You’ve Got a Friend You Can’t See (Because He’s an Angel)
You will never be alone in your life. Not for a second. Even when you want to be. You will always have someone at your side. And more to the point, on your side.
God loves you and sends you friends. Because we need friends. Sometimes we need them to protect us, other times to push us to do better, and all the time to let us know we are loved. Your Christian friends should help you resist temptation and love God more, and they should make you feel God’s love through their own. But they don’t always.
The Father who thinks of everything sends you one friend at the very beginning of your life, who will never leave you, who’s far far more powerful than any human friend. He’ll protect you and push you and always let you know God loves you. Your guardian angel, he’s your pal for life.
The ancient Christian teaching comes from Jesus’s words: “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” (Matt 18:10). Their angels, not “the angels” in general.
Other verses tells us that God sends angels to help us. He says to the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” Daniel describes angels as in charge of nations, one being called “the prince of the kingdom of the Persians.”
The psalmist says that “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.” The writer of Hebrews calls angels “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.”
The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther talked about the guardian angels in a sermon on Jesus’s words I just quoted. “We are to know for a certainty that every human being has his own appointed angel who looks after and watches over him,” he said. (The next great Reformer, John Calvin, believed that the angels guard us. He just thought lots of them guarded us, not just one.)
Angels and the Gospel
That God gives us a guardian angel is part of the good news. God looks out for you. Luther called them a gift.
It’s what a loving father does. A father takes care to ask other people to help his children through life’s dangers, Pope John XXIII explained. “In the same way, our Father in Heaven has charged his angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey that leads us to our blessed fatherland. Protected by the angels’ help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path and subdue our passions. Under this angelic guidance, we may follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise.”
Luther saw this as a very practical teaching. It is news you can use. “When you see that something has turned out well,” he said in another sermon, “be ready to say that a good angel prompted it, otherwise things would have gone worse for a person. When a person is saved from a flood or is unharmed when a stone falls on him, this is not luck but the work of a beloved angel.”
He pointed us to the dangerous devils who tempt us to sin. We need our angels’ help to fight them. “It is extremely important, therefore, that we accustom ourselves to prayer, and in time of grave danger conscientiously petition God not to take from us the protection of the beloved angels, lest we come to nought, for we are too weak for the devil.”
I bring this up because in the Catholic Church, today’s the annual celebration of the Guardian Angels. Here’s the special prayer for the day. It’s a good day to think about one of the Father’s great gifts to us, one many of us don’t think about at all.
We can be really modern people who don’t see the supernatural. We can live in a pretty bare world. Religion we enjoy over here, when we go to church and when we pray, but the rest of life, that’s just life. We think. But as the Christians before us knew, the devils operate everywhere and they’re on the job 24/7. When we don’t see the spiritual world, it’s like crossing an eight-lane interstate at rush hour with our eyes closed. You will get hurt. You could die.
Earlier Christians talked a lot about our guardian angels as actual guards. They operate everywhere too and they’re on the job 24/7. They protect us in ways we can’t see. Our guardian angels keep us safe and they fight the devils who attack us. True.
But we also need to see them as guides. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” A shepherd. A shepherd assigned to care for just one of God’s sheep, and that sheep is you. Very cool.
Here’s where Jesus’s words are so important. “Their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in Heaven.” Our angelic friends see God. They connect us to our creator and redeemer no matter what we do.
The angel, Pope Francis has said,“is the daily door toward transcendence, to the encounter with the Father. The angel helps me walk along the path because he looks at the Father who knows the way. Let us not forget this traveling companion.”
The twelfth-century pastor Bernard of Clairvaux summed it up well in his sermon about the guardian angels. “Brethren, we will love God’s angels with a most affectionate love, for they will be our heavenly co-heirs some day, these spirits who now are sent by the Father to be our protectors and our guides,” he said.
“With such bodyguards, what are we to fear? They can neither be subdued nor deceived. Nor is there any possibility at all that they should go astray who are to guard us in all our ways. They are trustworthy, they are intelligent, they are strong — why, then, do we tremble? We need only to follow them, remain close to them, and we will dwell in the protection of the Most High God.”
Luther echoed this three centuries later. We must turn to them for help. “As often as you sense the approach of any grave temptation or some crushing sorrow hangs over you, invoke your protector, your leader, your helper in every situation. Call out to him and say: ‘Lord, save us, we are perishing.’”
If you want to follow Luther’s instruction, here’s one old Irish prayer you can say to ask your guardian angel’s help. Here’s a rhyming one, called the Angele Dei: “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, rule and guide. Amen.”
David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. He edits the site Hour of Our Death and writes the monthly “Last Things” column for the New Oxford Review.