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Our Guardian Angels: Angels of Peace

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

Our present meditation is on: Our Guardian Angels: Angels of Peace

The story of St. Luke’s account of Peter’s deliverance from prison is only an extensive revealed description of the role of the angels in guarding the human race. Over the centuries, the Church has consistently encouraged the faithful to believe that angelic spirits guide them throughout life. This takes on a variety of forms:

  • bidding the people to invoke their guardian angels;

  • formulating prayers to guardian spirits and enriching these prayers with indulgences;

  • making devotion to the angels an essential part of the Church’s liturgy, their angelic protection is requested;

  • instituting the feast of the Guardian Angels;

  • and dedicating churches and institutions to the guardian spirits.

There is no question that this devotion is founded on revealed truth. It is a matter of faith which the Church has universally and insistently promoted. Devotion to the angels as our guardians and protectors through life on earth to our angelic destiny in heaven.

Sacred Scriptures are filled from the Old Testament through the new with references to the angelic concern for human beings. Some of these biblical passages pertain to the protection which angels afford those who trust in God as “He has given His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands He will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 90:11). The fact of the devil tempting Christ in the desert quoted this very passage to seduce Christ to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple only shows how common place was the belief of the Chosen People of the Old Testament in the angelic protection they were assured by a loving God. Other passages in scripture are descriptions of the angelic office in favor of the elect, that is, of those whose foreseen merits predestine them for heavenly glory. Thus St. Paul tells the Hebrews, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent for our service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation” (Hebrew 1:14).

More often the angels are described as performing some special office for human beings. As we have seen the Archangel Raphael cared for the temporal needs of Tobit 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). We have also read the story of the Centurion Cornelius who was sent by an angel of God to go to Peter who then received him into the Church (Acts 10:3). Therefore, the common belief of the primitive Christians is reflected in the statement about Peter the apostle, as he stood at the door of the house of Mary after deliverance from prison. “It is his angel,” they told the maid who heard Peter’s voice, but in her excitement did not open the gate to let him in (Acts 12:16).

In addition to these and many other references to angelic ministrations 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).

Before we go on, let us remind ourselves, as we said at the very beginning of this retreat, the very word “angel” means “messenger”. Angels are indeed pure spirits for they have no material body. There is no shape, size, color or weight in the angels. But they are very real. How badly we need to know that not all reality is quantitative, or sensibly perceptible. But we must keep in mind that the most important reality in the world is the spiritual reality which is neither quantitative or sensibly perceptible. Thus, the function of the angels, which their very name, “angelos,” is to guard and guide us on the way to heaven.

Christian Tradition

As we go through the Fathers of the Church and the saintly commentators on the scriptures, we may be surprised at how much they tell us about the guardian spirits. Needless to say, the teaching of Catholic theology goes beyond saying that the angels exercise some kind of care over human beings. It spells out this custody in great detail and bases the doctrine on Christian tradition, as derived from Divine revelation.

Does every Christian have a guardian angel? It is the common teaching of the Church that from the moment of baptism, a Christian is given his own guardian spirit. According to sound Catholic theology, this is one of the benefits of the sacrament of baptism. According to St. Basil, a doctor of the universal Church, no one will deny that an angel is present to every one of the faithful. We have already seen the phenomenal angelic deliverance of Peter from prison. Just an aside, angels perform miracles. In theological language, there are two kinds of miracles. The kind that only God performs, such as bringing the dead back to life; and the miracles performed by the angels, such as the angel’s release of Peter from prison.

The astonished faithful could not believe that it was Peter himself who was out of prison. It must be, they said, his angel. The Church’s further reasoning is from the fact that Christ died for all mankind and that He merited the means of salvation for all. Therefore we may say that at least every Christian has a guardian spirit since angelic assistance is part of God’s salvific will.

What we must clearly understand is that the Church is a communion of saints. This means that her members are in constant interchange among themselves as channels of grace to each other. We do not say that the angels are part of the visible Church on earth. But we should say that the angels belong to that heavenly kingdom which includes all the saints and angels in heavenly glory, all the members in the Church militant on earth; and all the souls in Purgatory. St. Paul’s rhetorical question is conclusive, “Are they not all ministering angels, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). The Catechism of the Council of Trent could not be more explicit. “By God’s providence,” the faithful are told, “the task is given to the angels of protecting the human race and individual human beings so that they may not suffer any serious harm whatsoever. From this we conclude that every one of the faithful has a personal guardian from baptism.”

Origen says even more. “Two angels,” he writes to the Christian faithful, “are at the side of each person, the one of justice, and the other of iniquity. If holy thoughts arise in your may be sure the angel of the Lord is speaking to us” (Commentary on Luke 12). And again, “each of us, even the lowliest, has an angel by his side” (Commentary on Numbers 20). St. John Chrysostom carried the doctrine into the Old Testament, “Each faithful Christian has an angel; for every righteous human being had an angel from the very beginning, as Jacob says, ‘the angel that nourishes and delivers us from youth’”(Commentary on Colossians 3:4).

We might note in passing that Origen’s reference to a demon tempting each Christian is quite singular. Among other authorities, this idea was rejected by St. Robert Bellarmine as inconsistent with a benevolent Providence.

Do unbelievers and sinners have guardian spirits? 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.”

Are we to distinguish between the function of the guardian angels for those who are baptized and those who are protected by angelic powers not only from birth but already at conception? Yes, the role of the angels is different in the two cases. 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, without excluding subordinate purposes. 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. In other words, the role of the guardian angels for the baptized is directly supernatural, whereas the angelic guardianship before or without baptism is more directly concerned with protection from evils in the natural order and only indirectly concerned with the supernatural destiny of those who are not baptized Christians.

What is the first function of the guardian angels? The answer may be surprising. Although we commonly speak of the guardian angels, we could just as well call them the guiding angels. Their first role, we may say, is that of instructors in virtue of which they are the messengers of illumination to the human mind. We may therefore say they begin this mission among non-Christians entrusted to their care in order to lead these people to the faith. They continue to enlighten the catechumens and thus throughout the spiritual assent up to the threshold of union with God.

That is why in the lives of the mystics whom the Church honors as saints, the angels serve a most important 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 carefully distinguish between the activity of the good spirits and of the evil spirits on his mind.

We can honestly say that we are never thinking all alone. Our thoughts are being influenced either by the spirits of evil whom God allows to try to seduce us from His service, or by the good spirits who are divine agents in transmitting to us the wisdom of God.

The Angel of Peace

Among the masters of the spiritual life, especially in the Patristic age, their many other functions are as illuminating our minds which are attributed to the guardian angels. They protect the soul against troubles from within and without. The angels reprimand and punish the soul that turns aside from the wide way. They assist us at prayer and communicate our petitions to God. The triple function is often designated under the three titles given to the guardian spirit. He is an angel of peace, an angel of the penitents, and the angel of prayer. Our concentration in this meditation will be on the angel of peace.

Among these names for the guardian angels, that of angels of peace is especially noteworthy. Dating back to early Jewish tradition, the expression has entered the liturgy of the Church. Thus St. John Crysostom writes, “Learn now that there are angels of peace. Listen to the deacons who frequently repeat in their prayer: Pray to the angel of peace.” The same directive can be found in the Apostolic Constitutions in the prayer that follows the dismissal of the catechumens: “Rising up, let us sing the mercies of the Lord. Let us pray to the angel in charge of peace.” So too St. Basil, in describing the role of the guardian angel who protects travelers, says “We pray to God who is well disposed toward us in order that He might give an angel of peace as a companion to protect us.”

Can we be more specific? Yes, in these passages from the early Church, the angel of peace is charged with the protection of the one who is entrusted to him. This protection may be from dangers outside of a person, as when he is invoked to protect the voyager. This was the function of the Archangel Raphael as a companion of Tobias. But much more important is the mission of the angel of peace to protect our souls against the evil spirit. From this perspective, the angel of peace is especially invoked by those who are thinking of becoming Christians, to insure their protection against the devil who does not want them to be baptized. So too for the believing Christians, the early Church applies a verse from the Psalms to the believers in Christ. Speaking of God, the Psalmist says, “He has given His angels charge over you, to protect you in all your ways” (Psalm 90:11). Origen makes this observation, “It is the just who need the help of the angels of God so as not to be overcome by the devil, and in order not to have their hearts pierced by the arrow which flies in the darkness” (Homily on Numbers, 5, 3). Our best protection against the devil is our guardian angel.

Among the early saints, no one has spoken more clearly about the angel of peace than St. Hillary, the great defender of Christ’s divinity:

  • In the warfare we carry on we remain strong against the evil powers, the angels are our helpers.

  • There are angels of little children who look upon the face of God every day. These spirits have been sent to aid the human race. Our weakness is such that, if the guardian angels had not been given to us, we would not be able to resist the many and powerful attacks of the evil spirits. That is why we need a higher nature (to protect us). We know this from the words with which the Lord strengthened Moses trembling in his fear, “My angel will go before you.” That is why God has taken out these spirits from among His treasures and has given through them the help we need in our human weakness. By this divine assistance we are able to resist the powers of this world of darkness to obtain the heritage of heaven.

One more function of the angels of peace deserves attention. It is the positive aid which the angels give us when we are in trial. That is why, in the gospel of Luke, we are told that an angel strengthened Christ in His agony. If the Son of God in human form needed strengthening by an angel, we need strengthening. The peace we thus receive is the assurance of superhuman courage to maintain our peace of soul no matter how troubled or at what distress we may naturally be.

Mary, Queen of angels and Queen of peace, we ask you to obtain from your Divine Son, that protection from our guardian angels which we need to always remain in God’s peace. You knew from your life with Jesus how many powers of evil were opposed to His divine mission. You also know that Jesus never lost His peace of soul. Indeed, He is the Prince of peace. We ask you to have Jesus always tell us what He told the apostles on Easter night, “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.” Amen.

Dallas Carmelites, Conference #19, Friday 3/1/96, 2:30 PM

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica

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