The Lord spoke to Moses and the people during their journey across the desert desert: ‘I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him.
But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. My angel will go in front of you.'
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
"Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?"
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."
The concept of a guardian angel is of a tutelary spirit assigned by God to watch over, protect and guide us. While belief in guardian angels can be traced through antiquity, the concept of personal angels guarding each believer was much developed in the middle ages as part of the Church's devotional tradition. It is a colourful expression of the belief in a personal Divine providential care as taught by Jesus: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Mt 10:30) "If God so clothes the grass that blooms today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more you, O ye of little faith?" (Lk 6:28).
In the Gospel, angels are envoys between God and human beings; and the words of Jesus make this belief more personal: "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10). The idea of guardian angels is also implied in Hb 1:14, "Are they not ministering spirits, serving those who shall be heirs of salvation?" We are told that an angel escorted saint Peter out of prison (Acts 12:12ff). Another instance is the angel who comforted Christ in the garden, during his agony on the eve of his Passion.
According to Saint Jerome, "how great the dignity of the soul, since each has from his birth an angel to guard it." Scholastic theologians speculated much about the angel guardians, which led perhaps to some mockery by those who find the whole notion fanciful. This feast was not in the breviary until the 17th century when Clement X made the Feast of Guardian Angels a feast for the whole Latin Church to be celebrated on October 2nd.
A verse in the letter to the Hebrews says, "do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it." The author seems to be saying that there can be more to those who cross our path in life than we realize. Jesus makes the same point in today's gospel when he says, "anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me." In the world of Jesus, the child had no social status or position. Yet, Jesus declares to his disciples that in welcoming the least, like little children, they are welcoming him. He comes to them in and through the least. This is a sobering lesson for the disciples who have just been arguing over which of them was the greatest.
Not only do we welcome Jesus when we welcome a child, but he also declares that unless we become like children we will never enter the kingdom of God. Instead of the grasping attitude the disciples had just shown in arguing over which of them was the greatest, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven we must possess something of the open, receptive attitude of children who depend totally on others. Jesus is saying that only those who admit their littleness and put their trust in God will enter the kingdom of heaven.