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 (Mat 18:10)
In this text Jesus affirms the truth that we have Guardian Angels. Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels and it is a beautiful truth that God would assign an angel to have special care for us, it is a sign of his very specific love for each of us as individuals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:
The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels….In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God….From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC #s 334-336 selectae)
All this said, I would like to propose to you that, to some extent we have tended in modern times to sentimentalize the role of the angels in our lives and to drift from the Biblical data regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, but it needs to be balanced by deep respect for the angels.
- Angels have no bodies. They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.” Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no gender. Now we have to envision them somehow, so it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities but it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.
- Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy and charming creatures that modern portraits often depict. In the Bible angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw them (cf Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8). Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are call a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on God’s behalf and that of his people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23; Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7). While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24; inter al) recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image of their swiftness. They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1). And as for those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well read about the real Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight. And this is my main point, angels are not the sentimetal syruppy and cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, and powerful servants of God. They are his messengers and they manifest God’s glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God are immensely to be respected. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command act on our behalf.
- What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels and in particular our Guardian Angel? Sentimental thought may have its place but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus: Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him. (Ex 23:21) So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our Guardian Angel? I would suggest to you that we most hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice, we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our Guardian Angel. Now be careful, we like to try and rationalize what we do, explain away bad behavior, make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know what we are doing and whether or not it is wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth in us and informs our conscience. God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel God has given you not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.
- Finally, an on a less important note, we often think of angels in choirs singing. But there is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY it not sing it (cf. Luke 2:14). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person.