“Beware of dog.”
We’ve all seen that sign and we know it means there’s a guard dog on site, protecting the premises.
“Beware of angel.”
Did you know there’s a guard angel on site? On your very premises, at all times.
Yes, wherever you go, your angel goes too.
Many of us remember the paintings of children walking along a path, often near a cliff, with a huge angel behind them ready to prevent any missteps. There’s an old prayer we were all taught: “Angel of God, my guardian dear…”
More modern images of guardian angels can include anything from those gentle guiding angel images, to loving children, to flashes of winged lightning, to warriors with flaming swords. St. Thérèse of Lisieux referred to her own guardian angel as “you who shine in God’s beautiful Heaven / As a sweet and pure flame / Near the Eternal’s throne.”
Whatever the image, the main idea is the same and exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (n. 336).
This week, on Oct. 2, we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels. While devotion to guardian angels dates to the earliest days of the church, a specific feast day is a fairly recent development. In 1608, Pope Paul V entered the feast into the universal calendar, but it was not made an obligatory observance until the time of Pope Clement X (1670-76).
Guardian angels appear a lot in Scripture. For example, angels were sent to save Lot’s family from the destruction of Sodom (Gn 19:1 ff). There was an angel of the Lord protecting the camp of the Israelites from the Egyptians (Ex 14:19-20). And one of the best known angelic protectors of the Old Testament is Raphael, the archangel sent to protect Tobias on his journey and who saves Tobias and his new wife, Sarah, from the demon, Asmodeus. (Tb 3:16 ff.) (The story is even more interesting because one of Raphael’s symbols isn’t a sword or even fire, but a fish. Look it up to see how he helped Tobias’ father, Tobit.)
In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that the guardian angels of children stand before God’s throne at all times (Mt.18:10). In Acts of the Apostles, an angel frees Peter from prison — again no sword, they just walk by the guards, with chains falling off and gates opening on their own (Acts 12:5-10).
Even Jesus had angels to protect him. Just remember how an angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt to save the holy child from Herod, how angels fed Jesus after the temptation in the desert and how Jesus told Pilate that a legion of angels would come to his aid if he asked (Mt 26:53). (A legion contains 6,000 members.)
Just think, whether or not they have swords or flames of fire, every one of us has just such angelic protectors at our side throughout life — on the premises at all times.
Sources: “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “Dictionary of Catholic Devotions”; “Modern Catholic Encyclopedia”; catholiculture.com; and the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament at acfp2000.com.
Kasten is the author of “Linking Your Beads, The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers,” published by Our Sunday Visitor Press. Her newest book, “Making Sense of Saints,” will be published by OSV in spring 2014.