In a previous essay, I recognized St. Thomas the Apostle and his feast day July 3rd. Last month had another saint’s feast day that has significance for me and that is St. Michael the Archangel’s on September 29th. His feast day is also shared by two other archangels – St.Gabriel and St. Raphael. Prior to Vatican II they each had their own feast day but were consolidated into St. Michael’s traditional September 29th date. Archangels are angels of high rank and while the Church recognizes seven archangels, these three are the only ones mentioned in the accepted canon (books) of both the Old and/or New Testament.
St. Michael’s Mission
Both tradition and Sacred Scripture allude to St. Michael as the Protector of our Church and is referred to in our liturgy as the “prince of the heavenly host”. He has four distinct missions: 1) to oppose Satan and evil wherever it is found, 2) to defend faithful souls from Satan’s power, 3) to be the champion for the faithful and 4) to accompany souls on their final journey from judgment to purgatory and finally to heaven.
The Archangel Michael is projected in both the Old and New Testament as the warrior who stands up for God, his Church and confronts and does combat with the forces of evil. Because of his unique mission, he is the patron saint of both paratroopers and policeman. Having been both, I have a natural kinship with St. Michael. His symbols are everywhere in those worlds. In the Church at St. Mere Eglise, Normandy France where 82nd Airborne paratroopers landed on D-Day 1944; there is a large stained glass window of St. Michael with parachutes in the background. There are chapels dedicated to police where St. Michael is prominently displayed. Many of us still carry a St. Michael medal asking for his protection.
Our modern culture doesn’t accept the reality of evil or of the devil which I think is an example of what a successful propaganda job he has done to affect our perceptions to disregard his reality. Evil can creep into all our lives and unfortunately even our churches. The standard prayer to St. Michael is to protect us and the Church “from the wickedness and snares of the devil”.
Examples of some the most extreme “wickedness” of our current day and age arise from such evils as genocide against Christians, abortion, and euthanasia.
Likewise, there are many examples of “snares” to include pornography and the cultural pressure to accept a new view of humanity that includes transhumanism and transgenderism. It’s hard to deny there is evil operating in our world and one can ask where do these malevolent acts come from? Could it be the influence of the evil one who taps into our selfish and sinful nature? C.S. Lewis eloquently explored this in his book The Screwtape Letters showing through fiction how an evil spirit tries to turn a believer to the dark side but, in turn, how that Christian had the fortitude to join in the spiritual combat and win out.
As previously mentioned, St. Michael is viewed as the Protector of the Church. In 2013 Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI together consecrated the Vatican to St. Michael the Archangel. Given the news coming out of the Vatican reflecting a variety of potential scandals to often contentious disagreements among groups of cardinals and bishops it certainly appears that Satan’s snares are at work there. As the Church’s protector, he is needed now more than ever.
Scriptural and other references to St. Michael address his role in “spiritual warfare”. Again, in this day and in this culture to even think about such warfare (of good battling evil) let alone talk about it is considered medieval and old-fashioned thinking. Yet, recent Popes including Pope Francis regularly remind us that evil is real and the devil exists and if we honestly look at and reflect on all that is going on around us it sure seems to provide an insight into the many conflicts and controversies in our world.
Recent surveys indicate that the majority of Catholics do not believe that Satan is real. Is it any wonder for this disbelief when Church leaders such as the Superior of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Marcilino Sosa was quoted as saying that “We have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil.” In turn, he contends that we humans have constructed Satan as a form of social control. In other words, according to him, Satan can be viewed as a myth but that is not what the Church has and still teaches. Satan is real and is operational in our world. Spiritual warfare is a reality.
As a consequence, we are engaged in spiritual combat whether we like it no not. An analogy is that of fighting a 400-pound gorilla – we can only quit when the gorilla decides to. The opening petition of the prayer of St. Michael is “defend us in battle” Many, including myself, have recited that prayer before potential combat or dangerous situations. However, there is a deeper meaning and that is for St. Michael to “defend us” in the ongoing spiritual battles we engage in throughout our lifetime.
Sin, Virtue, and St. Michael
At one level, spiritual warfare is all about sin which unfortunately is also viewed by many as an outdated and old-fashioned notion. Perhaps a simplified way to look at spiritual warfare is that the “wickedness and snares” of the devil is to tempt us into the 7 deadly sins. One antidote for sin is a virtue, another concept we tend to hear little about. Be that as it may, because of St. Michael’s unique mission we should ask for his protection by helping us to practice the 7 heavenly virtues to overcome those 7 deadly sins as follows:
Chastity to overcome lust
Temperance to overcome gluttony
Generosity to overcome greed
Diligence to overcome sloth
Meekness to overcome anger
Kindness to overcome envy
Humility to overcome pride
Sin, virtue and spiritual warfare are definitely old-fashioned beliefs because they are eternal and have been with us since Adam. It’s in this realm where I think we really do need to continually ask for St. Michael’s protection.