Saturday, October 31, 2009

Guardian Angels: A Special One

From the book, Tales from the Emerald Isle, by Henry Austin

When I was a young boy of five years of age, my mother took me by the hand for my first day at school. When we arrived at the school gates she kissed me, and told me that I had a guardian angel on one side of me, who would protect me from all harm. My innocent response was to ask her what was on the other side. “That’s the bad angel”,she replied. With my curiosity growing by the second, I then asked.“If one is bad ma, and the other is good, what are they doing going around with each other?”

“One is there to get you into trouble, and the other is there to get you out of it.” With these words indelibly printed in my mind I began my school years. But it would be many more years before I would appreciate the wisdom of her words.

At twelve years of age, and with the minimum amount of education, I finished school, and began life’s journey in earnest. At fourteen years of age I became a victim of larceny, when I had my youth stolen from me by Mr Booze. In the years that I spent incarcerated in alcohol’s unique penitentiary I often thought of my mother’s words, and longed for evidence of them, but none was forthcoming.

For some people Guardian Angels are a figment of the imagination. For others, it’s their inner voice, or that part of the mind that always knows the right thing to do, but doesn’t’ always do it. But I never had any doubt, although I did not have any proof. That would come later. But as I made my way through the quagmire of life I was conscious that someone was watching over me. Not alone that, but I felt it was someone very special. Over the years I had noticed that whatever trouble I found myself in was always resolved in my favour, and often against all the odds.

A theory has been put forward that Guardian Angels are in fact the souls of people of good character who have passed on, and have then been assigned by the creator to look after the most vulnerable of society. But it was quite obvious that they would need strong stomachs too. Because their commitment was such that they went everywhere with their charge.

I know that I brought mine into some very nasty situations and places. It was during one of these situations that I finally realised that I had an angel with golden wings looking after me. Many years ago, on one of my sea voyages, and while still in the custody of Mr Booze, I became a guest of the Venezuelan Government, and as a consequence, so did my Guardian Angel.

But instead of a hotel we were put up in the local prison. This was as a consequence of a street brawl in the oil boom town of Matansas. My shipmate Murphy and I drank enough of the local beer to float a ship. Then Murphy, an ex-boxer, decided to take on the local police force single handledly. The result was a foregone conclusion, and we were incarcerated in the local jail. But money can make life, even in the most difficult
circumstances, more tolerable.

With the money Murphy and I had in our possession we were able to bribe the guards, which enabled us to buy our own food. This was much more preferable than the regular prison diet. Which, because of the heat, was infiltrated by cock roaches. In fact if a cock roach did not walk off your plate during your meal, you could complain that you were not being treated equally with the other prisoners. But after the captain of our ship paid the fines we were set free.

But something very strange occurred during our short stay, the significance of which I only realised many years later. Several years after the incident in the prison, I found myself trodding the road of sobriety. And with each step I took, it became clear to me that the bad angel my mother had spoken about, was in fact none other than Mr Booze. But who was the good angel?

But I did not care, because whoever it was, had delivered me from a life of turmoil. Life was sweet once again. But the happiness I was now enjoying was to come to an abrupt end. One night, just over two years ago, I experienced the most excruciating stomach pain I had ever encountered. I went to bed in the hope that it might be gone come the morning. But this was not to be.

I was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. My bowel had burst into my stomach. After three hours of surgery a cancerous growth was removed. But during my recovery in the intensive care unit I had another experience, similar to the one in the prison in Venezuela. From the beginning of what I refer to as my sober years, I had gradually embraced Christianity. But after my latest experience, I held it in a vice like grip.

As I lay in my hospital bed I felt so grateful to be still in the land of the living. Many thoughts flashed through my mind. Visions of my lost youth, as I became more and more submerged in a sea of alcohol. I thought of the many strange and unexplained happenings that had occurred in my life, and my mother’s words now had a sense of realism attached to them.

I became curious about the phenomenon of Guardian Angels, and deep inside I longed to know who mine was. When my surgical wounds had healed sufficiently, and to expedite my recovery, I began walking the mountain roads and woodlands of County Wicklow. I had always believed that nature was the work of the creator, and the exquisite beauty of County Wicklow re-enforced this view.

I also believed that for a brief moment each day heaven and earth became so close, that the feeling is almost palpable. With all of these thoughts pervading my mind I set about proving my theory. If I was correct, I might even find out who had been watching over me for all those years. One day in late Autumn I made my way to the picturesque village of Eniskerry. After I had re-enforced myself with a mug of coffee, I began my walk toward Djous woods.

I timed it so that I would arrive in the woods at around dusk. As I walked I allowed my mind to wander back to the golden days of my boyhood years, before I was captured by Mr Booze. This always had the effect of removing the physicality from my journey. As I walked I noticed the breeze was beginning to freshen. After walking for about forty minutes, and with darkness descending, I was in touching distance of my destination.

I noticed a man walking a couple of hundred yards ahead of me. How I did not see him earlier, I don’t know. When he got to the entrance to the woods he turned around and looked at me. But in the semi darkness I could not clearly see his facial features. Unusually though, he seemed to be dressed in a style from a bygone age. By the time I arrived at the entrance he was at the far end of the car park, at the entrance to the woods.

He once again turned and faced me, only this time he raised his hand and waved at me. Suddenly the breath of heaven parted the top branches of the trees, and allowed the early moon to light up his face. I was seriously taken aback. I hurriedly ran towards him, but by the time I got to where he had been standing, he had disappeared into the eerie darkness of the woods. Shocked, I sat down on a bench to collect my thoughts. But I had no doubt whatsoever about what I had just seen.

It was the face of the man I had seen in the prison many years earlier, and who had shown me kindness. It was also the face of the individual who stood in the corner of the intensive care unit after my surgery, and who had kept his eyes fixed on me during the worst moments of my recovery. But even more importantly, it was the face on the cover of an old mass card that I had recently discovered in my departed father’s possessions. That man’s name was Matt Talbot.

Copyright 2009 Henry Austin


Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Church is a 'School for Sinner'"

On the YAHOO! ANSWERS website, the question was asked, "St. Augustine said that the Church is a 'school for sinners.' What did he mean by that? Give examples please."

Below is an answerer's response, including references to St. Francis and Matt Talbot.

"This quote of St. Augustine's is intended to show that the Church is a place where people can go to change their life from sin and toward holiness. The Church has the power and authority to guide and help a person become holier. A common misconception of Catholic and other Christian churches is that the people in them should be perfect. This is not the case. St. Augustine recognized that when Jesus said he came to help the sinner and sick, not the righteous or healthy, this meant that the Christian way of life helps people become holier, but that this process can take a lifetime.

In this way, the Church is like a school, where God provides life lessons that enable a person to make choices to do God's will and to learn from their mistakes. As a sinner, say a person has the habit of stealing. Through prayer and the sacraments, like Reconciliation, the person can draw on grace and change their habits. The vice can be changed, through God's grace acting in the person, to virtue. Merely by accepting Jesus as Lord does not mean their bad habits go away. Rather, continued participation in the Church gives people the chance to open themselves to God's grace, which will then show in their changed lives and attitudes. The Church helps us "put on the new man" which is Christ (as St. Paul notes).

God provided the Church as a way to carry on His work in His name, and with His authority. The sinner participates in the Church, which has the power and tools, such as the sacraments, which bestow God's grace on the sinner. In the Church, the sinner has assurance that he or she is receiving grace to help them grow and mature in holiness. Outside the church, a person "may" receive grace, but there is not an assurance. Only through the Church does God assure that there is guidance without error.

The lives of the saints are excellent examples of this schooling process. For each saint, like us, there were crosses (weaknesses) to bear. Some were physical and some were spiritual. By turning to God in his Church, each saint confronted himself/herself and overcame their vices, sins, and weaknesses. God's grace did the work in the person, and the Church provided the opportunities to administer the grace and provide the knowledge a person needs to know God and open his or her life to Him.

Saint Francis for example, was young and sometimes vain man. His conversion transformed him over time to become humble and to serve the poor and needy.

Other people, like Matt Talbot of Ireland, changed from vices like alcoholism to become en example of holiness. Matt Talbot is not a saint yet, but is up for canonization.

As St. Augustine noted, The Church acts as a school for sinners, giving them assured channels of grace, the knowledge of God and themselves, to become holy and better people."