March 22, 2013


Angels are evangelizers and good stewards of all God’s creation

“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 protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden. … Again, it is the angels who ‘evangelize’ by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.”
—Catechism of the Catholic Church (#332)

We don’t talk about angels as much as we should. If they exist, and we Catholics believe they do, then they are worth talking about.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#329) makes an important distinction between what angels are as spiritual beings, and what they do as God’s messengers and the guardians of all God’s creation.

Angels are intelligent persons who are pure spirit. They have no bodies or material properties. The mission entrusted to them by God is to proclaim good news—or sometimes to communicate solemn warnings—and to guard and defend what God has created, especially us human beings, against the corruption of sin and the abuse of what is good and holy.

Angels are evangelizers. They proclaim God’s word. Angels are also stewards. They serve as guardians or caretakers of God’s most precious gifts.

Think of your favorite angel story. Mine is when the angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph to tell him the good news that Mary’s pregnancy really was good news. It was not the result of infidelity. It was not a shameful or embarrassing thing—for her or for him. It was God’s intervention into human history with the gift of his Incarnation and his saving power. “Rejoice, Joseph!” God’s messenger seems to say. “This really is a great moment in your life and in the life of all God’s people.”

Gabriel’s good news to Joseph also contained a privileged responsibility that he was to carry out for the rest of his life. Joseph was to be, in Blessed John Paul II’s term, redemptoris custos—the Guardian of the Redeemer. Joseph’s assignment was to nurture and care for God’s only-begotten Son, and his mother, through some tough times (Herod’s persecution of innocent children and the Holy Family’s sojourning to and from Egypt), and through ordinary times (Jesus’ life as a boy growing up in Nazareth).

Our faith teaches us that every human being has a guardian angel—someone who watches over us and guards us when we are confronted by evil. I like to think that St. Joseph had special help from the angel Gabriel, who warned him in dreams and who undoubtedly traveled with him on those difficult journeys from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Egypt and from Egypt home to Nazareth.

Gabriel’s role was to communicate God’s will to Joseph and then to help him keep the child out of harm’s way. Gabriel was a guardian (custos) of the Christ child’s guardian, a steward of the one who nurtured and cared for the child Jesus every day of his young life.

We don’t think much about our own guardian angels except, perhaps, when we have miraculously escaped from danger (a car accident or an illness or a threatening situation that didn’t turn out as badly as it might have).

“Someone was sure watching over me,” we hear ourselves say. But we don’t pay much attention to who that someone might be—the messenger who warns us or the guardian who reaches out and protects us from harm.

We should pay more attention to angels—not the superficial or sentimental images we see on greeting cards, but the powerful messengers-in-disguise—who joyfully proclaim good news, and the brave souls who guard us against everything that seeks to bring us down.

The catechism teaches that “the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (#334). Angels are not wimps. They are strong advocates for everything that is good and true, and they are not afraid to tell us the truth (if only we will listen), or to point us in the right direction (if only we will take their advice).

Let’s talk more about angels. Let’s listen to their voices—often rejoicing but sometimes weeping in the face of human cruelty. Let’s allow them to guide us and defend us when the going gets tough.

And in our quiet moments, let’s remember, and recite, that simple child’s prayer: “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.”

—Daniel Conway

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