October 2, Memorial Feast of the Guardian Angels
No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to His Angels God has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Psalm 91: 10-12
The Angelic Doctor, gives very open ended answers in his “Treatise on the Angels” in the Summa Theologiae (I QQ 50-64). The reason Saint Thomas can’t tell us with exactness everything about angels is that we can speculate almost endlessly on what revelation tells us about these intriguing creatures without actually determining anything certain about them beyond what Scripture already tells us — there are, however, a few things about them we can figure out using our own noggin.
To do this, you first start with what you know for sure and then think through the things that reasonably follow. For instance…
It reasonably follows that angels can have foreknowledge of future events and can warn us about them, because their predictions always come true in the Bible. Based on that, we can determine that it is a good idea to take them at their word; or else, if you question them, you could end up mute for 9 months, like Zachariah.
To answer the question, “if devils tempt us, then what do guardian angels do?” we should begin by considering the type of experience we are more familiar with, namely, temptation.
Ordinarily, we do not experience temptation as temptation.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we were always completely aware that some evil spirit were tempting us in order to get us to sin and, ultimately, condemn us to hell, we would be less prone to fall for it. The devil is smarter than that. He ordinarily tempts us in such a way as to make it seem like the temptation is coming from us, like it’s completely our idea.
When we buy into it, by considering it further, deliberating on it, deciding to do it, and actually going through with it, the idea becomes our idea. The sin becomes our sin. We own the consequences.
The more we give in to this deliberation process, with regard to sin, the easier it is for the devil to tempt us. We form sinful habits and become more attracted to sin.
Okay, fine… but I came here wanting to know more about angels. What do guardian angels do that’s different?
I’m not going to say that the guardian angel’s work is like “reverse-temptation,” but there is a lot we can learn in general about how angels work based on what we just considered about how temptation leads us into sin (more on that later…).
First, let’s also consider what the Bible says about guardian angels. In the Psalm quoted above, it says: “to His Angels God has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways.” God’s angels are constantly guarding us (See also Mark 1:13). In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus adds:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. (Matthew 18:10)
Interesting, isn’t it? Angels constantly guard us while fixing their contemplative gaze on God’s face, simultaneously. How do they manage that?
Well, angels are pure spirits. They don’t have bodies, so they are not bound to the confines of space and time, like we are (I know… I can’t quite wrap my head around that either). Moreover, since they are blessed with the Beatific Vision, they can see all things in God (in as much as their limited natures will allow). And, finally, through their angelic power, they are able to be present with us spiritually as they contemplate God in heaven.
Awesome, isn’t it?
But that’s not all!
Remember the guardian angel prayer your mom taught you when you to pray when she was tucking you in at night?
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love entrusts me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen!
Angels enlighten us, they guard us, the govern us, and they guide us. How?
Again, it’s not easy to know exactly how they do these things or exactly what they are doing when they are doing all this. We would really have to be angels to understand their powers. We can, however, understand something about them, because we do share some things in common with angels, such as intelligence and free will (albeit human, not angelic).
For instance, they can present things to our intelligence for our free will to choose. Free will, on our part, is very important to the angels, because they know better than we do the implications and consequences of having free will. They never impose things on us, because they respect our free will. Besides, their job is to help us get to heaven, and our actions can only be meritorious if we chose to do them through the use of our free will. Unlike devils, angels respect our freedom; they don’t manipulate it.
This means we should freely submit to our guardian angels and frequently pray to them (not worship them!). By praying to them, we collaborate with them freely by asking them to enlighten, guard, and protect us. We should also ask them to intercede to God for us. They naturally do this anyway, but they appreciate our cooperation — that’s just good use of our free will.
After all, they constantly gaze on the face of our Heavenly Father, right? So they know God pretty well and can put in a good word for us.
This raises the question, why does God need angels in the first place? Can’t he save us without them?
He doesn’t; and he can.
God is all powerful and he desires to communicate that power to and through his creatures, in greater ways and lesser ways. God has free will too, and his will is greater than we can possibly fathom. We just know that whatever he does, he does it out of love for his creatures. When we are in heaven, contemplating the Beatific Vision with our angelic friends, all of this will be much, much clearer.
There’s so much more we could say about angels. St Thomas dedicated 14 sets of articles to them in the Summa. If you are interested in learning more about the angels, you could read what St Thomas says, or you can check out the links below.
Would you want to know what angels sound like? I can’t tell you, but if you want to hear angel-like voices, listen to “All Angels” sing about their guardian angels in the song Angels.
(And turn up the volume (Your guardian angel won’t mind))
You might also be interested in the following resources on Angels:
- Angels by Peter Kreeft (webpage)
- Angels and Demons by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press)
- Interview with an Exorcist by Fr Jose Fortea (Amazon)
- An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr Jose Fortea (Amazon)