Catholics might remember this prayer from childhood:
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.
As children, Catholics are taught that each of us has a personal guardian angel who provides protection, comfort and guidance. But as adults, many Catholics forget all about their guardian angels when facing the big and small struggles of life. And that is a loss, says Marilyn Santos, associate director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC. “They’re missing an opportunity of the incredible gift that God created for all of us,” she says.
A guardian angel’s purpose is specific. “A guardian angel is a supernatural being that God created solely to be an assistant to his daughters and sons while we’re on Earth,” Santos explains.
Saint Jerome referred to angels that guard over us, and Saint Matthew wrote: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Franciscans and Jesuits began the practice of honoring guardian angels in the 1600s, Santos says, and angels play important roles throughout the Bible.
In the United States, the topic of guardian angels is relegated to lessons for children just before the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2. But in other countries, guardian angels are celebrated openly by everyone. “In Japan, people set up altars nine days before actual feast day,” Santos explains. “And in Latin America people set up altars and guardian angels are celebrated and acknowledged publicly,” she says.
That’s why Santos was not surprised that Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires, speaks often about guardian angels. She surmised that his Latin American upbringing emphasized communicating with one’s guardian angel.
“I would like to ask you all a question: Do you speak to your angel?” Pope Francis challenged Catholics in 2018. “Do you know the name of your angel? Do you listen to your angel? Do you let yourself be taken by the hand along the path or pushed to move?”
Guardian angels can provide not just guidance and protection to Christian adults, but they can nudge them to take healthy risks.
“There is the danger of not going on the journey,” Pope Francis said. “And how many people settle down, and don’t set out on the journey, and their whole life is stalled, without moving, without doing anything . . . It is a danger . . . And so many people don’t know how to make the journey, or are afraid of taking risks, and they are stalled. But we know that the rule is that those who are stalled in life end up corrupted. Like water: when the water is stopped up in a place, the mosquitos come, they lay their eggs, and everything is corrupted. Everything. The angels help us, they push us to continue on the journey.”
The idea of the guardian angel is grounded in Catholic teaching, says Santos. “As Catholics we believe that everyone, including non-Christians, has an angel assigned to them for guidance on Earth. They are here to help us in our humanity, to protect us from evil and encourage us to do good works. Like God, the angel cannot affect our free will. But your guardian angel will whisper in your ear to remind you of who God meant you to be.”
This enforces the idea that guardian angels are a direct connection to God. “Our angel is not only with us; he also sees God the Father,” Pope Francis said. “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. Let us not forget these companions along the journey.”
The pandemic has created tremendous stress and worry for adults. “In the past year my friends and colleagues and I have reached out to our guardian angels more than we had in a long time,” says Santos. “We’re not looking for a magic wand to make everything better. But it’s comforting to know that there is a presence that God uniquely created just for me.”
Reconnecting with one’s guardian angel is possible any time. Santos suggests intentionally revisiting childhood prayers and lessons or speaking to a parish priest about how to renew the relationship with a guardian angel for guidance in today’s challenges and those in the future.