Blessed Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels to you!
Today’s celebration of the Guardian Angels has the tendency to take us back to childhood. After all, for many of us, the prayer to our guardian angel is among the first we learn.
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, to rule and guide. Amen.
Short, sweet, simple, and packed with an immense depth that we normally take for granted. We might unpack the depth of this beautiful little prayer through five points.
The belief the Church holds regarding the Guardian Angels comes from the Gospel of Matthew. There, Our Lord says to the disciples, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 18:10). These words of Our Lord relate to the first line of the Guardian Angel Prayer above: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here,” and suggest the first two points to be made here. The first comes from the opening lines of the Nicene Creed which we say at Mass: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.” This is an important element of our faith especially in today’s world so focused as it is on materiality and the scientific exploration and explanation thereof. These first lines of the Guardian Angel Prayer together with the first lines of the Creed vehemently reject any type of scientific reductionism of reality, and assert that there is much more to reality than readily meets the eye.
This calls for saying something about the invisible world as a whole. Unfortunately, not the whole of the invisible creation has our best interest in mind. God, in His Wisdom, created all things good. Tragically, things did not remain as God had created them, but turning away from God, certain creatures introduced evil into God’s good creation. Of course, the first of these dissenters was from the invisible world, Satan, the first of the fallen angels. Why? Most simply, a rejection of dependence upon God, and a desire to be god apart from God. Augustine writes that although created good, the devil, “the very moment he was made, he turned away from the light of truth, swollen with pride, and corrupted by delight in his own personal power” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 11.23.30). Such, on Augustine’s understanding, was the first action which threw God’s created order or love into disarray. Tragically, as we know, this was not to be an isolated event. Cast from God’s glorious light into his self-imposed darkness, the devil tempted Eve and Adam to see things as he saw them rather than as God had created them. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gn. 3:4-5). The insinuation that one could be like God spoken to the human heart, knowing in its depths that it in fact was created to be like God (Gn. 1:26-27). However, in the devil’s mouth this truth becomes horribly distorted, that one did not have to depend on God to be like God, but could be god apart from God. Taking the bait, the intimacy with God which Adam and Eve once enjoyed in the Garden was now lost (see Gn. 3:8). Like Satan, by disobeying God’s command, Adam and Eve had self-imposed estrangement from God.
The Church has a long tradition of understanding ourselves to be in a situation similar to that which Eve had once faced in the Garden. St. Paul writes: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but…against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul’s acknowledgment is clear-sighted, yes indeed, we are in the midst of a great struggle, a great battle, if you will. However, this struggle is not human person vs. human person, but the human family against the invisible powers that would divide us, who were created to be one human family by our God at the beginning. This, if you want, is the second great lie that the Devil continues to spread and whisper into the ears of his human prey: “It’s you against them, you must conquer, you must take what is yours, let no one disturb your kingdom (albeit a kingdom of one), it’s yours.”
St. Paul’s point is especially important for us to keep in mind today. The loudest voices of society are those of division, liberal vs. conservative, republican vs. democrat, traditional vs. progressive, vaxxer vs. anti-vaxxer, masker vs. anti-masker, the list goes on and on and on. However, to the extent that we are complicit with these oppositions, we are not doing the work of Christ who at the hour of His death prayed that what He had come to accomplish might be fulfilled: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:21). You see, this is what the Devil knows so well. His very name, diabállō, means to set at variance, to throw apart or to scatter. And, he knows very well that division throws a monkey wrench into God’s plan of salvation, especially division among Christians. Why? Because of the first lie. As we see in the words of Christ from the Gospel of John above, Our Lord came to reestablish intimacy between God and the entire human race so that all human persons may become like God, and the Church, the body of Christians, is a foretaste and assurance of that promise. Therefore, to divide Christians is to undermine, once again, trust in God’s promise to us. The game is so simple, the Devil isn’t all that clever, he uses the same trick over and over again, the thing is, he puts his finger right where we are most susceptible to temptation.
However, this was not to be the last word. Though humanity had rejected intimacy with God, God would not so easily be persuaded. Instead, He continued and continues to pursue the creature which He had created for loving communion, and one of the ways He does this, the Church believes, is through our Guardian Angels. The Catechism says on the Guardian Angels, “from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (CCC, 336). In light of what has already been said, the classic image of a demon whispering in one ear and an angel in the other comes to mind. The image has a long history within the Christian Tradition. St. Gregory of Nyssa writes that with us always are “an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person” and “an evil and maleficent demon” who “afflicts the life of man and contrives against our nature” (Life of Moses, 2.45). However (and this is an extremely important point!), neither good nor evil influence has power to force the human person to do anything, we sin or by God’s grace, live virtuously, of our own free will (Life of Moses, 2.14). This is a sentiment shared by St. Augustine. All the devils have the ability to do is tempt, insinuate, and annoy, no more (Sermon 20.2).
Of course, the same necessarily holds true for our Guardian Angel. Thus, it is important to understand why God has sent them to us, which brings us to the second point to be made here and corresponds to the latter half of the first line of the Guardian Angel Prayer, “to whom God’s love commits me here.” St. John XXIII attributes the sending of the Guardian Angels to us as an act of Divine Providence: “we must remember how admirable was the intention of Divine Providence in entrusting to the angels the mission of watching over all mankind, and over individual human beings, lest they should fall victims to the grave dangers which they encounter…our Father in heaven has charged his angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland…” (Mediation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1959). Divine Providence, as we see implied in this quote from St. John XXIII, is more than just direction from far off, it implies Divine Intimacy. As Pope Francis says in light of the passage from Matthew quoted above:
Our angel is not only with us; he also sees God the Father. He is in relationship with Him. He is the daily bridge, from the moment we arise to the moment we go to bed. He accompanies us and is a link between us and God the Father. The angel is the daily gateway to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father: that is, the angel helps me to go forward because he looks upon the Father, and he knows the way. Let us not forget these companions along the journey (Pope Francis, Homily, October 2, 2018).
Our Guardian Angel is a “link between us and God the Father,” “the daily bridge” and “gateway…to the encounter with the Father.” Recalling that we are surrounded by good and evil influences, this quote from Pope Francis demonstrates precisely why it is pivotal to cultivate a relationship with our Guardian Angel. If we are to be attuned to the good and learn how to reject the evil, we must cultivate a relationship with the good, our Guardian Angel. How do we do this? By talking with them, i.e., praying to them. Pope Francis asks us to reflect: “How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I wish him good morning? Do I say: ‘protect me during sleep’? Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? He is at my side” (Homily, October 2, 2014). A good place to start is through the Guardian Angel prayer above, but it shouldn’t stop here, which brings us to our final two points which correspond to the second line of the Guardian Angel prayer, “ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
We must learn to be attuned to our Guardian Angels so as to be able to follow their exemplarity. Again, St. John XXIII tells us that our Guardian Angels help us “subdue our passions” and “follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise” (Mediation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1959). Similarly, St. Gregory of Nyssa writes that “the good angel by rational demonstration shows the benefits of virtue which are seen in hope by those who live aright” as “a brother to the rational and intellectual part of man’s soul…” (Life of Moses, 2.46-47). In short, inasmuch as these good angels always do God’s will, and in humble obedience continually watch over and protect us, we too should cultivate those same virtues of humility and obedience in imitation of these divine messengers.
Finally, we are assured that our Guardian Angels are present to us not only as exemplars, but intercessors, as advocates of a sort, and not only with God, but with other human persons as well. How does this work? Well, we have already seen how each person has a Guardian Angel present to them and how each of us, if we work at it, can live in close intimacy with our Guardian Angel. If we are in such a habit over time we will learn to keep in mind that our encounter with others is done in the presence not only of our Guardian Angel, but the Guardian Angels of those whom we are encountering. Accordingly, St. John XXIII revealed to others that he was in the habit of asking his Guardian Angel to speak to the Guardian Angel of someone he was to meet with so that the meeting would go well and be amicable. This may sound a bit out of this world. However, if we recall Our Lord’s desire that all may be one, and that our Guardian Angels carry out the will of our God, it makes perfect sense that our Guardian Angels would do whatever they could to foster peace and loving unity among the human family precisely because this is what our God desires for us.
If we live in such a way, not only are we harnessing all the gifts God in His providential Mercy has given us to make our way to Him, but we actually draw down the life of Heaven, making it present here and now. The Catechism tells us, “Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (CCC, 336). When we encounter one another in the company of our Guardian Angels, we encounter one another in the presence of our God whom they never cease to look upon, as Our Lord has spoken (Mt. 18:10). In a world so plagued by division, one of the best things we can do is cultivate intimacy with our Guardian Angel, and together with them, with one another, for in so doing, we draw the world just that much closer to the end for which God created it, eternal communion with Him.
Your servant in Christ,
Tony Crescio is the founder of FRESHImage Ministries. He holds an MTS from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Christian Theology at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on the intersection between moral and sacramental theology. His dissertation is entitled, Presencing the Divine: Augustine, the Eucharist and the Ethics of Exemplarity.
Tony’s academic publications can be found here.