I am wondering if a little noticed—certainly little commented upon—event, which took place Friday, July 5, in the gardens of Vatican City, establishes a connection between two apparently quite different subjects about which I have written recently: the first is the frequency with which Pope Francis refers to the devil; the second is the question of what is necessary for him to achieve the long desperately needed reform of the the Roman curia.
Last Friday, in what was surely a very striking and dramatic papal act, Pope Francis blessed a dramatic sculpture depicting St Michael the Archangel battling with the devil; but he did a lot more than that: he placed the Vatican City state and all who live and work there under the archangel’s protection. This is what he said:
In the Vatican Gardens there are several works of art. But this, which has now been added, takes on particular importance, in its location as well as the meaning it expresses. In fact it is not just a celebratory work but an invitation to reflection and prayer, that fits well into the Year of Faith. Michael—which means ‘Who is like God’—is the champion of the primacy of God, of His transcendence and power. Michael struggles to restore divine justice and defends the People of God from his enemies, above all from the enemy par excellence, the devil.
And St. Michael wins because in him, it is God who acts. This sculpture reminds us, then, that evil is overcome, the enemy is unmasked, his head crushed, because salvation was accomplished once and for all in the blood of Christ. Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is His victory and His salvation that is offered to all men. We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life, we are accompanied and supported by the Angels of God, who offer…. their wings to help us overcome so many dangers, in order to fly high compared to those realities that can weigh down our lives or drag us down. In consecrating Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him.
Pope Francis’s focus on the devil has aroused comment in the secular press, of course, and not without reason. The secular mind thinks it shows either that he is some kind of religious maniac, or at the very least that he is quaintly old-fashioned in his language. What it actually shows is his knowledge that we are all, in our lives, in a continual battle against evil. This is a constant focus of the Holy Father’s thinking and teaching. As Sandro Magister wrote recently, Francis “refers to [the devil] continually. He combats him without respite. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the Church.” And now he has invoked the protection of the Holy Archangel over Vatican City itself, and has prayed that he will banish the evil one from its purlieus. He sees that there is, unfolding in that place, a struggle between good and evil. I recently quoted those telling words of his: “… it is difficult. In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true… The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there… We need to see what we can do….”
“We need to see what we can do.” The Holy Father clearly does see the banishment of the evil one from his little kingdom as a major priority. That reminds us that one of the eight Cardinals the Pope has chosen to help him in the reformation of the Roman Curia, the only one actually resident in Rome, is Cardinal Guiseppe Bertello, governor of the Vatican City State; and it should remind us, too, that the reform of the Roman curia isn’t just a matter of cleaning up its functional disorganization: it’s a matter of driving out actual evil, the “stream of corruption” which in the end overwhelmed the pontificate of Pope Benedict. Pope Francis also prayed on Friday that St Michael would intercede to help “make us victorious over the temptations of power, riches and sensuality” and keep Vatican employees strong in “the good fight of the faith.”
In my blogpost on the subject I suggested that one thing the Pope needed was what I termed a godly hit man, to identify the corrupt and drive them out. For if one thing is certain, it is that the devil is always most active where he is most threatened: and the demonic undermining of those who lead the Church at all levels has been through the ages an obvious Satanic tactic, often—and certainly today—appallingly successful within the Roman Curia itself. I am quite sure that this pope sees the corruption that has overtaken his administration as inspired by the evil one: and now, in consecrating the Vatican to the Archangel’s protection and in asking him “to defend us from the evil one and banish him,” he has invoked, on the entire process of curial reform, the archangel’s active and by no means necessarily peaceable help. I asked for a “Godly hit man”; when appointed, he will have a powerful supernatural patronage over his work.
“We need to see what we can do”: It is clear that one of the most powerful actions the Pope has already taken to turn back the “stream of corruption” within the Roman Curia is to place the Vatican and all those who work there under the protection and influence of the Holy Archangel Michael. All Catholics need to pray that in that battle he will prevail.
Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared July 10, 2013 in the Catholic Herald of London and is reprinted with permission. The photo above depicts Pope Francis and Pope Benedict emeritus at a ceremony in the Vatican gardens where they blessed a new statue of St. Michael the Archangel. (Photo credit: CNS/Reuters/L’Osservatore Romano)