on the Archangel Michael
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
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The Archangel Michael
We have already spoken at some length on the archangels Raphael and Gabriel. We now concentrate on the third, St. Michael. Over the centuries St. Michael has been known by various titles. He is the Champion of the Church, the Defender of Christians, the Helper of the Sick and Dying. He is especially, though a strange title, the Marshall of God. Holy Scripture identifies Michael as the one who led the good angels to drive Satan and his minions out of heaven into hell. He is also the angel sent by God to rescue Daniel and reassure him of God's protection against the Hebrews. For generations it was customary for the prayer of St. Michael to be said after Mass, and the Holy Father, John Paul II, encouraged the practice to be resumed.
In this meditation, we shall reflect on the widely used prayer to St. Michael. In the process, or hope is to better understand what the Church is asking of St. Michael. We should not only increase our understanding of what we are asking of all the angels, but especially of the deep expression of the Holy Trinity that we need to learn the meaning and purpose of our own human prayer.
We begin by saying, "St Michael the Archangel." In other words, unlike our separated Protestant brethren, we believe that the angels are not only to be honored; they are to be invoked. We believe that God wants us to both venerate the angels and to ask them to obtain from God what we, in our own human, natural, sinful, human ability, would otherwise not be able to obtain.
We first identify Michael in our prayer. Who is he? He not only was the leader of the good angels; he not only led those faithful spirits who then entered heaven; he now is the leader of the angels and is trying to get us to join him and his celestial host in our heavenly eternity. Notice, Michael belongs to the archangels. We first say that "archangels" stands for "leading angels"; "leader of the angels." He was the one who led those who remained faithful to God in the most important battle in created history, the battle between those who wanted to obey God and those who refused to obey God as their leader. Our first request is, "defend us in battle." The Latin is "Defende nos in proelio.". In proelio, in Latin, is not just a single battle; it is a constant war. In so speaking to St. Michael, we recognize, and we better recognize, that we are living in the Church militant. Whether we appreciate it or not, whether people realize it or not, we have all be conscripted into military service for God in the Church militant.
Some of the Fathers of the Church tell us that God originally intended to create only the angels. Once many angels were unfaithful, as they were driven out of heaven, God decided to create as many human beings as there are now devils in hell. We further realize, in addressing St. Michael, that our battle, like that of Michael and associates, is against the powers of spiritual darkness. How blinded we can be by the things of this world as though (God forgive us) we were made only for this life. Our life here on earth is a warfare, so I ask for help in our battle with the evil spirits led by the Prince of this world. That is no figure of speech. Christ's own definition of Satan is the Prince of this world. We must admit our need for assistance from angelic powers. Why? Why call upon Michael and his angelic hosts? Because our deepest struggle is deep down in our souls, in our spirit, and in our wills. The greatest help that we need is help in our spirit from that world of faithful spirits whom we call the angels.
Against whom are asking to be defended" We pray ". .. against the wickedness (nequitiam) and snares (insidias) of the devil." The devils are by now wicked by nature. Their nature, unlike ours, is not only fallen; no, the nature of the devils is evil. We also ask assistance against what we casually call the "snares of the devil."
What are we praying for? To be enlightened in mind and strengthened in will against the cunning, the shrewdness, the deception, the lying, and the serpentine cleverness of the evil spirits. This can be seen by the devil's successful temptation of Eve, when the devil brought about the fall of the human race. The devil never manifests his wickedness when he tempts. He is too smart. The piety, the bowing, the kneeling, and the religious language that the devil can use in tempting us to follow him! There is no such thing as an unpleasant temptation by the devil. All the devil's temptations are attractive, sweet, and beautiful. They are nice; they are kind. Over the centuries of human history, how many intelligent people the devil has deceived by his cunning temptations!
We pray, "May God rebuke him, we humbly pray . . ." Notice the shift. We are first speaking to St. Michael himself, and now we are addressing God and asking God to control the power of the devil from deceiving us. I cannot overemphasize that the devil's primary tactic is deceit. We therefore ask God for three indispensable graces if we are to reach heaven and avoid hell.
* First, to be able to recognize the devil's intrigue. Believe me, forty-eight years in the priesthood has taught me much. We need grace, light from God, to recognize the devil, who is always masked as an angel of light.
* What are we praying for? We are asking God for strength of will to resist the devil with the grace that only God can provide.
* What are we asking God for? We are asking God to protect us from our stupidity in exposing ourselves to the devil's temptations, instead of practicing the prudence we need in not exposing ourselves to temptations that God does not intend.
When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temptation," we are praying for the gift of prudence. We ask the heavenly Father to help us see how much, given the strength and the will that I have got, I can cope with. The devil is a master of intrigue. Imprudence is a sin. All of this we are praying for.
We are praying through St. Michael to God. What are we praying for? We are praying for God's grace, grace for our minds to know and our wills to have the strength to do. To know what? Here, to know we can be deceived by the father of lies. The grace to do what? The grace to not give in. The devil is the great seducer. That is why over the years I have been telling both my students and people I talk to, we already know infallibly who will reach heaven. Who will reach heaven? Those who pray. Who will not be saved? Those who do not pray. And among the prayers we better say is prayer to God through the angels led by St. Michael, to obtain the light to recognize the devils strategy and the courage to resist him.
As I have already explained over the years, the devil uses human beings as his agents. Many agents of the devil in the world today are in high places, some in the highest authority in the nation. Recognize when the devil is using human beings to seduce us from loyalty to God.
"And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God . . ." In our life of prayer, until the Lord calls us, some of our prayers are directly addressed to God. But our prayers should also addressed to the angels and saints. St. Michael is to be addressed, and the angels are to be prayed to. We are Catholics. Why? Because we believe that St. Michael has extraordinary intercessory power with God. Two verbs we should always associate: to invoke and to intercede. We invoke St. Michael so that he may intercede for us with God. St. Michael's role has not changed, shall I say, over the centuries of both angelic and human history. He is now as he was when the angels were first tested. Michael was then the leader of the battling, warring angels. He is still their leader.
There was, we believe, a great angelic war at the dawn of angelic history, and there is a continuous angelic-human war now going on. It is a spiritual war: a war between spirit and spirit - between the good angelic spirits and the evil angelic spirits. There is a war between the evil angelic spirits and our human spirits, our souls. How we need the leadership of St. Michael now!
Alone speaking of ourselves, alone as human beings, we are no match for the legion of demons. We need God's constant help. But this help from God is a mediated help. What am I talking about! A mediated help, this help we need, is from God through the assistance of St. Michael and the good angels to us, against the invisible, evils, the terribly real powers of the evil spirits that, our faith tells us, are constantly warring against us. The war began when St. Michael, leading the choirs of the faithful angels, drove the fallen spirits into hell. And that war is going on now. We need help. That is why God has given us what we call the angels, who are indeed messengers from God, to tell us what God wants of us, but are also assistants from God sent to help us cope with that battalion of evil spirits for whom, alone, we are no match.
My prayer continues: " . . . thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits." We identify the devil as Satan, but Satan is just another name for Lucifer. Even as Michael was the head of the good angels, so Satan was the head of the disobedient spirits and is now the leader of the demons in hell. The word "Satan" literally means "adversary" or "plotter." How wise the devil is! He organizes human beings. The demonic plotter himself, he knows how to, shall I say, inspire human beings to plot against God. As I read the proceedings of the Beijing Conference - may God forgive those who organized it - by the United Nations, all I could think of was, how clever the devil is! The devil is, let us remember, the prince of this world and is penetrating into the highest circles of this world.
What do we mean when we ask that Michael and his angels drive Satan back to hell where he belongs? We are asking St. Michael to keep the devil from successfully misleading us. We do not comprehend the mystery of God's allowing the evil spirits to tempt us, but we better understand, we better believe, that we are being constantly plotted against by the chief adversary of our souls, the fallen legion of demons. But, watch it, we are not asking to be delivered from diabolical intrigue. If Christ Himself allowed Himself to e tempted by the devil, let us make sure that we too are being constantly tempted by the evil spirit. It is part of God's mysterious Providence on why He allows us to be tempted by the devil. What we are asking of St. Michael is to prevent Satan from bringing us to hell; in effect, to send Satan to hell alone, without us. Satan belongs in hell, but he is trying to deceive us. We must be saved from joining Satan in hell. We pray for salvation. Two prepositions you should never forget; they belong together: we ask to be saved for heaven and from hell.
Addressing St. Michael, we ask to be protected from Satan who "prowls throughout the world, seeking the perdition of souls." The devil's intention, led by Satan, is to have us lose our souls. The devil has already, her it, successfully brought about one death in our lives, the death of our bodies. Our faith tells us that if our first parents had not been deceived by the devil, had they remained faithful to God, neither they, our first parents, nor we, their descendants, would ever have had to die. God's original intention for the human race was to be immortal in body. Because of Satan's successful temptation against our first parents, he has brought about our mortality. We are mortal human beings, mortal in body because of the successful intrigue of the devil in the Garden of Eden.
What, the, are we begging St. Michael to obtain? We are asking that, through St. Michael, we might be protected from the second death, the death of our souls.
The angels before the fall and the angels since the fall do not have bodies. But the kind of death that the fallen angels experienced, we are asking that our spirit, our soul, be preserved from. We begging to be protected from the death of our spirit, and hear it! Hell came into existence because created wills refused to submit to the will of their Creator. In other words, we are praying for the grace of final perseverance, i.e., the grace of a happy death when our body dies. But that our souls will be alive with the supernatural life of God so that, like the good angels, we may reach heaven, even though our bodies will have died.
Mary, Queen of Angels, obtain for us from Jesus the greatest gift of our existence: the gift of joining your Divine Son, where you with St. Michael and all the angels and saints are waiting for our coming home for all eternity. Amen.