The beginning of Lent may not seem like a time to think about angels. However, on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear about Jesus’ temptations in the desert (Lk 4:1-13). In one of those temptations, the devil urges Jesus to call upon the angels because God has told the angels “to guard you” and: “With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” In both Matthew’s version (4:1-11) and Mark’s (1:12-13), the story ends with angels ministering to Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel serves to remind us of Psalm 91, which reads, “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (11-12).
Angels ministered to Jesus and that ministry reminds us that the church teaches that each of us has an angel assigned to us throughout our entire life, to guard us. We often call these angels our “guardian angels.” Whether you think of them as the sweet protectors of little children walking over a bridge or as the warrior angel guarding your sleep at night, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (n. 336).
Older catechisms taught us three more things about guardian angels:
- They protect us, especially during temptation;
- They inspire us with good thoughts;
- They pray for us.
If you have ever attended a Catholic funeral, you’ve heard that the angels — with your guardian angel among them — have one final task: “to lead you into paradise.”
The church’s teaching about guardian angels traces back to Jesus’ words in Matthew: (18:10): “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, … their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
However, angelic protectors appear in many places in the Old Testament:
- Angels who protected Lot’s family when the destroying angels came to level Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19).
- An angel of the Lord protected the camp of the Israelites from the Egyptian army in Exodus (14:19-20).
- The archangel Raphael was sent to heal Tobit, protect his son, Tobias, on his journey, and save Tobias and Sarah from the demon, Asmodeus. (Tb 3:16ff.)
And the protector of God’s people is the Archangel Michael (Dn 12:1).
In the New Testament, we also see angels acting as protectors. For example:
- Matthew tells how an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream when he was wondering if he should divorce Mary.
- Another angel in a dream warned the Magi not to return to King Herod after they had found the child Jesus.
- Joseph was again warned away to Egypt in a dream when Herod sent soldiers to kill the boy children of Bethlehem.
We even see an angel come to aid Jesus later in life. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to “remove this cup” as he faced a fearful Passion and death. In reply, God’s mercy sent Jesus the “angel of consolation” — a title traditionally given to the Archangel Gabriel — to strengthen him (Lk 22:43).
After Jesus’ Ascension, we see another guardian angel freeing Peter from chains and prison doors (Acts 12: 7-10) and leading him to safety.
The first-century Letter to the Hebrews also mentions angels and notes that they are “sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (1:14).
Beyond the Scriptures, there are many saints who spoke or wrote about guardian angels.
- In the fourth century, St. Jerome wrote, “What a great dignity of souls that each person has, from birth, an angel assigned as guardian.”
- Also in the fourth century, St. Ambrose told us to “pray to the angel who is given to us as guardian.”
- In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux told his followers to “always remember that you are in the presence of your guardian angel.”
- In the 19th century, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote a poem, “To My Guardian Angel.” In it, she asked, among other things, that her angel go often, in her place, to her loved ones to comfort them.
- Padre Pio (St. Pio of Pietrelcin), who died in 1968, was also known to send his own guardian angel to help others. He wrote about the guardian angels to one of his spiritual daughters, advising her that, “in the hours when you seem to be alone and abandoned, … do not forget this invisible companion, always present to listen to you; always ready to console you.”
In 1608, Pope Paul V (also a saint) entered a feast in honor of the guardian angels into the church’s calendar. Today, we celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angels on Oct. 2.
So when you hear the Lenten reading about how angels ministered to Jesus in the desert, remember that they also minister to you. It’s part of God’s mercy. St. John XXIII wrote about how God, as a father, send these guardians to us so that, “we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise.”
Sources: “Catholic Life in a New Century”; “Catechism of the Catholic Church”; “Catholic Faith”; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “Dictionary of Catholic Devotions”; “Modern Catholic Encyclopedia”; “St. Michael and the Angels”; “The New Dictionary of Theology”; ewtn.com; vatican.va; and catholicculture.org.