October 02, 2012

MISSION MATTERS: Butterfly People

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Since the 16th century, guardian angels have been something of a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church. With prayers dedicated to them and thanks given to them, these "angels," outside our view and touch perhaps, nonetheless traditionally guard and protect us from evil and harm, and they guide and guard us.

We each, purportedly, have our own protector, individually and, in some cases, as members of larger groups. Whether you "believe" in guardian angels or not, we can perhaps see guardian angels as an opportunity to allow the grace of God to work for us, to work with us, to work in us. Some people pray this prayer regularly, before going to bed, before traveling, perhaps just because ...

Angel sent by God to guide me,
Be my light and walk beside me,
Be my guardian and protect me,
On the paths of life direct me.

Some people in Joplin certainly give new credence to this possibility ...

On this Feast of the Guardian Angels, here are their stories. Do you have one, as well?


In May, now more than a year ago, a massive tornado slammed into Joplin, Mo., killing more than 150 people, injuring hundreds more and destroying much of the city. The survivors still struggle with the deaths and their own inability to comprehend this disaster. They have tried to get back to their "normal" lives ... they have tried, some with more success than others, to move on.

In the aftermath of this storm, many young survivors began to relate stories that might challenge an adult's explanation of what it means to survive, to be cared for and protected. Many children who were found safe and unhurt reported being protected by "butterfly people." These stories became so numerous and consistent that many people began to wonder if something divine may have happened in this terrible storm.

You might want to draw your own conclusions after reading some of the stories reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and CO Helping MO, but, consider if you will.

As we grow and mature, we're usually told we need to leave some of our "childish" ways behind. One of these "childish" ways may be our openness to being amazed ... of accepting that things outside our "normal," beyond our "rational," may actually happen. As we become adults, we often find it harder to see or appreciate the real wonders of the world. We lose our appreciation of the mystical and magical.

Our own diminishing appreciation is not proof that the mystical or magic does not happen, it just means we adults have a hard time dealing with its existence. Yet, we spend billions of dollars to discover sub-atomic particles we think should exist ... or that life exists or did exist or even could exist on Mars or any number of other planets or galaxies. And we call this a rational or adult approach to understanding, even though these attempts to know demand that we use our imaginations to further our knowledge.

St. Ignatius, and most recently the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, reminds us that imagination is an important tool to use in knowing. Imagination helps us go beyond our limited knowledge and gives us the opportunity to explore far beyond our present understanding. Through this freedom from human constraints, we can be lead to more knowledge of our world, to greater knowledge of God.

Maybe we can read the stories from Joplin about butterfly people in a new light. These may be reports from children, but these stories can help us recover some of our own sense of wonder, our own appreciation of imagination, and they also can challenge us to look at the simple truth that God's love for us comes in many forms. And, for some of us, this love and presence of God may come in the presences of other people, or even, butterfly people.

So, did butterfly people protect the children of Joplin? (They certainly believe it.) Do guardian angels exist? Good questions, both...

Imagine the possibilities ... A. M. D. G.

P. Stark, SJ
D. Highberger, SJ

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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