This past Monday should have been a great day for celebrations in Las Vegas. First, because it’s Las Vegas, a city nationally known for recreational gambling, entertainment, and an all around good time. Secondly, and in a more Catholic vein, it was the feast day of the Guardian Angels in a diocese whose cathedral is dedicated to these heavenly advocates.
And yet, Monday saw no celebrations, but only shock and dismay as the city suffered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. A deranged gunman unleashed a storm of bullets upon an innocent audience listening to a sold-out outdoor concert.
The attack resulted in extensive death and serious injury of body and soul. People who attended the musical performance for enjoyment and relaxation became prey to a violent mind and had to flee hysterically for their lives. The video footage reflects the chaos and pandemonium of the event.
How are we to make sense of this atrocious offense against human dignity? How can we explain this vicious strike against the common good?
The skeptic rightly asks: What about those guardian angels? Aren’t they supposed to stop things like this from happening?
The worldview of the skeptic doesn’t expect supernatural intervention and so she doesn’t feel the anxiety of trying to understand or explain tragedy. Good or evil, things just happen. And so, the claims of the believer are particularly unsettling as they appear to be a pretense, an indulgence in fantasy, or an act of denial.
This challenge of skepticism, however, should be welcomed by Christians as it calls us to a process of practical discernment about our fallen world. It leads us to a purification against fideism, which is a blind faith without reason.
In transparency, we can meet the skeptic in the middle as we ourselves are dismayed by senseless and unspeakable evil. Our faith, however, calls us to engage reason, wrestle with darkness, search for glimpses of light, and wait in hope for a better and more peaceful world.
And so, we turn to the mission of the angels. As the traditional prayer says, the guardian angels are at our side “to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
It’s interesting that the prayer doesn’t read: “To prevent evil and deflect suffering, control state of affairs and ensure ease.” In fact, if we look at the actual prayer, we realize that its intentions are not so much about angelic manipulation of our temporal world as they are about a divine work within our own souls. Certainly, angels could directly involve themselves in the world’s affairs, and there are occasions of such activity in the Christian tradition, but the angels are overwhelmingly involved through an internal impulse in people of good will.
The angelic ministry, therefore, is less about external intervention as it is about interior illumination that inspires us to action for positive change in our world.
The angels give us light to know right from wrong and to discern which virtue is called for in which situations. They guard us from despair and darkness. The angels rule us in ordering our worship and prayer, sacrifice and service. They guide us in the ways of God and along the path of love. And so, the angels truly light, guard, rule, and guide the hearts of all people who seek and are open to their assistance.
As we receive this angelic help, we are converted and compelled to become sources of goodness, champions of justice, and instruments of peace. And so, to the skeptic, we can point to the countless acts of heroism in Las Vegas as signs of something greater than ourselves.
The angels were seen on October 2, not in majestic preternatural display, but through the selfless actions of good people who went beyond themselves and their own safety, turned to those around them, and sought to assist and protect their neighbors.
And so, as our fallen world continues to suffer tragedy and violence, more people of good will are needed to be “angels,” to be the voices and instruments of sanity, goodness, and peace.