“Guardian Angel” (detail) by Pietro da Cortona

 “We can get wrapped up in anxiety – but have we asked our closest friend for help?”

What do Renaissance art and Frank Capra have in common? I love them both, but neither did us much favor when it comes to angelology.

That begin said, whenever I talk about angels, I like to clear up some misconceptions from the beginning. I’m not an angel expert by any means. But I think it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your guardian angel, and to do that, you want to have a handle on what angels are… and what they aren’t.

First of all, angels are not chubby things with wings. It’s no wonder people aren’t clamoring to get into heaven, really. Who wants to sit on a cloud a play a harp all day? I love Renaissance art, but it’s revival of putti is not its best contribution to Catholic culture.

Angels aren’t pudgy babies; in fact, they don’t have bodies at all. Angels are pure spirits. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that angels could assume physical bodies so as to communicate with men and women on earth. And obviously, if we are going to depict them in art, we have to give them some sort of body. But it’s important for us to realize that is not their nature. They are incorporeal beings.

Secondly, you are not going to turn into an angel when you die. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favorite movies, but Clarence the human person isn’t getting any wings, no matter how many George Baileys change their minds about life. You’re a human person, and when you die, you remain a human person. In purgatory and heaven (God willing we get there), we will be souls waiting for the general judgment to be reunited to our bodies. We will never be angels.

Angels are God’s messengers. “Angel” is actually the name of what they do, not what they are. Augustine says, “’Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit.'” (see CCC 329). We see angels throughout the Old Testament committed to God’s work and bringing His word to Abraham, to the judges, and to Daniel. In the New Testament, we see Gabriel and the heavenly hosts delivering the greatest news of all time: the Incarnation.

Angels are also protectors. One of the most vivid examples of this in Scripture is the story of the archangel Raphael in the book of Tobit. We can see clearly from this story how much God and his angels care about us.

Today we celebrate the feast of the guardian angels. The theological idea of guardian angels comes from Mt 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

We are surrounded by angels who are protecting us. The prayer you may have learned as a child is not just a prayer for children – Angel of God, My guardian dear, to Whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

Ask your guardian angel for help and protection. We are assaulted all day by temptations and lures of the Evil One. But you have an angelic protector who can help you! Do you ask for that help?

Ask other people’s guardian angels for help, too! Saint John Vianney greeted his parishioners’ guardian angels when he arrived at his new parish in Ars. It is said that Pope Pius XI used to pray to the guardian angels of people with whom he had a conflict or a difficult discussion. He would pray to that person’s guardian angel to help him understand their point of view or to help the conversation on both sides. In this culture of division, we all could benefit from prayers to the guardian angels of our friends, relatives, and enemies.

It is easy for us to forget the existence of things we cannot see. But the spiritual world is more real than this created one. Begin by greeting your guardian angel every morning. As you cultivate that habit, it will get easier to bring him to mind throughout the day and ask for his help. Greet the angels of the people you meet before you greet them! The angels will help us make our conversation charitable and fruitful. Ask for their protection before you travel. (St. John Vianney reminds us, “What joy it is to know that when we go out of the house, we are never alone en route.”) Ask for extra protection before entering into places or circumstances that could be occasions of sin.

How many of us neglect our daily companion? We can get wrapped up in anxiety – but have we asked our closest friend for help? We have a powerful intercessor, protector, and friend at our side every hour of the day. You have nothing to fear. But you must begin to ask.

“When tempted, invoke your angel. Ignore the devil and do not be afraid of him: He trembles and flees at your guardian angel’s sight.” -St. John Bosco

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