What’s the deal with Guardian Angels?
A Reflection for the Memorial of the Guardian Angels
Find today’s readings here.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt 18:10)
A pin on my winter coat. A recited prayer before history class. A small statue on a shelf near my bedside.
The memories that come to mind when I think of Guardian Angels, the celestial beings the church remembers in today’s memorial, are all from childhood. If you grew up in a Catholic family or attended Catholic school, you too may have memories like this. Maybe you received a small gift from a grandparent or a pastor, something you could keep with you to remind you of your angel’s constant presence. Or perhaps you learned about them as you prepared to receive sacraments.
There is plenty we can learn from Scripture about angels and their importance in our spiritual lives, but there is also plenty of lore surrounding them that has developed from years of culture and tradition. As Jim McDermott wrote in 2022, the images of “naked babies with wings; dudes with fire swords” or figures “hanging out on clouds playing harps” may not be the most biblically accurate, and neither is the idea that our loved ones become angels after they die.
And yet, the sweet-faced figures with wings that I wore pinned to my jacket or looked at on my shelf as I drifted off to sleep were more than just symbols; they really meant something to me. And though their loved ones don’t become angels, no doubt many people find great comfort in the idea that those they’ve lost are in some way looking down on them from above. Is there something wrong with that?
The memories that come to mind when I think of Guardian Angels, the celestial beings the church remembers in today’s memorial, are all from childhood.
The fact that Jesus links angels’ protection to children (and to childlike simplicity) in today’s Gospel reading might tell us something. In his remarks on this feast in 2015, Pope Francis did the same.
In encouraging Catholics to respect and listen to their Guardian Angels, the pope prayed: “May we ask the Lord for the grace of this meekness, to listen to the voice of this companion, to this ambassador from God who accompanies us in His name and may we be supported by his help.”
Maybe we have permission to rest in the protection of God and his angels. Maybe we have permission to be like children, to let go of the belief that the outcomes in our lives rely solely on our productivity, our leadership and our volition. Maybe we can relinquish the notion that faith is about being learned or worthy.
When I think back to some of the people whose faith I have most admired, I can appreciate that they have that kind of trust. They have kept some sliver of childlike rest—even as they’ve grown older and experienced life’s harsher moments. They’ve often been the people who have had a particular devotion to Guardian Angels and who have shared that so lovingly with me. Most of them are not scholars or experts. They just live their lives as if there’s something to believe in, something bigger than themselves to rely on. And if angels can mean all that—wings and halos or not—we’d all do well to honor them.