01 October 2023

Homily - 1 October 2023 - On Guardian Angels, God's Care Personalized


The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

My family taught me a prayer when I was a boy that has remained with me over the course of these many years:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here,

ever this day be at my side,

to watch and rule, to guard and guide.

Perhaps your family taught you this same prayer, or one similar to it. Parents, if you have not already done so, it is one you should teach to your children and make it part of your morning prayers. I mention this prayer today because tomorrow is the memorial of the Guardian Angels.[1]

We know each human being has what we call a Guardian Angel because of Jesus’ own words: “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” (Matthew 18:10). Basing her teaching on this verse and others, the Church teaches that “from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.”[2]

Many people seem to have a mistaken understanding of Guardian Angels and of angels generally. We know, for instance, that the Guardian Angels are not the souls of loved ones who have gone before us, despite the pious drivel someone might have once said to us in an attempt to comfort us. Guardian Angels are always angels and humans always remain humans, even after physical death.

Saint Augustine sets us right about the nature of angels generally when he says, “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit;’ if you seek the name of their office, it is “angel: from what they are, “spirit,” from what they do, ‘angel.’”[3]

On the other side of the spectrum, some people have an overly schmaltzy image of Guardian Angels, which is perhaps why J.R.R. Tolkien once told his son Christopher, “Remember your guardian angel. Not a plump lady with swan wings!”[4] In another letter Tolkien perhaps came closer to what a Guardian Angel really is: “God’s very attention itself, personalized. And,” he said, “I do not mean ‘personified’, by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real (finite) person.”[5]

This idea of the personalization of God’s care for each person comes close to the mission of the Guardian Angels. When God assigns Guardian Angels to individual humans, he gives them a particular mission: “to watch over human beings, to whom they minister by purifying, illuminating, and perfecting them as God’s will commands.”[6]

Their mission to purify, to illumine, and to perfect us is not carried out by force, but by urging and guiding us to choose what is good and to reject what is evil in every aspect of life so we, too, might always look upon the Face of God. In all that they do, Guardian Angels respect our free will. Indeed, just as it is possible to ignore or even reject the will of God, so it is also possible to ignore or even reject the promptings of these “ministers of divine care for every human being.”[7]

Pope Francis once helpfully described the Guardian Angels as a bridge to God. He said,

Our angel is not only with us; he also sees God the Father. He is in relationship with Him. He is the daily bridge, from the moment we arise to the moment we go to bed. He accompanies us and is a link between us and God the Father. The angel is the daily gateway to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father: that is, the angel helps me to go forward because he looks upon the Father, and he knows the way.[8]

It is through the Guardian Angels that God answers the prayer of the Psalmist and all who make it their own: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior” (Psalm 25:4-5).

The Lord seems to delight in making use of instruments – and especially of angelic ones – to carry out his will; we should not ignore or forget them. If we do not call upon the guidance of our angel, making progress toward the kingdom of heaven may be more difficult for us, for it is through the Guardian Angels that the Lord “guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

It is our Guardian Angel who will prompt us to “do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory” and to “humbly regard others as more important than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). By following, then, the encouragements of our angelic guards, may we “have in [us] the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” and come to look eternally upon the Face of the Father (Philippians 2:5). May we never be ashamed to pray,

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here,

ever this day be at my side,

to watch and rule, to guard and guide. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 October 2011.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 336.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Psalms, 103.1.15.

[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Christopher Tolkien, 8 January 1944.

[5] Ibid., 7-8 November 1944.

[6] Saint Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 2.8.1.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 October 2011.

[8] Pope Francis, in Gabriella Ceraso, “Pope at Mass: Guardian angels, our daily gate to the Father,” Vatican News. Accessed 1 October 2023. Available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-10/pope-francis-homily-daily-mass-guardian-angels-transcendence.html

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