answers, new pragmatic policies would be determined by the Church’s magisterium. For example, once baptized, even after apostasy, “yes,” one could return to the flock…following periods and practices of penance.
Or, “yes,” infants and children could receive baptism because as a sacrament, it is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church which gives the sacramental character to the child or infant, and not the action of the child which confers/gifts the sacrament of baptism to himself/herself.
Out of this sense of baptism as “conferred upon the individual by the Church,” came the baptismal understanding of the expression “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus was not saying that we should be naïve and irresponsible, infantile, as His followers; but that just as children are best cared for by the provident love of their parents, and just as the family has the primary responsibility of nurturing the life of the child, so a member of the Body of Christ should live under the provident love of God and the surrounding care of the Church.
It was in this context of the care derived from the community and the divine oversight which would guide the newly baptized into their full participation in the life of the Church that Jesus’ words about Guardian Angels are derived. No longer speaking of little children (paidion), he speaks of the “little ones” (micron), i.e., those who are new to the faith, as being watched over by the angels of God in heaven.
Whether we associate Guardian Angels with infants and children, or with those who are beginning their lives in the Church, we celebrate today the wonderful interaction of love and concern which is showered upon us by those who bring us to the Faith, who baptize us in the Faith, and who guide us in our discipleship of Jesus.
Father Arthur Carrillo, C.P., is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.