Guardian angels don't need to be relegated to your childhood.
In Matthew 18:10, Jesus reveals the depths of his love again, warning those who cause others to sin, while also emphasizing that his children are never alone. "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."
The Church teaches that guardian angels are here to help everyone from newborns to the aged. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Every one of the faithful has an angel standing at his side as educator and guide, directing his life." (no. 336)
Since the 1990s, Msgr. Scott Marczuk, JCL, pastor of St. Stephen Church in Bentonville, has been presenting a talk on angels to RCIA candidates, always finding people interested to learn more about the celestial companions by our side.
"That they're helping us," he said of what he finds most comforting about angels. "That we're not alone. That God loves us enough to send us a companion to guide us on our way."
In Catholic belief, God created angels at the beginning of time, before man, to be perfect, intelligent beings independent of space and time. They are infused with knowledge by God's grace, so they do not have to labor to learn things, Msgr. Marczuk said.
"They don't know everything; they're not like God," he cautioned.
In pop culture, TV shows like the 1990s hit "Touched by an Angel" spurred a fascination with angels, all the more reason, Msgr. Marczuk said, that Catholics need to be aware of what angels are and not. "New age" mystics are drawn to angels, from naming them to connecting with angel guides, which can be a spiritual danger. Angels cannot read minds.
"We honor them, but we don't worship them. Even in the Scripture themselves," angels have made it clear, Msgr. Marczuk said, " 'I'm just a messenger like you; give God the glory and praise.' Just as we honor the saints."
St. Augustine pointed out that the term "angel" refers to their office, not their nature, which is “spirit.” They are the servants and messengers of God, always fixated on him. Fallen angels are fixated on Satan (see sidebar).
"As purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness." (catechism, no. 330)
"They're at the liturgy. Mystics have always seen them at Mass," Msgr. Marczuk said. "Where Christ is in the Eucharist, they are there."
In the fifth or sixth century, Greek author, theologian and philosopher Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite described the hierarchy of angels in his book "De Coelesti Hierarchia” (On the Celestial Hierarchy). This three-part hierarchy includes nine choirs of angels, categorized by their relationship in service to God and man.
"Seraphim would help inspire us to love (God) more deeply. The Cherubim would help us to know more about the knowledge of God's word, the truth," Msgr. Marczuk said. "So each has a function, and each rank, each angel, tells us something about God himself as the creator."
"Just out of love to fill that gap of creation, it would make sense that he'd want them as spirits helping us because he loves us," Msgr. Marczuk said of God creating angels. "Angels are really the servants to the incarnation of Jesus."
The work of angels in the lives of humans can be as simple as a thought entering a person's mind to call someone, to as miraculous as saving a person from a head-on collision.
"They influence us. Their job is to get us to heaven. They intercede, pray for us. I like to ask God to send an angel. That's what the saints all did," Msgr. Marczuk said, explaining that St. Padre Pio would often ask for angels to be sent for communication.
Pope Pius XI spoke of how he implored the help of guardian angels ahead of difficult diplomatic meetings, asking his own guardian angel to negotiate with the guardian angel of whom he'd be speaking with to produce a more fruitful conversation. Msgr. Marczuk said it was then documented the meetings went much "more pleasant," something that can help the faithful today when speaking with someone who might be closed off to an important conversation.
"You need that also for your families. If you're having problems, pray to the guardian angels of the members of your families," he said. "We never think about that, (angels) helping in practical ways, but they want to do that."
Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (the Work of the Holy Angels) is an international Catholic movement made of religious orders promoting the devotion to holy angels and approved by the Vatican in 2010 to be in line with Church teaching after a tumultuous history. The movement states that there are two main ways angels communicate with people, most typically through interior senses (thoughts, imaginations, feelings), intellectual visions and spiritual consolations and feelings of tension or pressure in the body or soul.
"They can inspire us, direct us," Msgr. Marczuk said. "You know we've all had instances where we can say, where did that come from? Some insight, some thought -- 'Don't go in there, don't say that, be careful.' What? Where did that come from? It's the Holy Spirit guiding us through angels."
Though rare, angels can also speak aloud, like St. Gabriel's appearance and conversation with Mary.
Three theories are attributed to different saints when a person is assigned their guardian angel. St. Thomas Aquinas believed every person was given a guardian angel at birth, while St. Jerome and St. Basil the Great believe they are a gift at baptism. St. Anselm maintained that they were assigned at the moment of conception. The movement also maintains that a guardian angel is not reassigned after death because each angel "has been uniquely matched with us from all eternity by God himself to help us carry out the special mission in our earthly life for which he has created us."
Instead, it is the belief that upon our death, if we enter heaven, we will worship the Lord alongside our guardian angel. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, "When he arrives at the end of life he no longer has a guardian angel, but in the kingdom, he will have an angel to reign with him."
Guardian angels are traditionally depicted as praying over the souls in purgatory and will welcome a soul into heaven.
"So much of art is guardian angels protecting children. So we probably dismiss that, as we think we're independent adults. But we're still God's children, and we're still in need of protection because we can't see the spiritual dimension around us, but they do," Msgr. Marczuk said. "It's comforting to know that they're here to help us, they're on our side, they want us to get to heaven to be with God forever. So, they will continue to communicate as long as we're open to it."
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