Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
While this year we observe September 29 as the 26th Sunday in Ordinary time, on the Roman calendar it usually is celebrated as the Feast of the Archangels. While I wish not to slight Gabriel or Raphael, I want to take the opportunity to highlight Michael, the name invoked in a classic prayer from our Catholic Tradition, and depicted in the interior window over the doorway facing Beall Avenue in our church.
Can a prayer be inspired by a battle? Pope Leo XIII wrote the Saint Michael prayer in 1884, after supposedly seeing a frightening vision: evil spirits, trying to fulfill Satan’s boast to destroy our Lord’s Church within a century, were engaging in fierce attacks against it. Although the Pontiff also saw St. Michael casting Satan (also known as the devil) and his demons back into Hell in his vision, he was so horrified by what he had seen he felt compelled to help defend our faith in this struggle.
In the Saint Michael prayer he throws down the gauntlet to “the father of lies” as Jesus calls the devil in John’s Gospel (8:44), by enlisting the help of a very special Archangel:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
St. Michael makes a great general in this fight between Christ and Satan for our souls! After all, we read in Revelation (12:7-9) that “there was a great battle in heaven; Michael and his angels fought with the dragon...and that great dragon...who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world...was cast unto the earth, and his angels [the demons] were thrown down with him.”
St. Michael’s very name (in Hebrew, Micha’el meaning “Who is like God?”) denotes the war cry uttered in that battle. Note that when we talk about Satan or the devil here we are also referring to his “army” of fallen angels, the evil spirits referred to in the Saint Michael prayer.
As a special patron and protector of the Church, St. Michael has been assigned to fight against Satan; to protect faithful souls from him, especially at their death; to champion God’s people; and, further along this line, to escort them to their judgment.
One of Satan’s greatest assets is his camouflage, the belief that he doesn’t exist, as Father Malachi Martin once noted in his acclaimed book Hostage to the Devil. Father Martin felt strongly that disbelief in Satan and the forces of evil leaves us unable to resist them. Each of us has had our own battles against the dark side trying to turn us away from eternal life with our Creator. Satan’s idea for our eternal life is one spent with him in hatred and misery and he is after as many souls as he can get!
As St. Peter once noted “be sober and watch, because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “The evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls” mentioned in the Saint Michael prayer have surely been busy, but in asking for help we can fight back against them every day.
Let us not be afraid to ask for St. Michael’s help in this prayer and others like it. We need to remember that each time we pray we work to defeat our real enemies, not each other, but rather the devil and his evil spirits. As St. Paul put it, we fight “not against flesh and blood but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness” (Eph 6:12). With God’s help in prayer they can all be overcome.
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