What Guardian Angels Do for Us
IN the Catholic doctrine on Guardian Angels we find one of the most touching traits of Divine Love and Divine Providence in behalf of man. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux grew most eloquent whenever writing or speaking about our Guardian Angels. In his Sermon 12 he wrote: "O wonderful condescension of God! O love truly marvelous! . . . The Most High has commanded the Angels, His Angels, those sublime spirits, so blessedly happy and so near His throne, His familiar, His closest friends. He has given His Angels charge over thee. Who art thou? What is man, that thou art mindful of him? . . . And what thinkest thou He has ordered them in thy account?-----To protect thee."
Nothing reminds man more vividly of his superior spiritual nature and of his glorious destiny in Heaven than this unseen Heavenly escort given us during our earthly pilgrimage. Just as kings give their children a tutor, an attendant from their own court, so the King of Heaven has given men, His adoptive children through grace, tutelary spirits, Guardians and protectors from His Own court.
What are, in particular, the duties of our Guardian Angels? Analyzing these duties, Saint Bernard says that the Angels constantly surround the souls of the faithful in their charge with the most tender care and love. They have but one great desire, that of leading us safely through life till we attain the glory and peace which they themselves possess and fully enjoy while in our company here on earth. They protect both our spiritual and our corporal life. They defend and protect our immortal soul from the seduction of the world and the wiles of Satan. They often shield us from sudden dangers that threaten our life, or come to our rescue when some harm has befallen us. This becomes often manifest with little children who quite often come out of serious accidents without any injury. The mind of the little children cannot be reached with warnings and inspirations, because it is not yet functioning; and thus the Guardian Angel must take direct action in case of danger. Adult persons, in the full use of reason, are warned and cautioned by their Angel, but because they remain free to heed or to ignore such warnings of their Angel, many unfortunate things happen to them in spite of their Heavenly protector.
The most important of all the duties of a Guardian Angel is that of positively helping man in the tremendous work of saving his immortal soul. They accomplish this by exciting in our hearts pious and salutary thoughts and desires or, at times, salutary fear of God's judgments. They become intermediaries between God and man, as they lay our needs and our fears before Him, offering God our desires and our prayers, and in return they bring us His grace and His gifts. [Sermons 12 and 31] The often-mentioned activity of the Archangel Raphael, in favor of old Tobias and his son, is the best illustration of the manifold duties of a Guardian Angel. The entire book Tobias gives us not only an example of patience and charity in the holy man Tobias, but also reveals to us the wonderful and loving ministry of our Guardian Angels.
Occasionally the Angel, in order to give us an opportunity to do penance and to atone for our faults, allows that trials and suffering come our way, or that violent temptations humble our pride and warn us in our complacency. Thus they are truly Pedagogues, as the Greek Fathers often called them, or, better still, spiritual masters and directors. We read often in the life of some Saints who enjoyed the privilege of seeing with their bodily eyes their Guardian Angel almost constantly [as was the case with Saint Frances of Rome and Saint Gemma Galgani], that the Angel often disappeared from their sight, either to try them or to punish them for some little fault they had committed; the devil would then appear and afflict them in various manners.
Indirectly, the Angels help man by keeping the devil away or at least restraining him from causing all the harm and "the spiritual ruin which he so persistently tries to bring upon us, not excluding physical violence and even death. Thus they eliminate many occasions of sin, reduce the number of temptations, and break their force, and in this manner they actually fulfill in our behalf what, in a symbolical language, was expressed in Psalm 90: 12f.: "In their hands they [the Angels] shall bear thee up; lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk; and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon." The lion, in this text, is actually the devil himself, of whom Saint Peter writes: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour." [1 Peter 5: 8] The dragon again is another name for Satan: "That great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the world, and he was cast out unto the earth." [Apoc. 12: 9] Against all these invisible enemies of mankind stands as shield and protection our Guardian Angel whose struggles and victories are known to God alone.
Our Guardian Angels pray for us and with us, and they offer our prayers, our suffering, and our good desires to the throne of God. This most consoling troth is revealed by the glorious Archangel Raphael: "I discover then the troth unto you, and I will not hide the secret from you. When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them at night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord." [Tob. 12: 11f.] We see here how this Archangel offered not only Tobias' prayers but also his tears, his great works of mercy, his self-denial in leaving his dinner untouched in order to bury the dead. For all this, Tobias had received nothing but great trials and finally blindness: "And because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee." [Ibid. 13] No doubt the Archangel who watched over Tobias so carefully could have prevented the accident that caused his blindness, but he did not, in order to offer him an occasion for even greater virtue and more merit.
Another duty of our Angels is that of praising God, and they wish us to join them in this heavenly occupation. This is the first thing that the Archangel Raphael demanded before revealing his identity: "Bless ye the God of Heaven, give glory to Him in the sight of all that live, because He has shown His mercy to you." [Ibid. 6] When the faithful soul, leaving this mortal body, shall look for the first time upon the enchanting features of her Heavenly guide and try to offer thanks for his loving service, she will probably hear the same answer that the grateful Tobias received from the Archangel Raphael: "Peace be to you, fear not; for when I was with you, I was there by the will of God: bless ye Him, and sing praises to Him!" [Ibid. 17f.]
The loving kindness of our Guardian Angels is such that they often go on errands here on earth in behalf of their protégés, or help them with their work. Suffice it here to mention a well-known custom, in our day, with devout persons who met the Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the stigmatic Capuchin priest who lived at S. Giovanni Rotondo, Italy: When in need of spiritual assistance or in order to ask for prayer, they-----at Padre Pio's suggestion-----sent their own Guardian Angel to him and often with happy results. It is reported by one, associated with the good Padre, that one morning he complained about the constant arrival of Guardian Angels with various petitions during the night, saying: "Those Guardian Angels didn't let me sleep a moment last night!"
It is at the hour of death that the good Angel shows the greatest zeal in protecting and defending the soul committed to his care, invoking often the assistance of other Angels against the wiles and the fury of Satan. According to Origen, "At the hour of death the celestial escort receives the soul the moment it leaves the body." [In Johan., XIX, 4] This common Catholic belief, of the soul being accompanied by its Angel to the Divine Tribunal is based on the words of Our Lord: "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom." [Luke 16: 22] The same truth finds expression in the liturgical prayers of the Church, especially in the burial service for adults: "May the Angels lead thee into Paradise, may the Martyrs receive thee at thy coming, and take thee to Jerusalem the holy City. May the choirs of the Angels receive thee, and mayest thou with the once poor Lazarus have rest everlasting . . . Come to his assistance ye Saints of God; meet him ye Angels of the Lord. Receive his soul and present it to the Most High. May Christ who called thee receive thee, and may the Angels lead thee into the bosom of Abraham."Should the departed soul be not quite ready to enter Heaven because it has not fully satisfied Divine Justice for its faults, and must therefore remain for some time in Purgatory, the Guardian Angel will lead it to the place of expiation. The same Angel will often visit it and comfort it in company of other good Angels. [ Suarez, De Angelis, VI, 19] In the meantime, while the soul is suffering in Purgatory, the Guardian Angel goes around inspiring and prompting some of the friends and relatives or other good souls here on earth to pray and to offer Masses for its release from Purgatory. The Guardian Angel will not rest till the day when he shall introduce the soul into Paradise, where it can share with him the blessed vision of God and join in the never-ending hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord of Heaven.