The Guardian Angels' Services to Us
HOW much we owe to our Guardian Angels! God in His infinite mercy! and condescension makes use of their agency to bestow upon the weak and needy children of men an abundance of material and spiritual blessings. The Angels are the first-born "children" of the Heavenly Father and as such are our elder "brothers," forming with us but one great family of God. Just as parents sometimes entrust the younger members of the family to the care of their elder brothers and sisters, so our Heavenly Father commits us to the care of the holy Angels. But the love of the Angels for their charges upon earth far exceeds in strength and tenderness the love of a brother or sister, or even that of parents.
If we but knew all the favors which we continually receive from the holy Angels, our hearts would indeed be harder than stone not to be sensibly affected thereby. It would be necessary to reckon up all the evils which can befall us-----whether in mind or body, in our spiritual or temporal goods, in regard to our private or public interests, by wars, pestilences or famines-----in order to specify all the various kinds of assistance we receive from the Angels. Their constant thought and unremitting care is to preserve us from sin, or to deliver us from it when we have fallen. They obtain powerful graces for us from the mercy of God, moderate our passions, remove hindrances to our use of grace and assist us to triumph over the evil one in temptations. They discover to us our faults and imperfections and move us to sincere contrition.
Father Faber touchingly describes this solicitude of our Guardian Angels: "Ever at our side is being lived a golden life. A princely Spirit is there who sees God and enjoys the bewildering splendors of His Face, even there where he is, nearer than the limits of our outstretched arms. An unseen warfare is waging round our steps, but that beautiful Spirit lets not so much as the sound of it vex our ears. He fights for us and asks no thanks, but hides his silent victories, and continues to gaze upon God. His tenderness for us is above all words. His office will last beyond the grave, until at length it merges into a still sweeter tie of something like heavenly equality, when on the morning of the resurrection we pledge each other, in those first moments, to an endless blessed love. Till then we shall never know from how many dangers he has delivered us, nor how much of our salvation is actually due to him. Meanwhile he merits nothing by the solicitudes of his office. He is beyond the power of meriting, for he has attained the sight of God. His work is a work of love because his sweet presence at our side he knows to be a part of God's eternal creative love towards our particular soul."
"Wherever we go," writes Cardinal O'Connell in his beautiful pastoral on the holy Angels, "this Angelic partnership is never interrupted. Heavenly Spirits shield us from bodily danger and minister to us in our temporal needs . . . Intent upon the salvation of our souls, they instruct us, they protect us, they plead for us with God. They ward off temptations, overcome obstacles-----physical as well as spiritual-----and pointing out the path of virtue, they guide us lest we go astray. To our prayers they unite theirs; they inspire holy thoughts or whisper helpful inspirations: at times, too, they inflict upon us healing and salutary chastisements. To every want of the soul through life they minister, that they may assist it to arrive safely at its journey's end. All this they do for us, if we but let them; every help that they can give us is ours, if we but welcome them and gratefully co-operate with them.
"Many are the motives which prompt such constant devotion to our interests. These celestial patrons, we know, are close to the merciful Heart of the Redeemer; they understand, therefore, His untiring concern for our welfare, and from that inexhaustible Fountain of love they imbibe the tenderest affection in our regard. They know, too, that we, their relatives-----not by the flesh but through the spirit element in our nature-----are destined to share their glory, to be their fellow-citizens in Heaven, and one day to enter into their unending companionship. In the unselfishness of their love, they are anxious for the period of our probation to close triumphantly.
"However, what especially enhances the intensity of their affection is the fact that they have a Divine commission to watch over us and to be for us here upon earth the instruments of God's mercies. This it is that urges them to sweep down from their golden skies, to flash swiftly and joyously through the dim air of this lower world, that they may assure us of their love and be at hand in all fear and trouble.
"And with what admirable solicitude and unceasing watchfulness do these protecting Angels fulfill their Divine commission with regard to us! At every moment, though unseen, they are by our side. They never forsake us from the first breath we draw until we have entered into the possession of our eternal destiny. They hover about the babe slumbering in its crib; they guide the timid and untried steps with which childhood and youth enter upon life, at first so strange and at all times so full of peril. They hold out a helping hand to strong and rugged manhood, seasoned by struggles with the forces of evil, and bearing, perhaps, the scars which the wounds of sins have made. And when the light of life is transformed into the darkness and gloom of age, with its dreams unrealized and its hopes cherished in vain, Guardian Angels are near to support the bent form and tottering steps, and to banish the shadows of loneliness and sorrow."
The good offices which the holy Guardian Angels perform in our behalf may be briefly summed up as follows:
from many unknown dangers to soul and body.
1. They Protect Us in Perils
Innumerable instances of the protection of the Angels in physical dangers may be cited from Holy Scripture, from the lives of the Saints and from the daily experience of ordinary persons. Among those mentioned in the Scriptures are the rescue of Lot and his family from the city of Sodom, the protection of the three Hebrew youths in the fiery furnace of Babylon, the assistance rendered to Judas the Machabee and his army, and the rescue of St. Peter in prison.
In the life of St. Gregory of Tours it is related that while he was still a boy his father became dangerously ill. The devoted son prayed earnestly for his good father. That night his Guardian Angel appeared to him in sleep, saying: "Arise, write the Name of Jesus on a small wooden chip and lay it on your father's pillow." In the morning Gregory related the vision to his mother, who bade him do as he had been told. He obeyed, and the father immediately regained his health. Two years later, the father again became ill. Gregory once more had recourse to prayer, and again his Guardian Angel appeared to him in sleep, instructing him to use the liver of a fish, as had been done in the case of Tobias. This admonition was followed and the father was cured a second time.
A striking incident of recent occurrence in one of our Southern states was the rescue of a young boy from drowning. On a bright, sunny day in May, Sister M. took her pupils to the woods to pick berries. After the merry group had spent a happy day and had filled all their baskets with berries, they started for home. On their homeward journey, it was necessary to cross a small stream, and several of the older boys asked permission to wade across rather than to cross on the bridge. As the stream had every appearance of being shallow, Sister M. readily granted the permission.
One of the most sturdy boys went ahead, but what was the surprise and horror of all when he suddenly disappeared from sight beneath the water! He had stepped into a deep hole, and as he was unable to swim, he floundered helplessly about, unable to regain his footing. Sister M. ordered all the other boys back to the bank of the stream, and with a fervent invocation to her Guardian Angel-----whose help she had often experienced-----she herself was preparing to go to the rescue of the boy, who had just gone down for the second time.
if by magic,
two stalwart youths stepped out of an automobile, which had come up
and went hurriedly to the bank. One of them stood beside Sister, while
the other, without a word, descended into the water up to his head,
the boy in his arms and carried
Sister thanked the young man most cordially and inquired his name. He merely smiled and said:
"What does it matter-----the boy is safe." Astonishing to relate, his clothes seemed perfectly dry when he and his companion returned to the car. Then they left so quickly that no trace could be seen of them on the road. Sister M. breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to her good Guardian Angel, for she was firmly convinced that it was he who had once again come to her assistance.
Though the holy Angels are most solicitous for our bodily welfare, yet still greater is their solicitude for the welfare of immortal souls. It is especially when the virtue of holy purity is assailed that the Guardian Angels lend their powerful protection to their protégés, as is witnessed in the lives of St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia, St. Lucy, St. Theophila and other Saints.
A touching story of a Guardian Angel's protection of an innocent youth is related by the renowned Jesuit, Father Coret. One day in 1638, a young nobleman appeared at the monastery at noon and asked to see a certain priest. The priest came and, immediately upon seeing the stranger, received the impression that this was an Angel. The heavenly appearance, the majestic bearing and the Angelic demeanor of the young man were most striking. His countenance was fair, his eyes exceedingly kind, his hair blond, his features mild and delicate. The noble visitor apologized for coming at so inconvenient a time, but added, "The zeal with which you labor for the honor of God and the salvation of youth urges me to leave nothing undone when the innocence and perhaps the eternal salvation of one of your pupils is in peril. You are acquainted with the youth, N.?" The young man in question was a nobleman, about sixteen years of age, very handsome, possessed of great virtue and beloved by all. "Oh, how you would love him if you knew him as I do!" continued the stranger. "He is an Angel, but alas, into what danger of temptation will he be led today! He has been invited to a banquet. If he goes, it will be at the price of his innocence; he will suffer an irreparable loss!"
Naturally, the priest was greatly surprised at his statement. He inquired of the stranger who he was and how he had learned of the snares which had been laid for the youth, but he received no other answer than that the youth was as pure as an Angel, very dear to God, and that his Guardian Angel was most solicitous to preserve his innocence. Then the stranger added, "Often I am in the midst of those who would lead him astray. I come in the name of God and conjure you to prevent so great an evil. Be convinced that as the demons exert an their power to corrupt youth, the Guardian Angels likewise do their utmost to protect them."
The stranger took his leave, and the priest hastened to inform the mother and the son of what had happened. He then made a search for his distinguished visitor, but he was never seen again, and the priest never doubted that this had been the youth's Guardian Angel.
2. They Defend Us against the Demons
In the hour of temptation, when the enemies from Hell break in upon us, the holy Angels intervene in our behalf and help us to conquer the craftiness of the enemy. They strengthen us in the fight, warn us against the suggestions of the tempter, disclose to us his snares and make us fear evil. The fallen angels, retaining the keen and penetrating knowledge proper to their spirit nature, wage fierce and constant battles against those creatures whom God had commanded them to serve. In their morbid despair and jealousy, with a strength surpassing the utmost might of man, they aim at our destruction. "Our wrestling," says St. Paul, "is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and the powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places." [Eph. 6: 12]. But the paternal care of God shields us from their malevolent attacks by surrounding us with the protection of our good Angels. "God," says St. Augustine, "has subjected the bad Angels to the good; they cannot do as much harm as they wish, but only as much as they are permitted for our trial and punishment."
3. They Inspire Holy Thoughts
"Your holy Angel is tender, gentle and mild," says the devout spiritual writer, Hermas. "When he takes possession of your heart, he speaks of justice, modesty and benignity, of true love and piety. When such things make themselves felt in your heart, know that your holy Angel is with you."
It is peculiar to the good Angels to enlighten and instruct the soul of man, to inspire it with strength and fortitude and also, by spiritual consolations, by gentle persuasions, by calmness and refreshing peace, to lighten the fulfillment of every duty and to remove all hindrances to advancement in virtue. "Return to thy mistress, and humble thyself under her hand" [Gen. 16: 9], said an Angel to Agar, the handmaid of Abraham and Sara, thus reminding her of her duty. St. Raphael taught the young Tobias how he should enter the married state in the holy fear of God and how, together with his parents, he should adore and praise God. [Cf. Tob. 11-12]. Likewise, it was an Angel who exhorted the Roman centurion Cornelius to seek out St. Peter in order to be instructed by him in the True Faith. [Cf. Acts 10: 30].
4. They Warn and Admonish Us
Before the city of Jerusalem was captured by the Romans, voices were heard above the Temple saying, "Let us withdraw from hence!" Similarly, our holy Guardian Angel often urges us to leave those places, those companionships, those conversations, books and pastimes where danger threatens our soul and where, because of his Angelic purity and delicacy, he cannot bear us company. His voice cries out to us in various ways-----through the counsel of a friend, through the reading of a good book, through the voice of conscience, etc. How often, how lovingly, how mildly he instructs, warns, entreats and invites us! He is most anxious to be our advocate at the throne of God, but if we do not heed his voice he will be compelled to be our accuser, for he can only fulfill his sublime task if we cooperate with him with ready willingness. If we harden our heart and refuse to heed his admonitions, he will one day be compelled to reveal our sins before all the world.
Disobedience on our part would therefore be not only the basest ingratitude, but the greatest folly as well, for it is only for our own eternal welfare that our Angel thus warns us.
Our Guardian Angel is likewise our loving admonitor. To reprove is an act very proper to love, for since love cherishes an inmost desire for the good of the beloved and shows itself also in deed, so it seeks to avert evil from the one beloved. The administering of reproofs is a means toward this end, and this the Angel accomplishes by inflicting the sting of remorse of conscience. The moment we have committed sin, our holy Angel withdraws his consolations and pierces our soul with pain. He strives to awaken in our heart vehement qualms of conscience and to move us to true contrition and penance. How great are our obligations toward this true friend who thus warns us of evil, chastises us and fills us with anxiety when we have done wrong!
5. They Pray with Us and for Us
Holy Scripture clearly teaches that the Angels pray in our behalf. The Prophet Zacharias, speaking of the supplicating Angels who were watching over jerusalem, says, "The angel of the Lord answered, and said: 'O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and the cities of Juda?' " [Zach. 1: 12]. And the Archangel Raphael said to Tobias, "When thou didst pray with tears . . . I offered thy prayer to the Lord." [Tob. 12: 12]. St. Augustine says: "The Angels pray for us, not as if God did not know our needs, but the sooner to obtain for us the gift of His mercy and to secure for us the blessings of His grace."
On one occasion, while assisting at Holy Mass with special fervor, St. Gertrude was rapt in ecstasy. In this state she saw her Guardian Angel bearing her prayers to the throne of the Divine Majesty, presenting them to the three Divine Persons and imploring them to hear her petitions. The prayer of the Guardian Angel was accepted and Gertrude was blessed by each Person of the Godhead.
St. Bernard frequently admonished his disciples to conduct themselves in an edifying manner in the performance of their devotional exercises, lest their Guardian Angels, who took part in them, should withdraw. "How happy you would be," he exclaimed, "if you could see how they hasten to join those who sing the Psalms and with what reverential bearing they remain among them! They assist those who pray and meditate. With great solicitude they go back and forth between God and us, bearing our sighs to the throne of God. Let us therefore strive earnestly to make their joy complete."
It is related that St. Gregory of Tours and others who slept at the time of prayer received a blow from their Guardian Angel. The histories of religious orders recount many instances of holy souls being awakened by their Angels for prayer in the morning and being punished by them for small faults, such as not rising immediately or not giving themselves to meditation with sufficient fervor.