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Angelology


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We All Have Our Own Special Guardian Angel

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

There are few aspects of the Christian faith that are more satisfying to the human spirit than to know that each one of us has our own personal guardian angel. We may say this is part of God’s loving providence over the human race. If there is one thing that we all appreciate, in fact deeply need, it is the sense of companionship. We want to know there is someone who is near us, who cares about us, and who is ready to assist us in our needs.

Being creatures of body and soul, we know that just because someone is near to us in body does not mean that he or she is near to us in spirit. A person can be a thousand miles away in space and yet be present to us in mind and heart. Just as someone can be right next to us in body and yet not present in spirit.

I think it is worth spending a few minutes on this prelude before we go on to explain the role of the guardian angels in our lives.

We know that an angel has no body, and yet we dare not say he is nobody. Our modern world is so intoxicated with materialism that millions actually think that unless something or someone has weight and size and shape it is not real. That is not only untrue; it is a demonic lie.

Back to our guardian angel. He is very real, even though he cannot be perceived by our senses. He has a mind that is always thinking of God, and a will that is always united with God. He has been specially appointed as our companion through life. And he exercises this companionship by his constant assistance in illuminating our minds and inspiring our wills.


Teaching of the Church

Over the centuries, the Church has consistently taught the faithful to look for guidance from the angelic spirits throughout life. This teaching takes on a variety of forms. We are told to invoke our guardian angels. There are numerous prayers, enriched by indulgences, urging us to pray to the angels. Devotion to the guardian angels is part of the Church’s liturgy. There are feasts in honor of the guardian angels and the saints, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, have written extensively on the existence and activity of the guardian spirits in our daily lives.

As might be expected, the foundation for this devotion to the guardian angels, is founded on divine revelation. St. Paul tells us that God has placed His angels in charge over us to keep us in all our ways. We are told that the angels will bear us up, lest we dash our foot against a stone. Those specially dear to God are privileged to be favored by angelic assistance all through their lives. The same St. Paul asks if the angels are not all ministering spirits sent to us for our sake and are those who shall inherit eternal life.

Time and again in both the Old and New Testaments, the angels are described as performing some special office for our sake. Thus the archangel Raphael cares for the temporal needs of Tobias and his family. The apostle Philip is told by “an angel of the Lord” to “Arise and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” where he met the eunuch whom he baptized (Acts 8:26).

It was the belief of the universal Church that each of us has a guardian spirit to direct us in this life on our way to heaven.

We have only to remind ourselves what happened when the apostle Peter was imprisoned and chained, under guard by the enemies of Christianity. He was miraculously freed from prison by the ministration of an angel. On being freed from jail, he went to the house of Mary and knocked on the gate. The maid heard his voice and called back to the people, “It is his angel,” they told her, and in her excitement she did not open the gate to let Peter in (Acts 12:16).

In addition to these and other references to angelic assistance in the gospels, we have the celebrated statement of Christ, warning the disciples, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).


Some Basic Questions

As we go through the writings of the saintly commentators on the Scriptures, we may be surprised how much they tell us about the guardian spirits. We are told much more than simply that the angels are messengers of God who come to assist us. It will be useful to ask a few questions, catechism fashion, and give a brief answer on this immense subject of angelic guardianship.

Does every Christian have a guardian angel?  It is the common teaching of the Church that from the moment of baptism, all Christians are given their own personal guardian spirit. This, in fact, is one of the great benefits of the sacrament of baptism. According to St. Basil, no one can deny that an angel is present to everyone of the faithful.

Do unbelievers and sinners have guardian angels?  We may say it is the common teaching of Church commentators that every human being has a guardian spirit in so far as he is human, and not precisely as a result of baptism and a state of grace. St. Jerome therefore says that this angelic custody begins at birth. “What great dignity,” he exclaims, “belongs to souls that each has an angel delegated to watch over it from the moment of its birth”(Commentary on Matthew 18:10). But this is not the end of the matter.

Does everyone have a guardian angel from conception?  The guardianship by the angelic world, we may believe, goes beyond its universality to every human being from birth. St. Anselm simply declares, “Every soul is committed to an angel at the moment when it is united with a body.”

What does this mean? It means that the moment the human ovum is fertilized, God creates an immortal soul, infuses the soul into the body prepared by the parents, and the immediate result is the conception of a child. No sooner is the child conceived than it receives a guardian spirit already in the mother’s womb.

It is here that we can affirm with certitude that every direct abortion is the work of the devil. As the one from whom human death first came into existence, the devil is a murderer. What this should mean in the pro-life movement is the rise of a wide-spread devotion to the guardian angels of the unborn to protect their innocent human charges against the machinations of the evil one. I watch my vocabulary carefully. But I do not hesitate to say that those behind the global murder of millions of unborn children in the modern world are possessed by the devil.

What is the difference between the role of the guardian angels for the baptized and those who are protected by angelic powers already at conception?

For Christians, the function of the angel is primarily to lead the soul to heaven; his guardianship therefore, is directly supernatural in purpose and correspondingly positive. For human beings from birth or even conception, angels are assigned by God in order to ward off the evils which might befall the newly born or conceived human child. The role of the guardian angels for the baptized is directly related to eternal life. Whereas the angelic guardianship before or without baptism is more directly concerned with protection from evils in the natural order, and only indirectly with their heavenly destiny.

What is the first function of the guardian angels?  The answer may be surprising. Although we commonly speak of the angels as our guardians, we could just as well call them our angelic guides. Their first role is to instruct us as messengers of illumination of our minds. We may therefore say they begin their mission among non-Christians entrusted to their care in order to lead these people to the true faith. For the baptized, they serve as messengers of light for the virtue of faith. They assist the believer to believe more deeply, more clearly, more certainly, more accurately, more courageously, and more zealously to share the faith with others.

That is why in the lives of the masters of spirituality, the angels serve a very distinctive function. They are communicators from God to human minds to enlighten them on the mind and will of God. So important is this that, in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he tells the exercistant to always distinguish carefully between the activity of the good and the evil spirits.

We can honestly say that we are never thinking alone. Our mind is always being influenced either by the spirits of evil whom God allows to try to seduce us into sin, or by the good spirits who are divine agents in leading us to God. We call this Discernment of Spirits. It could just as well be called Discernment of the Guiding Angels of heaven from the Misguiding Angels of hell.


Our Angel of Peace

There is a history of angelic ministry to the human race. The angels are called angels precisely because they are messengers sent from God to assist the children of men.

The first of these ministrations of the guardian angels is to bring us peace. In the Eastern tradition, St. Basil tells us, “We must pray to God who is well disposed towards us in order that He might give an angel of peace as a companion to protect us.”

How are the guardian angels messengers of peace? They are messengers of peace by teaching our minds the truth, the truth about God, about ourselves, and about our relationship with those whom God’s providence has placed into our lives.

The first meaning of peace is the experience of knowing the truth. How many people in our day are in deep internal conflict because their minds are not in possession of the truth . Instinctively we ask ourselves: Is there a God? Is there a purpose in life? Why are we here on earth at all? What is the meaning of suffering? What is the meaning of love? All of these and an ocean of other questions keep coming to our minds from the dawn of reason until our last conscious moments here on earth.

Only those who can answer these questions truthfully can be at peace. It is not pious rhetoric or a poetic cliché to say that peace of mind is the experience of possessing the truth. The first function of our guardian spirits, therefore, is to tell us what is the truth and thus provide what is so desperately needed in today’s confused humanity. Millions are in deep interior turmoil because they do not know the truth in their lives.

But our guardian angels are also angels of peace because they are sent by God to tell us what is the will of God in our lives. If knowing the truth gives peace of mind, responding to the will of God gives peace of heart. It is here especially that our angels are both our guides and our guardians. They guide us to know what God wants of us, and they guard us against the greatest danger in our lives, the risk of choosing our own will instead of the will of God.

Being specially enlightened by God, whose face they constantly behold, the angels know what God expects of us and they are His principal agents in communicating this divine expectation to us. There is no better prayer to the guardian angel than, “Angel of God, obtain for me the grace to know what God expects of me. If I choose to do His will I will share in the peace that you now enjoy in a blessed eternity.”


Our Angel of Penance

The last title by which most people would call their guardian angel is to speak of him as the angel of penance. But so he is. We have all offended the goodness of God. We have sinned by insisting on doing what we want instead of surrendering our wills to the divine majesty.

This is where our guardian angel is our constant reminder, or shall I call him warner, that, having sinned we must do penance. There is no choice.

How does our guardian angel serve as our angel of penance? In two ways. He knows far better than we that every sin we commit deprives us of the grace of God. He knows what happened to the rebellious spirits, led by Lucifer, who refused to submit their wills to the Creator and have been suffering eternal punishment for their pride.

But our angel is also an angel of penance in reminding us, dare I say every moment of the day, that the most effective penance we can perform is to make reparation for our failures in loving God by loving Him more deeply, more generously, more patiently than we would ever have done had we not sinned. Once again I suggest a short prayer to our angel of penance, “Angel of God, you love God so deeply because you understand God’s love so completely. Ask our Lord to give me something of your great love for God, a repentant sinner, that I may join you in heavenly glory. Our Lord promised that ‘There will be joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ May I give you and your fellow angels something of this joy over my own generous repentance for my sins.”


Our Angel of Prayer

There is no single angelic theme in biblical revelation that is more commonly described than the role of the angels as communicating our prayers to God. But our focus here is on the guardian angels as angels of our prayers.

How, we may ask, is our guardian angel the angel of prayer? He is first of all the angel of prayer by enlightening our minds with holy thoughts, without which we could not pray. Let me emphasize, the foundation of the spiritual life is in the mind. What we think, we desire. What we desire, we choose. What we do, makes us what we are. It all begins, I repeat, in the mind. How desperately we need the help of the angels to continually enlighten our minds with holy thoughts without which prayer would be a pious fantasy.

Our natural tendency is to be so preoccupied with the things of this world that we have to, dare I say, do violence to ourselves to place ourselves in the spirit of prayer. When Christ taught us the Our Father, He told us to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” This is the primary need of our souls if we are going to pray. We must lift up our minds and hearts beyond the perishable things of this world and raise them to the heavens above. Who is better equipped to raise these earthly minds of ours to the thoughts of God and the heavens where He lives? Surely it is the angels who are inhabitants of that spiritual kingdom which they merited not long after their creation by their fidelity to their Creator. What do the saints and the angels mainly do in heaven? They pray! Needless to say, they enjoy the experience ecstatically.

In so many ways, Christ tells us, reminds us, warns us to lift up our souls to the heaven in which He lives. We might say this is the deepest spiritual struggle of our lives here on earth. It is the struggle of living physically in this world of noise and tinkling cymbals, and yet constantly raise our souls to the heavens where the angels dwell. They are not only inhabitants of heaven. Heaven is familiar to them. They enjoy their heavenly surroundings. They know what it means to be in the constant vision of God and experience the beatitude, which this vision provides.

Whatever we know about the theology of prayer, we know that we need the assistance of those experienced in prayer who can teach us what it really means to pray. It means to be in the presence of God, enjoy His intimacy and experience the nearness of His presence. The angels are experienced-prayers. We should therefore expect that, in many ways, the principal assistance they can give us as our guardians and guides is to train us in the art of prayer.

In this connection, there is no more important phrase reporting Christ’s words in the gospels than when He told us that the guardian angels always see the face of the Father who is in heaven and therefore constantly behold the divinity of our Creator.

Prayer is many things, and by now a library of volumes has been written on the theology and practice of prayer. But one thing is certain, prayer here on earth is seeing the face of God by faith. We are to communicate with this God who we believe engages in conversation with us whenever we pray. That is what the angels are constantly doing in heaven, engaging in conversation with the Most High. We might say they are professionals in the practice of prayer and we are still little children who need to learn the rudiments of talking with our Heavenly Father.

There is another profound sense in which our guardian angels are the angels of prayer. Strictly speaking whenever we pray, the principal object of our prayer is God Himself. There are so many things that we need from the hands of God. So many things that only He can provide. But we need mediators between God and ourselves. We believe there is such a thing as praying directly to God. But there is too much in Scripture to remind us that we need persons who are closer to God than we are to be our intercessors with the Almighty. That is where the angels serve the function of mediating between the Almighty and ourselves. The closer a person is to God, the more holy that person is, the more pleasing to God, the more effective is that person’s intercession before the throne of the Holy Trinity. We define the Beatific Vision as the face-to-face, intuitive seeing of the Trinity. The angels not only see God, they are deeply loved by God. Their power, therefore, as pleaders for us before God is beyond human explanation. What we know by faith is that these angelic hosts are potent interceders on our behalf.

The more devoted we are to them and the more fervently we invoke their aid, the more of God’s blessings they will obtain for us who are still living in the shadows of faith.

One last prayer to our guardian angels. “My guardian angel, you always behold the Holy Trinity. You are deeply loved by the divine Majesty. You know how desperately I need the grace of God to know what He wants me to do and the strength I need to surrender my stubborn will to His divine will. How I need your powerful intercession with the Almighty. I trust you will hear my prayer and I am confident that with your help I will live my life as a sacrifice of myself to God and thus merit to join you in that celestial glory where you are waiting for me. Amen.”


Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica






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