SERMON: On Divine Providence And The Guardian Angels by Gerard Manley Hopkins

guardian angel icon

Notes — God knows infinite things, all things, and heeds them all in particular. We cannot “do two things at once,” that is cannot give our full heed and attention to two things at once. God heeds all things at once. He takes more interest in a merchant’s business than the merchant, in a vessel’s steering than the pilot, in a lover’s sweetheart than the lover, in a sick man’s pain than the sufferer, in our salvation than we ourselves. The hairs of our heads are numbered before him. He heeds all things and cares about all things, but not alike; he does not care for nor love nor provide for all alike, not for little things so much as great, brutes as men, the bad as the good, the reprobate who will not come to him as the elect who will. It was his law that the ox should not be muzzled that trod out the corn, but this provision was made for an example to men, not for the sake of the beast; for: Does God care for oxen? asks Saint Paul; that is to say, compared with his care for men he does not care for them. Yet he does care for them and for every bird and beast and finds them their food. Not a sparrow, our Lord says, falls to the ground without your father, that is/without his noticing and allowing and meaning it. But we men, he added, are worth many, that is/any number of, sparrows. So then God heeds all things and cares and provides for all things but for us men he cares most and provides best.

Therefore all the things we see are made and provided for us, the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies to light us, warm us, and be measures to us of time; coal and rockoil for artificial light and heat; animals and vegetables for our food and clothing; rain, wind and snow again to make these bear and yield their tribute to us; water and the juices of plants for our drink; air for our breathing; stone and timber for our lodging; metals for our tools and traffic; the songs of birds, flower and their smells and colors, fruits and their taste for our enjoyment. And so on: search the whole world and you will find it a million-million fold contrivance of providence planned for our use and patterned for our admiration.

But yet this providence is imperfect, plainly imperfect. The sun shines too long and withers the harvest, the rain is too heavy and rots it or in floods spreading washes it away; the air and water carry in their currents the poison of disease; there are poison plants, venomous snakes and scorpions; the beasts our subjects rebel, not only the bloodthirsty tiger that slaughters yearly its thousands, but even the bull will gore and the stallion bite or strike; at night the moon sometimes has no light to give, at others the clouds darken her; she measures time most strangely and gives us reckonings most difficult to make and never exact enough; the coalpits and oilwells are full of explosions, fires, and outbreaks of sudden death, the sea of storms and wrecks, the snow has avalanches, the Earth landslips; we contend with cold, want, weakness, hunger, disease, death, and often we fight a losing battle, never a triumphant one; everything is full of fault, flaw, imperfection, shortcoming; as many marks as there are of God’s wisdom in providing for us so many marks there may be set against them of more being needed still, of something having made of this very providence a shattered frame and a broken web.

Let us not now enquire, brethren, why this should be; we most sadly feel and know that so it is. But there is good in it; for if we were not forced from time-to-time to feel our need of God and our dependence on him, we should most of us cease to pray to him and to thank him. If he did everything we should treat him as though he did nothing, whereas now that he does not do all we are brought to remember how much he does and to ask for more. And God desires nothing so much as that his creatures should have recourse to him.

But there is one great means he has provided for every one of us to make up for the shortcomings of his general and common providence. This great and special providence is the giving each of us his guardian angel. He has given, the Scripture says, his angels commands about thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. And we learn from what our Lord said to his disciples that every child, that every human being, however low and of little account, is given in charge to a blessed and heavenly spirit, a guardian angel: Beware, said he, of despising one of these little ones (which means not only children but all who are in any other way little of or little account): I tell you their angels always see the face of my father in Heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

Consider, brethren, what a wonderful honor this is. We men are cared for by angels, fallen men by blissful spirits; we who are so full of the miseries of the flesh that we cannot bear at times to be in each other’s presence are watched without ceasing by these glorious beings, and while they have us poor wretches in their sight they are at the same time gazing on the face of God. How much does God make of us when he will have his very courtiers, those who are about his throne, to look after us men, even the lowest amongst us! It may fill us with shame to be so honored; it may also fill us with shame to think how we are watched and seen, for there is nothing we do but comes under the eye not of God only but of another witness besides, our guardian angel. He counts all our steps, he knows every hair of our heads, he is witness of all our good deeds and all our evil; he sees all and remembers all. Even our hearts he searches, for he sees them in the light of God’s knowledge and God reveals to him all that can be of service to him in his charge and duty of leading the human being entrusted to him to the kingdom of Heaven. But thought he knows and remembers all the harm we have done he will not be our accuser; where he cannot help us he will be silent; he will speak but of our right deeds and plead in our defense all the good he has observed in us. His whole duty is to help us to be saved, to help us both in body and soul. We shall do well therefore to be ashamed of ourselves before our guardian angel, but not to have no other feelings than shame and dread towards him; for he is our good faithful and charitable friend, who never did and never could sleep one moment at his post, neglect the least thing that could be of service to us, or leave a stone unturned to help us all the days that we have been in his keeping. We should deeply trust him, we should reverence and love him, and often ask his aid.

Here, brethren, I must meet an objection which may be working on your minds. If everyone has so watchful and so strong a keeper at his side why is there such a thing as sudden death, as catching fever, as taking poison by mistake, as being shot or any way injured, even as a stumble or a fall, a scald or a sprain? What are the guardian angels doing that they let such things be? — To begin with, many mischiefs that might befall us our guardian angels do ward off from us: that is the first answer to be made. Next their power over us depends in part on the power we give them and by willingly putting ourselves into their hands, by expressly asking them to help us, we enable them to do so; for always God’s special providences are for his special servants. They are not to save us from all the consequences of our own wickedness or folly or even from the wickedness and folly of other men; for we are our own masters, are free to act and then must take the consequences; moreover man is his brother’s keeper and may be well or ill kept, as Abel was by wicked Cain not kept but killed. But the fullest answer is this — that in appointing us guardian angels God never meant they should make us proof against all the ills that flesh is heir to, that would have been to put us in some sort back into the state of Paradise which we have lost; but he meant them, accompanying us through this world of evil and mischance, sometimes warding off its blows and buffets, sometimes leaving them to fall, always to be leading us to a better; which better world, my brethren, when you have reached and with your own eyes opened look back on this you will see a work of wonderful wisdom in the guidance of your guardian angel. In the meantime God’s providence is dark and we cannot hope to know the why and wherefore of all that is allowed to befall us.

However, my brethren, to confirm men’s faith in God’s providence through the guardian angels a record has been left in writing for us, the Book of Tobias. The Book of Job shows us the power of the fallen angel, of Satan, the Book of Tobias that of the holy angel, Saint Raphael; and both alike justify God’s providence over his servants. We learn from one passage of this book what are the principal services which our guardian angels render us: He has led me, says young Tobias (12:3), both going and coming, safe; it was he that received the money from Gabelus; it was he that procured me my wife and restrained the evil spirit from its power over; he gave joy to her parents; me he delivered from being devoured by the fish, thee too he has made to see the light of Heaven; and with all good we have been filled him. The guardian angels then (1) lead us in the way of salvation, conversing with us on the way, not that our ears hear them, but that many a good inspiration by which we are guided the right way or kept from the wrong comes from them. (2) They help us in our worldly business, even in money matters. (3) They bring about happy marriages. (4) They control the power of the Devil over us. (5) They give spiritual joy. (6) They save us from death and heal us in disease. And (7) we learn from the words of Saint Raphael himself that they offer our prayers to God.

Some words on devotion to our guardian angels.

Laus Deo simper (Praise to God always).

2 Comments on SERMON: On Divine Providence And The Guardian Angels by Gerard Manley Hopkins

  1. There is definately a great deal to know about this topic.

    I really like all the points you made.


    • Bill, I did not write this sermon. It was written by an English priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins. He lived in the 1800’s. It was kind of you to give me credit for that man’s brilliance.

      He was a poet, and I strongly advise you to find some. (Some can be found on this website, in fact.)

      Be well. Thank you for writing.


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