Guardian angels come low down on the list of Christian beliefs, yet we should not dismiss them as 'childish'

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.