21d. Our Guardian Angels – What They Do for Us
The most obvious service which our angels render us is to guard us from harm. It is implied in the very name of guardian angels, and they do indeed watch over us and keep us from a thousand perils of both soul and body – perils of which, often times, we ourselves are unaware. And this they effect either by removing the occasion of danger, or by prompting us to avoid it. They flash into our minds rays of heavenly light and stir our hearts with salutary emotions, setting before us in an attractive manner the good they would have us do or moving us to dread and to shun the evil which they would have us flee.
Again, our good angels hold the demons in check, not suffering them to tempt us as often or as violently as they fain would do. In fact, as a certain pious author observes, whom Suarez quotes approvingly, the evil spirits dare not assail us with our angel looking on; it is only when he hides himself, in order to let them tempt us for our soul’s profit, that they make bold to attack us.
Then, too, especially, they offer our prayers and good works to God. For thus the Angel Raphael said to the elder Tobias, “When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead…I offered thy prayer to the Lord.” (Tobit 12:12) So Saint John says,
And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense…and the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel. (Apocalypse 8:3-4)
Again, Jacob in his vision saw the angels ascending and descending; ascending, to bear to God the prayers of mankind, descending to bring to ment the answer to their prayers.
And when we say that our guardian angels present our prayers and our good works to God, we mean that they unite their prayers with ours, to give them greater efficacy. Indeed, they cease not to entreat God in our behalf, and this constant intercession for us is one of the chief benefits coming to us from the guardianship of the holy angels. But while all the angels pray for us, our guardian angel does so with special earnestness by reason of the ties that bind us to him more closely than to the rest of the blessed spirits.
Sometimes, however, it is the duty of our guardian angels to chastise and punish us, when it is expedient for the welfare of our souls. And here we must distinguish such punishments as are penalties and nothing else, and those which have for their motive the amendment of the sinner, and are called medicinal. To these should be added yet another class of penalties if they may be called so, which imply no fault on the part of the person suffering them, but are merely trials sent for his greater spiritual profit.
The first species of punishments proceed, not from the mercy, but from the outraged justice of God, and are intended ot strike terror into the hearts of all who come to know of them. These are commonly inflicted by the evil spirits, whom God in such cases uses as His instruments. Yet at times we see even the good angels employed as the agents of God’s wrath. It was so in the case of Sodom and Gomorrha. The two holy angels who befriended Lot and brought him with his wife and daughters safely out of Sodom, then brought down fire and brimstone from heaven to consume the wicked cities of the plain.
It was a good angel who stretched forth his hand over Jerusalem to destroy it for David’s sin of enumerative his people, and only spared it because God was appeased by the repentance and entreaties of His servant. It was also an angel of the Lord who slew the host of Sennacherib, the proud and boastful enemy of Israel.
It would, however, seem more in keeping with the beneficent office of our guardian angels, that God should make use of them for the infliction of medicinal chastisements – that is, of those which have for their end the cure of our spiritual ailments – as well as of that other class of sufferings, which are meant to try the virtue of the servants of God, and afford to others an example of patience. And if at times, in inflicting these, God is pleased to employ the evil spirits, as in the case of Job, or of Sara, wife of the younger Tobias, not to speak of numerous instances with which we meet in the lives of the saints, it is likely that in such cases the demons act under the supervision of the good angels, and only as these permit of compel them to act.
But the divine chastisements may fall upon communities as well as upon individuals, and in such cases they proceed from the guardian angel of the community in question, when the object intended is the common good; or from the demons, when the punishment is simply the effect of the wrath of God or when it falls within the scope of some more universal providence. Here, too, the good angels may intervene either as constraining the demons to act as instruments of the divine justice, or as themselves directly inflicting the penalties. In the former case the action would be proper to the powers, whose special function it is to coerce the evil spirits; in the latter it would belong to the choir of virtues, whose prerogative it is to do such things as are of their nature extraordinary and, so to say, miraculous.