Irish priest Fr. Richard O’Kennedy’s 1887 work The Holy Angels is a comprehensive resource for angelology. He elucidates essential Church teaching on the angels and their fallen counterparts, the demons.
In a catechism-like question and answer format, Fr. O’Kennedy writes engagingly of the mission and duties of “God’s beautiful angels, ever tender towards man.”
He identifies several key duties of the guardian angel:
1. Defends us from evil, guards us body and soul. Our guardian angel’s primary objective is our salvation. While guardian angels protect us in body, their care of our soul is more important. Our angel can shield us from temptation and evil inclinations. On the other hand, he also inspires us to prayer and virtuous actions. He assists in discernment.
2. Opposes the works of the demons. Guardian angels obliterate the demons’ schemes to thwart our salvation. They counter the temptations to evil, supplied to us by the demons, with invitations to good. Sudden impulses to pray or perform good works may be inspirations from our angels.
3. Intercedes for us before God. Our angel acts as an advocate before God; offering our prayers to Him and begging that they may be found worthy, and constantly praying for our good.
4. Teaches and consoles. St. Gemma Galgani, who had the grace of being able to physically see and converse with her guardian angel, describes sitting with him for hours listening to his descriptions of the beauty of Heaven and the truths of the Faith.
Her angel also consoled her after suffering, reminding her always to remain focused on the world to come. She writes in her diary: “Then he calmed me, sat at my side, and said gently, very gently: ‘O daughter, don’t you know that you must conform in every way to the life of Jesus? He suffered so much for you; don’t you know that you must on every occasion suffer for Him?’”
5. Acts as minister of God’s justice. Fr. O’Kennedy explains that our guardian angels are often responsible for inflicting corrective or medicinal punishment due to our sin. While it seems counterintuitive, this duty serves their principal goal of assuring our salvation. Our angel, perfectly in accord with the will of God, knows what’s best for us, and that sometimes can come across as “tough love.” St. Gemma frequently describes her guardian angel “yelling” at her for some sin or fault. However, it was clear that these severe corrections were always for her eventual good.
Again from her diary:
From the moment when I got up from my sickbed, my Guardian Angel began to be my master and guide. He corrected me every time I did something wrong, and he taught me to speak but little and only when I was spoken to…one time in church, he reproved me strongly, saying to me: ‘Is this the way to conduct yourself in the presence of God?’ And another time he chided me in this way: ‘If you are not good, I will not let you see me anymore.’ He taught me many times how to act in the presence of God; that is, to adore Him in His infinite goodness, His infinite majesty, His mercy and in all His attributes.
Fr. O’Kennedy notes that our guardian angels will also testify at our judgment.
6. Assists us in final perseverance at the hour of death. Our guardian angel rejoices to hear “well done, good and faithful servant.” Along with Our Lady, he will help carry us into Heaven. To furnish imagery of this moment, Fr. O’Kennedy quotes St. Ambrose, who calls the angels “the chariots of the saints.”
7. Assists us in Purgatory. Our angels do not leave us after death, nor are they “recycled”—we are their only assignment. Guardian angels offer the prayers and sacrifices of those still on earth to God on our behalf. Fr. O’Kennedy explains that they can sometimes visit us in Purgatory to console or dispense graces.
Our Duties to Our Guardian Angels
In recognition and gratitude for their lifelong devotion and assistance, we also owe certain duties to our guardian angels. Fr. O’Kennedy defines three practical ways we can show our love for our angel:
Reverence for his presence. Knowing that our angel witnesses all of the actions of our lives, and will thus be called to give an honest account at our personal judgment, we must always act in a manner fit for his view. This practice furthermore helps us to live in the presence of God and develop the virtue of fear of the Lord.
Devotion and affection. Our guardian angel loves us, and we should return this love, which ultimately glorifies God. We can practice gratitude for our angel’s protection—both for his obvious interventions, and for the unknown protections that constantly sustain us without our awareness. This devotion can be observed by increased prayer, daily conversation, or possession of images, statues, or icons of a guardian angel.
Total confidence in his protection
Placing trust in our guardian angel helps us to completely trust and abandon ourselves to God. Our guardian angel was given to us by God, and operates only according to His will. Since the will of angels is fixed, they are confirmed in grace and cannot be tempted to sin. They cannot lead us astray. Angels are in constant possession of the beatific vision and love us perfectly. Therefore, our trust in our angel is an extension of our trust in God, and in His will for us. Being docile to our angel’s guidance helps us to grow in docility to the will of God.
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