Plinio CorrÍa de Oliveira
The True Role of Guardian Angels
Lecture, October 2, 1964 (*)
Angel (Fra Angelico - Perugia, National Gallery of Umbria, Italy)
While the role of Guardian Angels is to guard men, institutions, cities and nations, we often have a distorted image of the functions of these angels. Many see them as beings that are good just to obtain advantages for us. However, this is not their only role. They exist above all to help us in spiritual difficulties. God accompanies us through the action of the angels and they participate in our struggles to help us fulfill our vocation.
Indeed, Guardian Angels run contrary to the Hollywood vision of life. According to that mentality, there is a great propensity to think there are no struggles, difficulties or dangers and everything will have a happy ending. The Church teaches us the contrary. Life is full of struggles and dangers, both material and spiritual. Because of this, Divine Providence has placed an angel to watch over each and every one of us.
God has done this with such magnificence, that in addition to one angel for every person, there is also an angel for every city and every nation. There is an angel to watch over the Holy Catholic Church: St. Michael the Archangel. There are angels to watch over groups, families of souls, societies and other institutions, so that everything that exists is guarded by angels. This, incidentally, is part of the role of the angels, for they maintain the whole material universe executing all of the decrees of God.
Therefore, since life is an intense struggle with dangers and difficulties, each of us has an angel to guide him because we would otherwise not be able to make it on our own.
The first lesson to draw from the fact we have Guardian Angels is one must have a supernatural spirit or outlook. The Cistercian abbot Dom Chautard condemned the erroneous attitude of one who thinks: I am very capable, very intelligent, resourceful, and, above all, very proud. I can fend for myself with my great qualities, as long as God keeps away from me those very large obstacles. I do not need Godís help in my spiritual or material life. I can take care of myself and accomplish what I need to do by myself.
There is something fundamentally wrong in this attitude. God Himself delegated an angel to accompany and protect each of us precisely because we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. The fact that we are given an angel is a proof that we need Godís help at every moment, in everything, even those small things, that we do.
On the other hand, the Guardian Angel is usually presented as the protector of little children. Sentimentality has distorted all devotions, holy cards and pictures showing the angel watching over a small child. What is implicitly conveyed is that, first, only toddlers need angels; and second, only little children believe in angels.
Those with a more developed, freethinking or liberated mindset neither need nor believe in angels. Such characterizations of the holy angels convey another message. These sentimental holy cards often show a very beautiful little brook with a fat, rosy-cheeked little toddler walking over a bridge. The child is crossing the bridge with a broken board, and about to step in the hole with his little foot. We see the Guardian Angel is watching over him.
One has the impression that this is a childís imaginary world, and with this mentality, the little child crosses the bridge. At best, we could imagine that the Guardian Angel does the same with adults. Thus, comes the idea that we need to pray to our Guardian Angels to avoid car crashes, illnesses, and small accidents since they specialize in preventing us from such sufferings.
No doubt, Guardian Angels do help us with such material needs, but that is not their only task. No one speaks of Guardian Angels helping with spiritual needs.
Sentimentality has distorted all depictions of Guardian Angels
This attitude is consistent with a certain festive piety that many people exhibit when going on pilgrimage to special sanctuaries. What do they ask for? The healing of a sore throat or some wound. The testimonials and petitions compiled in these places of pilgrimage show requests for help for all kinds of strange symptoms, wounds and material requests. Naturally, the pilgrims also ask for money, reconciliation in families, avoiding bad luck and many other things of the same nature yet with little to no reference to spiritual needs.
Itís evident that many have little notion that Guardian Angels are given to us to help with the most important matters: the needs of our soul. The greatest function of our Guardian Angel is to watch over our soul and to obtain graces for us so we can overcome our spiritual difficulties.
What a great comfort we would have in the hours of tribulation and temptation, those times when we feel all alone weighed down with the problems of our spiritual life, if we would have the certainty that our Guardian Angel is right next to us. Though we cannot see or hear him, he does not leave us even for a second. He is waiting for our prayers to go into action for us. He often acts without our asking, but will act much more if we ask. He is well within our reach.
What a joy it would be to have this in mind when we are involved in the apostolate with others. When we suffer with spiritual problems, annoyances, struggles, abandonment, and difficulties of all kinds, we would know that this solitude is an illusion. Our Guardian Angel is right beside us. Even if we have the impression that the distance between our Guardian Angels and us is greater than between Heaven and Earth, the truth is that they are extremely close to us. As we pray to them and ask for their help, they will watch over and protect us.
Having this present in our thoughts at every moment should encourage us in our spiritual life. We should feel a great satisfaction and sense Godís hand accompanying us at each step in our spiritual and material life. This illustrates the affirmation of Our Lord in the Gospel that not a hair falls from our head, not a bird dies, or a leaf falls without God willing it.
Such a perspective about the angels corresponds to Church teaching on Divine Providence. Because our Guardian Angel is providing and asking for everything we need, we can practice better the virtue of confidence.
The assistance the angel provides for us in the hours of danger and trial is not the only assistance he renders. He also prays for us. There is, for example, the famous vision of Daniel in which he sees angels from the ancient empires as if fighting for their respective people before Godís throne.
Our angel is our intercessor, advocate and our mediator. He is continuously praying for us. Therefore, the most appropriate thing for us to do is to ask continuously that our Guardian Angel fulfill this function of intercessor to obtain graces for us and drive away temptations and chastisements. This is something we should be doing constantly.
Thus, we have made some considerations that should help us to increase our love for our Guardian Angels, and thus invoke their patronage with greater devotion.
(*) The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. ĖEd. American TFP.