Hey, Father! Do guardian angels really exist?

As one who attended Catholic elementary schools, I was taught the Guardian Angel prayer and prayed it daily. Do they really exist? Given events like the school shooting in Texas, if they really do exist, they certainly aren’t doing their jobs!

– Nancy in Springfield

Much of the general public’s knowledge and understanding about angels comes from popular media sources such as movies and television programs. Some of it is accurate while some of it is not. Still, there are those who wonder if angels really exist and if they have any impact in our lives.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that the existence of angels is a truth of faith which is based upon Sacred Scripture and Church Tradition (CCC 328). As Catholics, we profess this faith on a weekly basis when we proclaim our Nicene Creed at Sunday Mass. The Creed does not mention angels specifically, but it does allude to them when it states that God created all things that are visible and “invisible” (CCC 331).

Angels are those beings that are unseen and so for the most part, we do not see the angels. However, angels have made their appearance from time to time in Sacred Scripture. Even certain saints such as Padre Pio claimed to have seen their guardian angel. The children of Fatima were addressed by an angel.

The word angel means “messenger,” and there are numerous instances in Sacred Scripture that involve the presence of angels. Sometimes they come under the appearance of human beings, even though angels themselves do not have bodies. They are pure spirits.

There are good angels and bad angels. Satan, the devil, is an angel. He and many other angels of their own free will rebelled against God and were then cast into hell (Isa 14:12, Lk 10:18, CCC 392-393). They are called demons. Most of the angels, however, remained faithful to God. God sends His good angels to assist, warn, and guide His people (CCC 331-333). Demons, on the other hand, do have the ability to tempt people to do evil things (CCC 395).

These are just a few examples from Scripture regarding the presence of angels (CCC 331-333):

  • Angels came to inform Abraham that he would have a son (Gn 18:10);
  • An angel guided the Israelites from Egypt into the desert (Ex 14:19);
  • Satan tempted Jesus during His 40-day fast in the desert (Mt 4:1-11);
  • Angels ministered to Jesus at the end of His fast in the desert (Mt 4:11);
  • Jesus cast out demons from possessed persons (Lk 8:26-33);
  • The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to the Virgin Mary to seek her willingness to be the mother of His Son (Lk 1:26-38);
  • In a dream, angels guided Joseph to take Mary and the Child Jesus to Egypt (Mt 2:13);
  • Angels came to comfort Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:43);
  • An angel freed Peter from jail (Acts 12:7);
  • Jesus said that the angels of children gaze upon the face of God, therefore affirming that each person has a guardian angel (CCC 336, Mt 18:10);
  • In Revelation, the Archangel Michael does battle with Satan and the demons (Rev 12-7).

It is sometimes said that if angels are real, and they are meant to help us, why do they not intervene when evil things are about to happen such as murders and suicides? This touches on the mystery of the presence of evil in the world (CCC 309, 385). All evil has its origin in sin, particularly the original sin of Adam (CCC 386-389). This sin was instigated by the evil angel, Satan. The original nature of man was damaged by this first sin and thus the consequent tendency to commit sin, which is referred to as concupiscence is passed on to successive generations down to our present day (CCC 2514-2516). Couple the tendency to sin with free will and you have a precarious combination.

God has given both angels and men the gift of free will (CCC 311, 1704, 1731). Some human beings choose to serve God by obeying his commandments and living holy lives. The choice to serve God and do what is good brings peace to society, generally speaking. Other human beings out of weakness choose to do bad things which brings about disorder, chaos, and suffering. Good human beings and bad human beings live among each other for the most part. Jesus described this reality in the parable about the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13: 24-30). We can see this reality in our own communities. God respects our free will to make choices. He does not force us or our neighbor to do that which is good. Being a good person and doing what is good is a deeply personal decision. Just like being a bad person is a personal decision.

So, where do the angels come in here? The devil and other evil angels encourage people to do that which is evil, because they hate us and want our souls in hell with them. God gives the good angels the mission of encouraging people to do good things. But angels, good or bad, cannot force our free will. They can only encourage us one way or the other.

We must be careful not to attribute our decisions to do good or evil entirely to the influence of angels. The individual person must make their own free will choice and unfortunately, some people choose to do bad things and, in some instances, very bad things like starting wars and murdering innocent people.

The spiritual life is a spiritual battle and God has given us good angels to help us in this battle, but the angels respect our personal freedom to choose, even when we make bad choices. The angels are God’s gift to us. We should seek their guidance each day (cf. www.stmaryspittsfield.dio.org, Homily Archives).

Father Mark Schulte is pastor of St. Mary in Pittsfield and St. Mark in Winchester