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What does the church teach about guardian angels?

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Images of angels are on calendars and notecards, magnets and mugs. But these spiritual beings are not the stuff of Hallmark designs; they are real and powerful, serving as protectors and ministers of divine care.

Among the myriads of angels are guardian angels - special beings who guide and guard every human life.

They are "an amazing personal gift, beyond our comprehension," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde in a homily earlier this year. "Many think that having a guardian angel is 'too good to be true,' and so they hesitate to call upon that strong angelic presence as they move through the events of an ordinary day."

Yet according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, from the moment of conception until a person's last breath, a guardian angel surrounds each human being with "their watchful care and intercession." The church honors these guardians with a feast day Oct. 2.

Aids in salvation history

Often lumped with fairies and other imaginary creatures, angels are affirmed as truth through Scripture and Catholic tradition. Their existence was dogmatically declared by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

Created by God as spiritual, noncorporeal beings who possess intelligence and will, angels "have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation," according to the catechism.

The world "angel" comes from the Greek "angelos," meaning "messenger," and these beings are envoys who aid in God's saving plan.

When you think of angels, perhaps the big players come to mind: the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. That is not surprising, as they are the only angels named in the Bible, and each has a unique role in salvation history. Gabriel, of course, announced to Mary that she would bear the Messiah.

Guardian angels, those you perhaps prayed to beside your childhood bed, also have a place in the story of salvation.

These guardians, according to Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, "are entrusted above all with helping humanity come to know and love God in this life, so as to enjoy eternal happiness in heaven."

The church encourages the faithful to pray to and thank their guardian angels daily.

Many saints trusted steadfastly in their guardian angels, including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio and St. John Paul.

Padre Pio, a Capuchin Franciscan who died in 1968, was granted the vision of not only his own guardian angel but also those of others.

"How consoling it is to know that we are always under the protection of a heavenly spirit, who never abandons us, not even (most admirable fact!) in the very act by which we displease God," wrote Padre Pio in a letter to one of his spiritual daughters.

According to Father Paul F. deLadurantaye, Arlington diocesan secretary for religious education and sacred liturgy, guardian angels function differently depending on whether or not a person is baptized. For the unbaptized, their main function is to protect individuals from grave harm and evil; for the baptized, their, function along with protection, function is "is more directly supernatural - they serve as a guide on the path to heaven," he said.

Some Catholics like to name their guardian angels, which Father deLadurantaye said is not part of church tradition, but it's not prohibited "if you wanted to do it as an act of private devotion."

Because they have no bodies, angels are genderless and only take on human appearance so as to be perceived by humans. Scripture talks about angels having wings, indicating their ability to move from one location to another in an instant, said Father deLadurantaye.

A constant consolation

Sherri Katoen, a parishioner of All Saints Church in Manassas, believes her guardian angel has helped her countless times. Last year on her way to the Diocesan Catechetical Conference she wound up on an access road rather than the toll road. "By the grace of God and my guardian angel, I made it in time (for most) of the Mass," she said.

Father Robert J. Wagner, secretary to Bishop Loverde, said when he doesn't want to trouble St. Jude he'll ask his angel to help him find lost car keys. He'll also send his guardian angel to aid someone in need whom he cannot minister to in person.

According to the Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, "one can also invoke and pray to the guardian angels of others in their needs."

As a new mom, Rosie Boersma, a parishioner of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, feels reassured that her son has his own angel. "He's so small and helpless that sometimes I worry for him even when he's alone sleeping in his crib," she said. "But I take comfort that he's never truly alone. What a beautiful blessing to be watched over always."

Guardian angels, wrote Padre Pio, protect us "like a friend, like a brother. This ought to be a constant consolation for us."

So consider fitting a prayer to your guardian angel into your day. There is a lifelong friend beside you, ready to lighten your burdens and draw you closer to God.

Prayer to your guardian angel

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014