Guardian Angels

CHRISTINE J. MURRAY

The guardian angel simply has one task that has many facets — to lead the human to the Passion and Cross. Embracing the cross is the only way human beings reach heaven. He does this mainly through pricking our conscience so we can follow the will of God.

Fr. Frederick William Faber, who followed John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church in 1845, succinctly and eloquently describes the guardian angels’ relationship to us in “Hymn to My Guardian Angel”.

“Dear angel! Ever at my side.
How loving must thou be
To leave thy home in heaven to guard
A guilty wretch like me.”

The belief in guardian angels has been taught implicitly in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testament. Besides personal guardian angels, all of Israel was thought to have a guardian angel, as is seen in Exodus 23:20-23.

Two angels led Lot and his daughters out of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels, disguised as men, had been staying with Lot’s family. Men from the village accosted Lot to offer his visitors for wicked entertainment. When Lot refused, the villagers came after him. The angels shielded him, then informed him of Yahweh’s plan to destroy the city. [1]

After Israel worships the golden calf, Moses offers to atone for their sins. Yahweh tells him they will be punished anyway, but says, “Go now, lead the people to the place of which I told you. My angel shall go before you.” [2]

In Psalms 91:11, it is written that “He will put you in his angels’ charge to guard you wherever you go.”

An angel appears to Daniel to tell him of his 21day struggle with the prince of Persia and his help from Michael the Archangel. He then tells Daniel what will happen to his people. [3]

Raphael the Archangel accompanied Tobias on his journey to collect the silver his father had left 20 years earlier with Gabael in Media. In the process, he also found Sarah for him to take for a bride and a cure for his father Tobit’s blindness. [4]

Jesus speaks of guardian angels in the Gospel according to Matthew when he says, “See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.” [5]

In the first chapter to the Hebrews, Paul refutes claims that the angels were made above God’s Son. He also says of angels, “The truth is they are all spirits whose work is service, sent to help those who will be the heirs of salvation.” [6]

The most dramatic evidence in the New Testament is in Acts 12, where an angel miraculously delivers Peter from prison. When the apostle realized that he had been freed from Herod, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, where a servant named Rhoda came to answer it. She was so overjoyed at hearing his voice that she left him outside to tell the others. They told her she was mad. Upon her insistence, they said, “It must be his angel!” [7]

All angels, having no bodies, are pure spirit. Although the Fourth Lateran Council defined the presence of angels, belief in the guardian angels is implicit in Scripture (as we have seen) and has rich history in Sacred Tradition.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by (the angels’) watchful care and intercession.” [8] ‘St. Basil states further, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” [9]

Early Church fathers differed in opinion about when a guardian angel is actually assigned — at birth or at baptism. Origen shows scriptural basis for both opinions. [10] While the Church leaves this question open, most of the Fathers held that all men, baptized or not, have a guardian angel. However, those who have the “indelible mark” of baptism and a new life in Christ require more attention, guidance and protection to ensure that they will reach heaven.

The Church has taught over the centuries that every angel in heaven has one chance to become a guardian angel, from the seraphim down. The angel has to “lower himself” to serve his protégé on earth, but in so doing learns more about the Incarnation. Every Mass at which a human assists provides an awesome opportunity to his guardian angel, to behold the Incarnate God. Holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament are also delightful experiences for our protectors.

Other ways to foster a relationship with one’s guardian angel includes praying to the angel to intercede for us and engaging in conversation. To this end, naming the angel may be helpful, but the angel’s name is inexpressible in human language. If one is to take the trouble giving his angel a moniker, it should conform with revelation. Whenever angels have appeared in Sacred Scripture in human form, it has been in male form only. Since angels have no gender, this is somewhat puzzling. However, we need to conform to public revelation.

The guardian angel simply has one task that has many facets — to lead the human to the Passion and Cross. Embracing the cross is the only way human beings reach heaven. He does this mainly through pricking our conscience so we can follow the will of God. He encourages us to thank God for the many humiliations we receive daily, even when his voice is being drowned out because the fallen one is helping to stir up our pride and roars in our ears. Guardian angels do this indirectly working through the imagination and memory. A secondary role is to physically protect. We might notice this indirectly. For instance, we might not be able to locate an item, which then detains us. Only later do we learn that we would have likely been in danger had we not been detained.

Today’s society does much to roar in our ears and keep us from becoming holy. As Jesus inferred to Peter, [11] we are like sheep. Anyone who raises these animals knows that anytime a person walks into a barn, the whole place has the deafening din from their bleating. The sheep think they are hungry, even if they ate an hour before. A good shepherd knows that feeding sheep too much “junk food” or too often will only make them fat and lazy. Despite some modernist priests’ claims otherwise, humans are still like sheep in this sense. We need to be fed, and we need to be led to safety.

Those who live in the world without someone to lead them to safety are akin to a herd of cattle that Laura Ingalls Wilder described after an early fall blizzard in the Dakota Territory.

Range cattle had drifted before the storm for a hundred miles. Blinded and confused they had gone over a high bank of the Cottonwood River, the later ones falling on top of the first, breaking through the ice of the river and floundering in the water and loose snow until they had smothered and frozen to death. [12]

Angels have been depicted. [13] as hovering over a terrified sheep and preparing to free the animal from entanglement from brambles. In much this way, guardian angels can help to serve as guides in this world. It is much easier, however, if we cooperate with the guardian angel. We often struggle in our sin, only to be further trapped and have its barbs dig deeper.

It behooves man to pay attention to his angelic protector. Failing to take advantage of all God provides him to ensure he embraces the cross brings the risk that the angel he will face in eternity is the evil one.

ENDNOTES

  1. Exodus 19. Back to text.
  2. Exodus 32:34. Back to text.
  3. Daniel 10:20a-11:2. Back to text.
  4. Tobit 5:1-11:15. Back to text.
  5. Mt. 18:10. Back to text.
  6. Heb. 1:14. Back to text.
  7. cf. Acts 12:12-16. Back to text.
  8. CCC 336. Back to text.
  9. St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium III, 1: pg 29, 656B. Back to text.
  10. Commentary on Matthew 12, 27-28. Back to text.
  11. cf. John 21:15-18. Back to text.
  12. The First Four Years, Harper and Row, 1971, p 41. Back to text.
  13. Description is based on cover art for prayer pamphlet, including Invocations to the Holy Guardian Angel and Litany of the Guardian Angels, available at Gethesamini Chapel of Adoration, 13770 Gratiot Ave., Detroit, Michigan 48205. Back to text.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Murray, Christine J. “Guardian Angels.” The Catholic Faith 4, no. 4 (September/October 1998): 4-5.

Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.

AUTHOR

Christine J. Murray writes from Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Copyright © 1998 TheCatholicFaith


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