The Role of Guardian Angels in Our Lives
Pius XI confided to a group of visitors that every day, morning and evening, he prayed to his guardian angel. He added that, as the day went by, he used [to] often renew this prayer, especially when things became difficult, as often happens in a pope's work.
'It is good for us to say this, also out of gratitude,' Pius XI went on. 'We have always seen ourselves as wonderfully helped by our guardian angel. Very often, we feel that he is here, close by, ready to help us.' Recalling what St. Bernard said about our duty to respect, love and trust our guardian angels -- exhortations the Church has included in the liturgy -- Pius XI disclosed that as a young man he had the good fortune to take note of this advice; it made a deep impression on him. As his devotion to his guardian angel developed, 'it played a part in whatever good the pope has done throughout his life.' (p. 14)
We have two texts from Pius XII on the angels -- a brief, but important, mention in an encyclical, and an address given a few days before his death. Humanae generis, which was issued during the Holy Year, 1950, warned bishops about certain errors which threatened to undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine. Among these mistaken opinions, Pius XII, in 1950, denounced the views of those theologians who question whether 'the angels are personal beings.'
Pius XII's address, on 3 October 1958 to several hundred American tourists, is a real jewel of pastoral theology... Drawing on sacred scripture, the Fathers and the liturgy, the pope described the part the guardian angels played in their lives:
Did Christ not say, speaking to little children, who were so loved by his pure and loving heart: 'Their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven' (Mt 18:10). When children become adults, do their guardian angels abandon them? Not at all.
The hymn at first vespers in yesterday's liturgy told us, 'Let us sing to the guardian angels of men, heavenly companions, given by the Father to our frail nature, lest we succumb to the enemies who threaten us.' This same thinking is to be found time and time again in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.
Everyone, no matter how humble he may be, has angels to watch over him. They are heavenly, pure and splendid, and yet they have been given us to keep us company on our way: they have been given the task of keeping careful watch over you so that you do not become separated from Christ, their Lord.
And not only do they want to protect you from the dangers which waylay you throughout your journey: they are actually by your side, helping your souls as you strive to go ever higher in your union with God through Christ.
Whereas we are inclined sometimes to limit the role of the guardian angels to that of defending and protecting us, especially as regards the material side of things, Pius XII goes much further, in keeping with all Christian tradition: our guardian angel, he says actually promotes our spiritual improvement and helps develop our intimacy with God. He is a teacher of asceticism and mysticism, a guide who will lead us right to the summit.
Pius XII ends his address by exhorting the faithful to be on familiar terms, here and now, with their invisible travelling companions.
We do not want to take our leave of you...without exhorting you to awaken, to revive, your sense of the invisible world which is all around us -- because we look not to the things which are seen but the things that are unseen (2 Cor 4:18) -- and to have a certain familiarly with the angels, who are forever solicitous for your salvation and your sanctification. If God wishes, you will spend a happy eternity with the angels: get to know them here, from now on. (pp. 16-17)
John XXIII was another pope who had a deep devotion to his guardian angel. One might say he practized to perfection the advice of his predecessor gave those overseas visitors: 'Have a certain familiarity with the angels.' John XXIII's faith in the active and loving presence of his angel was such that, like Pius XI, what was invisible became in a way visible to the eyes of his faith. (p. 18)
John XXIII believed in the existence of angels and he was happy to use opportunities to remind people of this reassuring truth.... He liked to tell everyone about them, especially parents. Parents, he said, should teach their children that they are never alone, that they have an angel at their side, and show them how to have a trusting conversation with this angel. 'Your guardian angel is a good adviser; he intercedes near God, on our behalf; he helps us in our needs; he protects us from dangers and accidents. The pope would like the faithful to feel the wonderful help the angels give. (pp. 18-19)
John XXIII was so convinced that angels were by our side that, when he looked at the crowd of pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square on a Sunday, there to say the Angelus and receive the pope's blessing, he used also [to] think of the equally numerous crowd of invisible guardian angels also present in the same square. The same thing was true of St. Francis de Sales, a saint beloved of John XXIII: before starting to preach he liked to look round at the people, to greet their guardian angels, invisibly present. (pp. 19-20)
St. Francis de Sales and St. Paul of the Cross
When he was going up into the pulpit, St. Francis de Sales used [to] pause to look around at the people present: when doing so he was greeting their guardian angels, asking them to make his listeners well-disposed to him. St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, had the same custom. (p. 67)
Blessed Padre Pio
'When you are in need of my prayer, address my guardian angel,' [Blessed] Padre Pio used to say to his friends....
A busload of pilgrims en route to San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio lived, was caught at night in a violent storm in the Apennines mountains. After the first few moments of panic -- there was a lot of lightning -- the pilgrims recalled Padre Pio and prayed to his angel. They came through unharmed. The following day, before they had a chance to tell him about their journey, Padre Pio forestalled them, smiling: 'Well, my children, last night you woke me up and I had to pray for you...' The angel guardian had faithfully carried out his mission, bringing to the monastery the SOS sent out from the mountains some miles away. (p. 68)
A Mother's Influence
A mother cannot always directly influence a son or daughter whose faith of moral conduct is at risk, but at any time of the day or night she can use the invisible communication network of the guardian angels. An angel, mobilized by his mother, can suddenly remind a young man of some resolution or promise. And this reminder can be of decisive importance. Sometimes it takes very little to influence as indecisive will. The guardian angels are there precisely to serve men as they make their way towards God. (p. 68)
A Friend during Loneliness and Insecurity
Devotion to the angels would seem to be particularly suitable for dealing with one difficulty which is very common nowadays -- the feeling of loneliness and insecurity.
If it is true that Christian faith grows when it is practized in elites, it is also true that it diminishes in huge masses. The number of committed Christians seems to go down. On the other hand, minority groups of Christians can feel isolated and threatened and this drains them of energy. People can feel isolated even in the context of Christian homes and religious communities: 'I feel as if I am on my own...I have no support...I have to swim against the current...' An attitude of bowing down before the world prevents people from asserting themselves spiritually. Not to mention those men and women who over the years live alone in their fidelity to God, without their encouragement of friends, the stimulus of meeting supportive people....
But think of the light and support and joy these men and women would have if they realized the continuous presence of their angel at their side. It is not a matter of their becoming intellectually aware of angels, as happens when someone listens to a theoretical paper on angels: it is a vivid, concrete awareness you have when you are deep in conversation with a very close friend.
Monsignor Jean Calvet, when he was dean of the faculty of arts at the Institut Catholique in Paris, told of how he was reminded of the existence of the guardian angels by the example of a farmworker. 'I was taking a walk down a shady country road when I came across an old lady. She was very bent-over and using a stick.
"Good day to you, Catinelle."
She half straightened up and replied, "And to you, father and your company."
"How's that? I am on my own; where's my company?"
She straightened up completely; I could see her heavily lined face, and her eyes, still beautiful. She said to me, very seriously, "and your angel guardian, where did you leave him?"
"Thank you, gran. I was forgetting my guardian angel. Thanks for reminding me."
This little episode led Monsignor Calvet to thinking and prayer much more about the angels: 'I have arranged a little corner my oratory for my guardian angel.' (p. 102)
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