Isn't your guardian angel supposed to "guard" you? You remember the old prayer? "Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, rule and guide."
"Light and guard"? Well, maybe not. Or at least maybe not always, according to Pope Benedict, who surmised wryly that perhaps his guardian angel was not negligent in preventing the pontiff's broken wrist, but actually "following superior orders," in order to teach the pope humility. That's according to this story on AP. "Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that his guardian angel was clearly acting 'on superior orders' when he let the pontiff fall and break his wrist this month. The 82-year-old pope said in a lighthearted tone that: 'Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me more patience and humility, give me more time for prayer and meditation,' the pope added. The pope thanked law enforcement officials for being 'like angels,' as he prepared to depart Les Combes, the Alpine resort where he tripped and hurt his right wrist about 10 days ago while on vacation. 'Unfortunately, my own guardian angel did not prevent my injury, certainly following superior orders,' Benedict said."
It's wonderful to see the pope speaking lightheartedly, and, moreover, in such a self-deprecatory way. (When was the last time a public figure--who wasn't caught in a scandal or under indictment--say that he needed a lesson in humility?) The vagaries of life are a great teacher of humility. St. John Berchmans, a Jesuit who died quite young, said, "Vita communis est mea maxima penitentia." Or life in common--that is the common, daily life of every man and woman--is my greatest penance. (Some Jesuit wags believe that via communis is better translated as Jesuit community life, but we'll leave that for another blog post.) And when the Trappist monk Thomas Merton was asked if he "mortified" himself (that is, subjected himself to extreme physical penances) he said, in essence, life is mortifying enough. So Benedict's broken wrist is an example of how life's struggles can teach us. Sometimes.
All the same, I prefer my guardian angels to guard, thanks very much. And I'll take some light, while they're at it.
James Martin, SJ