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Stop believing in guardian angels and soon we’ll stop believing in anything

Guardian angels come low down on the list of Christian beliefs, yet we should not dismiss them as ‘childish’. Abandon ideas such as this and the whole edifice of belief soon falls down

By on Friday, 14 October 2011

In It's a Wonderful Life George is saved by his guardian angel Clarence

In It's a Wonderful Life George is saved by his guardian angel Clarence

I have just watched an advertisement for a cartoon film about guardian angels. Called The Great Miracle and released in the US today, the story is about the help that their guardian angels give to three people overwhelmed by life’s problems: a young widow, a bus driver diagnosed with a fatal illness and a lonely old woman. The angels help the three to see the struggle between good and evil going on around them, to realise that “evil feeds on hopelessness” and that if they choose the path of good they will receive divine help to overcome the burdens that are crushing them.

It might seem a corny message, delivered with Disney-like, saccharine charm. But even the brief excerpt that I watched on the Rome Reports news agency was oddly moving; it appealed to the child in me. And of course the film’s theme is true to Catholic theology, not mediated through the mythic guise of fairy-tales such as Cinderella or Snow White.

The Holy Father has also been talking about guardian angels last week, because of their recent feast day. He told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square that “from the beginning to the time of death, human life is surrounded by their unceasing protection”. When one thinks of this (and I often forget it) it is very consoling.

In the hierarchy of Christian beliefs the guardian angels come low down – compared, say, to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. Even so, it doesn’t give us leave to dismiss them altogether. I once knew a Jesuit who had done just this; he thought belief in angels “childish”. Such an à la carte approach to faith led him also to reject the Church’s teaching about birth control. If you decide to remove one small brick the whole edifice of your beliefs starts to wobble.

I notice that in conversation with non-believers, such as my brother-in-law, you cross a kind of Rubicon when you mention that you believe every person has a guardian angel. We can have a polite conversation about religion in general; he doesn’t jib at the phrase “spiritual journey”; he sees a distinction between the mind and the brain; but throw in the word “angels” and he thinks my (otherwise normal) reasoning processes have fallen apart. He solves the mystery of his dotty sister-in-law by saying I am good at “compartmentalising”, i.e. most of the time I am sane (if wrong); in some small areas I am quite mad. He is a retired psychologist.

Meanwhile, I watched the Orson Welles’s classic thriller Touch of Evil last weekend: it was brilliant and I was mesmerised. Welles, playing the corrupt cop, Captain Hank Quinlan, was definitely “some kind of a man”, whose future, as Marlene Dietrich who played a fortune-teller, told him ominously, was “all used up”. Although the film was made in 1958, it was still very scary; the atmosphere throughout was sinister and full of menace. Thank God it was make-believe. Thank God for guardian angels.

  • Anonymous

    Stop believing in guardian angels and you may be led “to reject the Church’s teaching about birth control.” Heaven forbid! After all a mark of a good Catholic family is having a dozen or so children.

    Does Ms Phillips imagine that the Catholic married couples at Mass every Sunday accept the Church’s teaching on birth control?

  • David Compella

    Get a brain you polytheistic moron.

  • Dendmack

    Educate me please! What is the Church’s teaching on angels? What is the Scriptural basis for the notion of Guardian angels?  I understand angels to be a personification of the ways in which God communicates with people: embodiments of the Message – not separate beings out there.

  • Nishant Jeyaraj

    Do you imagine every Catholic accepts Christ’s teaching on “loving one’s neighbour”? The narrow path is hard, my friend. Many struggle with it, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. But that is not a reason to give it up, but rather to strengthen our resolve, and with the aid of heavenly grace, to journey onward to our heavenly homeland, Holy Mother Church aiding, exhorting and strengthening us on the way. As the Vatican Council most justly says,

    “The Church, appointed by God to be mother and mistress
    of nations, recognizes her obligations to all and is always ready and anxious to raise the
    fallen, to steady those who stumble, to embrace those who return, and to strengthen the
    good and urge them on to what is better. Thus she can never cease from witnessing to the
    truth of God which heals all and from declaring it, for she knows
    that these words were directed to her (Isa 59:21): My spirit which is upon you, and my words which
    I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth from this time forth and for

  • Emma

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (328-336)328.
    The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred
    Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. the witness of
    Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.

    Saint Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of
    their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if
    you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are,
    ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel” (cf. St. Augustine, En. in
    Ps. 103, 1, 15: PL 37, 1348), With their whole beings the angels are
    servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of
    my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do His word,
    hearkening to the voice of His word”.

    As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they
    are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all
    visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.

    Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels: “When
    the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him….” (Mt
    25:31) They belong to Him because they were created through and for Him:
    “for in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and
    invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or
    authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col
    1:16) They belong to Him still more because He has made them messengers
    of His saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to
    serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14)

    Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of
    salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the
    accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise;
    protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand;
    communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced
    births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few
    examples. (Cf. Job 38:7 [where angels are called “sons of God”]; Gen
    3:24; 19; 21:17; 22:11; Acts 7:53; Ex 23:20-23; Judg 13; 6:11-24; Isa
    6:6; I Kings 19:5) Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the
    Precursor and that of Jesus Himself. (Cf. Lk 1:11, 26)

    From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate
    is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings
    the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship
    Him.’” (Heb 1:6) Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not
    ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!”
    (Lk 2:14) They protect Jesus in His infancy, serve Him in the desert,
    strengthen Him in His agony in the garden, when He could have been saved
    by them from the hands of His enemies as Israel had been. (Cf. Mt 1:20;
    2:13, 19; 4:11; 26:53; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; II Macc 10:29-30; 11:8)
    Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of
    Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. (Cf. Lk 2:8-14; Mk 16:5-7) They
    will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve
    at His judgement. (Cf. Acts 1:10-11; Mt 13:41; 24:31; Lk 12:8-9)

    From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care
    and intercession. (Cf. Mt 18:10; Lk 16:22; Ps 34:7; 91:10-13; Job
    33:23-24; Zech 1:12; Tob 12:12) “Beside each believer stands an angel as
    protector and shepherd leading him to life.” (St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium
    III, 1: PG 29, 656B) Already here on earth the Christian life shares by
    faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

  • Emma

    But the fact that many Catholics use birth control doesn’t make it a good thing. Look at it this way: many people resort to drugs and alcohol when depressed but that doesn’t make their actions good.
    True many people live in ignorance but everyone should understand the Church’s teaching on birth control and understand why. I didn’t accept it for a while then a conversion happened and natural family planning made perfect sense and it made me understand how harmful the contraceptive mentality is. The divorce rate has soared due to increased use of contraception…

  • Anonymous

    “Disney-like, saccharine charm”

    ## The words “Disney” & “charm” cannot co-exist – where one is, the other is not.

    I would find it easier to believe in GAs, if this belief did not add an extra layer of difficulty to the “problem of evil”. It’s difficult enough that God did not save the Jews from Auschwitz (& from countless earlier horrors); to give them GAs, who appear to have “gone on” “industrial action”, and done exactly zero to save those they supposedly guard, makes things much more difficult. If that is God’s action on behalf of His own, I’d hate to think what neglect of, & lack of love for, his People, must be like. Such a God is as idle & ineffective as the Baal on whom his prophets called in 1 Kings (AKA 3 Kings) 18. The Almighty Saviour Whose Almighty saving power is so often conspicuous for its absence is too big a problem for belief in guadian angels to make sense. I don’t know whether there is now any function for belief in guardian angels – it’s enough of a headache to convince atheists that one can be sane, and not a complete idiot, or a pitifully dense ignoramus or fantasist, if one believes in God. The wrongness & badness & unintelligence in Christianity is all that a lot of people can see in it.

  • Anonymous

    The horrors of the Second World War certainly left a huge yawning metaphysical gap in the soul of Europe and the rest of the world, as societies struggled to deal with how evil was permitted to take such a grip on one of the most civilized countries on the European continent.  It begged the question where was God when such crimes against humanity as the Holocaust was taking place.  Theologians have struggled with this question over the last half a century or more and there are no easy resolutions to this within our understanding of the nature of Good v evil as it pertains to our world.  Some would argue that God is not some interventionist deity who like the cavalry in a Western, arrives when the wagons are attacked.  Man is given free will to do good or bad deeds but this does not come without consequences.  The reality of evil is allowed to exist so that Good can triumph over it.  God gave us His only begotten Son to redeem us and did not intervene to prevent the cruel fate that He endured as in His Passion and Crucifixion which eventually would end in the triumph of the Resurrection.   God’s ways are not our ways and it is in our Faith that we trust in His ways.

  • Oconnordamien

    What about the craziness of them enabling evil. Nice angel saves Lott so he can have incestuous, out of wedlock, sex with his two daughters, ( I was drunk your honour and she came on to me, oh and the next night so did her sister, the evil harlots).  

    And what do they do the rest of the time? As was said above…”Angels have been present since creation”. So that would mean that there’s been a lot of heel kicking by billions of angels for billions of years while they wait for their charge to arrive thanks to increased global population.

    Or perhaps they are like a stressed social worker and each has a large number of case files. That may explain why they seem to so terrible at their job.

  • Anonymous

    “Some would argue that God is not some interventionist deity who like the
    cavalry in a Western, arrives when the wagons are attacked.  Man is
    given free will to do good or bad deeds but this does not come without
    consequences.  The reality of evil is allowed to exist so that Good can
    triumph over it.”

    As people say (I don’t know why) -  “I hear you”. (It’s an odd thing to say.)

    In that case, if God is not a SAviour, God should not be called Saviour. One can’t say both that the God of the Bible is a Saviour, and excuse Him by sayinhg He doesn’t intervene. If He doesn’t intervene: (1) He does not save, & (2) to say God is non-interventionist, is to state the problem rather than to answer it. If God is a do-nothing God, Christian theology & doctrine should say so.

    I don’t want to divert the thread, but that’s what I think – so much more could be said.

  • Anonymous

    Our Creator is not a callous Father who would stand idly by while His children are being overwhelmed by the forces of evil as seen in the failure of hitler to establish his perverted dream of a third reich across the world.  The defeat and surrender of the nazis in 1945 can be seen as God’s will and His necessary instruments the Allied and Russian forces who achieved this outcome.  My point about God is that He is not some rapid reaction force who constantly makes an appearance every time that a war breaks out or natural disaster threatens.  Events unfold and great suffering can result as in conflict,earthquakes or famine.  These realities have been occurring on our earth since time immemorial but at particular junctures the fortunes of those effected by such tragedy do turn around which one can view as God’s influence on our environment.  This does not suggest instant miracles but rather  Divine guidance over the long term. God gave His only Son who endured humiliation, torture and death at the hands of His captors in order to rise triumphant on the third day.  The suffering of Christ was an unavoidable part of His mission to free us from the clutches of sin and death.  At  the end of the day God’s logic is not our logic and yet our Faith is based on the promise of Jesus to be with us at all times during good times and bad.

  • Anonymous

    I think I agree with your brother in law. ps Is there anyone working for the Catholic Herald who is not theologically illiterate? 

  • Anonymous

    “God gave us His only begotten Son to redeem us and did not intervene to
    prevent the cruel fate that He endured as in His Passion and Crucifixion
    which eventually would end in the triumph of the Resurrection.   God’s
    ways are not our ways and it is in our Faith that we trust in His ways.”

    ## But you can see the problem ?

    The reason the great gods Capitoline Jupiter and Juno did not intervene to defend Rome from the Visigoths in 410 AD was that the Roman people could learn fortitude and patience better than if the gods of the City had intervened to save Rome. The ways of the gods are not the ways of men – as is shown by the fall of Troy. It looked like a disaster, and so it was; but from it the gods drew this good, that Aeneas son of the goddess Venus was driven to escape from the wreck of the city – which was being punished for the impiety of Laomedon father of Priam – and was led by the decree of Jove to come to Italy, the land of his ancestors, that from him might come in due time the kings of Alba Longa, & from them the city of Rome, which defeated the Greeks and took vengeance upon them for the siege and fall of Troy.

    The gods may not seem very active now – but neither did they seem active when Hannibal slaughtered legion upon legion and threatened the City with destruction. He failed to destroy it, and the care of the gods for Rome through almost 3,000 years is shown by the fact that it survives, despite being sacked five times, as well as being bombed. In the meantime, the religions & empire that have tried to replace its own have been brought low.

    IOW, the same sort of argument that excuses God from not doing what it says on the tin, while asserting  His Divinity & Providence & Omnipotence, can be used for other gods.

    If he can be excused & upheld, even if He seems to be nothing but words – so can they. One coulkd go further, and construct a theology  that interprets history as being under the care, not of the Judaeo-Christian god, but of others. That there is no philosophy of history that sees all things as depending on the decree of Jove, does not mean a Jove-centred understanding of the universe can’t be constructed. It would have problems – but so do all theisms and all analyses of the external world. If one were to adopt an Ancient Near Eastern way of thinking, the troubles of Iraq could be ascribed to the will of the gods of Mesopotamia: if an ancient author could represent the fall of Ur as the result of a divine decision, the history of modern Iraq could be accounted for in the same way. If modern historical methods (which put allegedly supernatural causation to one side) are ignored, there is no reason (apart from one’s own beliefs) why these ancient gods should not be the causes of these events. Much OT thinking is equally supernaturalistic & non-historical.

  • theroadmaster

    You certainly have highlighted a very problematical area in theology which concerns why God would permit such terrible traumatic events  as genocide or natural disasters to happen.  It directly leads us to query the whole nature of Good v evil and what is the role of the Creator in all of this.  There are no pat or simplistic answers to this, as we are left with yawning gaps and contradictions in the historical record, which our logical minds struggle to deal with.  But perhaps it is a misunderstanding on our part in relation to the nature of free will which God has granted to humanity in accepting or rejecting Him  and our lack of discernment of His will for us.  The Fall of the Berlin wall in 1989  and consequently Communism was the culmination of the pressure exerted by both Religious and secular influences as embodied in the Blessed pope John Paul 11 and various Western governments, particularly the Reagan administration in the US.  God choses whom He pleases to be the catalysts for change.

    I have tried to offer some sort of perspective to this from my Catholic, Christian belief which is based on the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness by His cross and resurrection.   He points the way to our ultimate destination and that despite the agonies that we go through, He is ever present despite our feelings sometimes to the contrary.

  • maryp

    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.

  • Francis

    I do not believe in angels. I believe in God and in his Messiah.  I do not see why angels (without wings) should not exist just like I do not see why other beings, say in another dimension or in another part of our cosmos, should not exist. I do find the idea of ‘guardian angels” somehwat childish. Guarding us from what?

  • Mika

    I’m one half of a young Catholic married couple that attends Mass every Sunday, and we do accept the Church’s teaching on birth control.  In fact, we’ve done our reading of the Catechism, plus John Paul II’s “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body,”  and “Love and Responsibility” – plus a variety of theological responses to these works, Humanae Vitae notably amongst the documents of the Council, statements by Pope Paul VI and so on.  And neither myself not my husband, while both being raised Catholic, were raised in “trad” circles, and we form part of the congregation at our closest local church offering a NO Mass.  We are not exceptional.  My husband’s parents still practice their faith, mine do not. 

    We are not planning to have a large family, as our internal capacity at this moment in addition to external circumstances would render that an unwise decision.  We are open to this changing in the future.  At the moment, we have two children and regulate the size of our family with the morally licit use of the Marquette Method of Natural Family Planning.  I am an NFP instructor in for my archdiocese too. 

    The Church does not teach that couples should have as many children as physically possible, or even that they should have large families.  The Church teaches that couples should be generous and open to life, in a way that is also responsible. 

    If more people knew what the Church really teaches, and more about natural family planning today, they would be less likely to make such gross caricatures of Catholic thought.

    My husband and I are obedient to the Church, and so to the teaching authority of the Magisterium.  However, our acceptance of the Church’s teaching about birth control is not only due to the obedience owed, but also due to our thorough reading on the subject and whole-hearted agreement with the theological principles underlying (a Christian anthropology or theology of the body/human person) it and the logic of the reasoning that leads to such teaching. 

  • Anonymous

    I did say I didn’t want to de-rail the thread, so – apart from saying “thanks” to you for posting another reply – I’ll leave it there :)

  • Anonymous

    If I really thought that a GA looked like the character from the still reproduced at the beginning of the article, I’d want to deck it. Typical US saccharine -  & even pictures of Saints show them looking like consumptive girls. Though that is probably the fault of the loathsomely twee religious art that swept in an all-consuming tide over the 19th-century West. Biblical angels say “Fear not !” – Hollywood angels say, “Gee whizz !” The result: the New Age obsession with angels, and the irreverent tosh in the US that takes the form of naming GAs – for all the world as though they were pets. This is the Angel Gabriel turned into  My Little Pony. And when the US is sick, the rest of the world catches the infection. It is a thoroughly irreligious attitude – unfortunately, the heathens & Yahoos in US “Christianity” are too materialistic to see the problem.  

  • Anonymous

    Mika, I assume that when you give your courses about NFP you make sure that the couples know that Paul VI taught that only “grave” or “serious” reasons .”which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions” can justify the use of NFP. According to this teaching NFP can never be used by a couple to restrict the size of their family simply as a lifestyle choice, such as if the mother wants to continue her career, or the couple want to have more money to spend on themselves.

    It would be silly to go to the bother of working out the safe period and keeping to it, if because of lack of a serious justification you were still falling foul of the Church’s teaching.