Dear Father Kerper: A friend of mine, who is a very devout Catholic,always talks about her so-called Guardian Angel. I heard about these angels when I was a child. Now that I’m an adult I regard them as legends or myths made up to make children feel safe. Are Guardian Angels real? Is there anything in the Bible about them?
As we grow into adulthood and become more sophisticated, we tend to dismiss some religious beliefs we learned as children. Guardian Angels fall into this category of “childish beliefs” that seem nice but also far-fetched. Rather than tossing them out completely, I suggest that you consider a deeper and more mature interpretation of what Guardian Angels really are.
Let’s begin with their existence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly affirms their reality. It repeats the words of Saint Basil the Great: “Beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (no. 336). The Catechism uses this brief text to show that belief in Guardian Angels is both ancient (Saint Basil lived in the fourth century) and espoused by a highly reputable and holy theologian (Saint Basil is called “the Great” precisely because his works are considered of the highest quality).
More important, of course, is the biblical background. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus once gathered children to Himself and said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:10–11). In the Old Testament, the book of Tobit has a scene in which Tobit spoke of the “guardian angel” of his son Tobias. The old man said: “For a good angel will accompany him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back in good health” (Tob. 5:22).
While the Catholic theological tradition, especially in the Middle Ages, has extensive speculation about angels, the Church’s official teaching is remarkably reserved. It affirms just two succinct points: first, God’s creation includes a multitude of noncorporeal personal beings; and second, these beings somehow share in the beneficent works of God.
Drawing upon these two points, we see that Catholic belief in Guardian Angels is not exclusively — or even primarily — about angels. Rather, the teaching beautifully expresses our Catholic understanding of the human person and the way God generally acts in the created cosmos. We learn three things here.
Belief in Guardian Angels strongly reaffirms the Catholic belief in the infinite value of the individual human person. In a world of anonymity and depersonalized service, God refuses to offer “generic” care from the anonymous angelic ranks. Rather, God provides each human person with specialized care from one specific being. By doing this, God tenderly affirms that every person is unrepeatable, unique, and deserving of individual and personal attention.
Second, Guardian Angels reflect God’s “style” of dealing with created reality. Rather than acting unilaterally, God forever invites and enables other beings — human and angelic — to share in God’s own vast work. God, of course, needs no help. But God’s intense desire to share the divine life with created beings leads God to create and enlist others in guiding creation to fulfill its proper end.
Third, the mystery of the Guardian Angels reminds us that creation is essentially good and that the general direction of the universe is toward the fulfillment — not the frustration — of God’s plan. Unseen by the human eye, goodness in the form of invisible angelic beings abounds everywhere, advancing God’s design in ways we can scarcely imagine.
Saint Bernard, whose words are quoted in the Office of Readings for the memorial of the Guardian Angels, said this of the Guardian Angels: “Brothers, let us love God’s angels with sincere affection: they will be our co-heirs at some future time. . . . They cannot be vanquished, nor led astray, still less can they lead us astray. . . . They are faithful, they are wise, they are powerful; what have we to fear?”
Your childhood belief in Guardian Angels probably gave you a sense of safety. Now, as an adult, this same belief should fill you with wonder about God’s creation, appreciation for your own role as a coworker with God, and joyful hope that the vast goodness of God will ultimately prevail.
This article is from a chapter in Fr. Kerper’s A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask. It is available from your local bookstore and Sophia Institute Press.