Earlier this month, I was in Washington, DC for several days on business. The hotel where they put me up was a fairly short walk from one of my favorite churches: St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill. I stopped in for the 8am Mass on a beautiful, sunny, Tuesday morning. It was a wonderful way to begin what would be a long and productive day of work.
The interesting thing about St. Joseph’s is its location. When you step out
the front door and look across the street to the left, the U.S. Capitol is literally right there. The Hart Senate Office Building is about a half-block walk. (A plaque in the church entryway explains that Robert Kennedy was a regular worshiper here when he was in Congress.)
I didn’t recognize any Kennedys on this trip, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if some of the people there were members of congress or their staffers. I did immediately recognize one person in the congregation, however: Justice Clarence Thomas. He was several rows directly behind me. Sitting next to him was a somewhat younger, professional-looking woman I didn’t recognize. I assumed she was a court clerk or staff attorney. I don’t think she was part of a security detail, because the Justice let her go ahead of him in line for Communion, and her whole focus was on the sacrament.
Soon after Mass, both of them exited the back of the church. Out of curiosity, I stood on the steps to see what would happen next. The Supreme Court building is only two blocks from the church, and it looked like they’d be walking. Behind both of them was a youngish-looking, very tall black man in a dark suit. I couldn’t see an earpiece from that distance, but everything about him screamed “Secret Service.” As Justice Thomas and the woman crossed C Street, the agent walked right behind them with extreme situational awareness. His head was constantly moving, scanning for potential threats. As it was now 8:30am or so, the streets and sidewalks were bustling with morning commuters; there was plenty to be attentive to. The little group reached the opposite sidewalk, and continued walking toward the Court, with the agent hovering behind them. Just another late-winter morning in Washington, DC.
Having seen enough, I went back in the church to pray for a few minutes. I kept thinking about the Secret Service agent, and how protectively he had been watching over the Justice. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if everyone could have that kind of security?
Then, an instant later, I realized: You know, we already do. Every one of us has a guardian angel, who watches over us with even greater situational awareness than an entire team of elite security guards. Thinking about what I’d seen outside the church, it struck me that the scene was very similar to an iconic illustration that each of us has probably seen a thousand times:
It’s a shame that, because we can’t see that guardian angel, we so often forget that he’s even there. But he is, and he’s “got our back” even better than the best Secret Service agent could. Perhaps today, we could make a resolution to do a better job remembering his presence and invoking his assistance.