“Do you believe in angels?” I hope so! Angels are part of the dogma or fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church. The other Christian denominations believe in angels, as do our Jewish brothers and sisters. And so do Muslims. In fact, all the major religions of the world acknowledge the existence of angels in one form or fashion.
Last Thursday was the Feast Day of the three Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. And today we celebrate the Feast Day of the Guardian Angels. Angels are spiritual beings created by God to act as ministers for God. Comes from the Greek word angelos, meaning messenger. Throughout Scripture, we see that angels play a crucial role in salvation history as messengers and ministers of God and His love for us.
It was an angel who appeared to Zechariah and told him that he and Elizabeth were going to have a child, despite their old age and infertility. “I am Gabriel who stands before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news,” proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. The same Archangel was sent by God to the town of Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary, foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ.
Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to get out of there because Herod was going to kill all the newborn boys. Years later, Jesus would be tempted in the desert for forty days, and angels came and ministered to him. At his Passion, an angel comforted Jesus during the Agony in the Garden. And when Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb, it was an angel who rolled back the stone and announced his resurrection.
Each angel is a unique spiritual being who has the free will to love and serve its Creator, or to reject Him, just as we do. The Church teaches there is a multitude of fallen angels and Lucifer is chief among them. Lucifer was a powerful archangel whose pride caused him to reject God. This is why we also refer him to as Satan, which means adversary, or to oppose, and that’s precisely why these angels fell. Their fall from grace is the result of radically and irrevocably rejecting God and His reign. Those humans who radically and irrevocably reject God run a high risk of spending eternity with those who oppose Him.
Since the beginning of humanity, fallen angels, or demons as we call them, prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls. They use lies and deception to lure us into rejecting our Creator. They are the source of our temptations. No human is spared temptation, not even Jesus. But just as they attempt to influence our thoughts and actions, so do our guardian angels. In His divine providence, God has assigned a guardian angel to each of us. Our guardian angels keep the demons at bay, they help us overcome temptation, and they give us strength to get up when we fall down. Guardian angels are a tremendous source of comfort and protection, and they aid us in our spiritual growth.
We, of course, do not worship angels, but we hold them in high esteem, like we do saints. Devotion to guardian angels is not a Catholic invention. In the Old Testament, for example, God told Moses, “Behold, I will send my angel who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared.” Reference to guardian angels is also found in the Psalms. “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Thanks be to God, from infancy to death, human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession of angels. The angels are a manifestation of the enduring love and providential care God the Father extends to each one of us, day in and day out. St. Jerome said, “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.”
Jesus himself speaks of the influence of guardian angels when he warns those who would harm the children. “See that you do not despise one of the little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” As parents, this gives us a sense of peace knowing that God has created and assigned a specific angel to protect each of our little ones from danger. But guardian angels are not just for children. As adults, we would do well to remember that our guardian angels are with us from birth to death. And we should never hesitate to call up them for protection and support.
Sometimes we talk about an angel on our shoulder whispering in our ear, trying to influence our actions. When we say “the devil made me do it”, we are saying that we allowed one of the fallen angels to influence us towards evil. In the same way, our guardian angel is on the other shoulder, whispering in our other ear, influencing us to do the right thing. Angels, good and bad, can and most certainly do influence our imagination and our conscious, but they will never overcome our free will. We are still ultimately responsible for the decisions we make.
When I was little, my grandmother would always talk about our guardian angels and she taught me that little prayer most of us know:
Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, rule and guide.
I remember wanting to give my guardian angel a name and I wondered whether mine was male or female. Actually, they are neither. There is no gender distinction among angels because they have no bodies; they are purely spiritual beings. The practice of naming angels is formally discouraged by Rome, except for the archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.
When a friend or family member dies, especially a child, we often say that they have become our guardian angel. It’s a popular notion and a comforting image for grieving families, but theologically, it’s not correct. Angels and humans are separate and distinct. Angels are 100% spirit. Humans are both spirit and body. Humans do not become angels when we die. We will become saints.
When our daughter Cristina died in her infancy, Sandra and I drew comfort by believing our other children would have their own guardian angel. We even had a gravestone made that has the image of a guardian angel standing over young children. And it says, “Our Guardian Angel”. Well, twenty years later, we now know that Cristina can never be a guardian angel in a technical sense, but she is still our angel in the sense that she remains with us in spirit and prayer, keeping watch over her brother and sister.
So even though our loved ones do not become guardian angels when they pass, this is not to say that they are not watching out for us. We can be certain that our deceased family and friends are up there rooting for us, interceding for us, and praying for us. In other words, when our loved one dies and go to heaven, we have own patron saint. My family has great faith and inspiration knowing that Cristina is the patron saint of our family.
Guardian angels are an awesome gift from God. They help us bear our share of hardship for the Gospel, while confirming our faith in the presence and power of God in our daily lives. Today is a special time to remember our guardian angels and to give thanks for their role in cultivating the mustard seed of our faith.