Until recently, the word snowflake enjoyed only one meaning: frozen rain in winter. But in the last year or so the word assumed a secondary meaning: students in elite college campuses who fall to pieces at the least offense or contrary opinion to their own. This new youthful brittleness makes perfect sense in the context of the secular culture that weaned them. It pampers its entitled members into a self-absorbed nirvana producing men and women, risk averse, committed to ease and instant pleasure and concerned only with Me as #1.
With this as a backdrop the figure of St. Michael the Archangel is not likely to meet a happy welcome. His image in Catholic iconography is well known, probably the Guido Reni painting comes to mind: a daunting Roman soldier, poised for battle, covered by impressive breastplate, holding a spear as he thrusts it down the throat of a demon. Not exactly the irenic, self-affirming pose so beloved by our culture. St. Michael’s stirring image probably inspired the words of the late Thomist scholar, Frederick Wilhelmsen: “Catholicism is … the Mexican Jesuit Father Miguel Pro blessing his Marxist firing squad in Mexico with the stumps of his arms after the barbarians had finished cutting them off. It is Spanish soldiers charging Communist trenches with fixed bayonets and rosaries… Catholicism is about an army marching through history chanting the Te Deum. Catholicism is about swords.”
St. Michael the Archangel is precisely the perfect model for our sagging civilization. He is just the right antidote to the petite Christ that many have preferred to the Crucified One. He is a warning against the “no strings attached” mercy that competes with the severe mercy announced by the Lamb of God. St. Michael is a rebuke to those who would tame the force of the Gospel’s furiously extravagant demands which so embarrasses not a few Catholics who have long wedded themselves to the world.
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This formidable saint who conquered Satan and his minions in that great primordial battle, fittingly earns the title Protector of the Church. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI erected a heroic size bronze statue of St. Michael in the Vatican Gardens, suggesting that these wrenching times besieging the Church require his assistance more than any other in the Church’s long history.
One of the lines of St. Michael’s prayer beg that “he defend us in battle.” The “battle” is more than the clash of tanks and bullets, it is the “battle” that each man wages on the planes of his soul. This is the arena where each soul encounters Satan face to face, every day. It is the arena where we meet alluring temptation, enticing rationalizations, cozy complacency and surrender to mediocrity. Life is a daily battle against sin and sin’s patron, Satan. Neglect of this principal war leaves the soul prey to a creeping blindness. Satan, the father of lies, creates illusion about the soul as a spider spins the near invisible strands of his web.
For some time now many in the Church have made a settlement with vice. Therapeutic wellness has taken the place of the spiritual combat, leaving once long confessional lines a mere trickle. The very phrase of saving one’s soul, the raison d’etre of Catholicism, has become as foreign to Catholics as a line from the Upanishads. This dealt a dagger to the heart of the Church, rocking her to her very foundations. The fallout was half a century of social activism displacing religion itself, leaving the priesthood prostrate and scarred, religious orders eviscerated and the Faithful rudderless. St. Michael breaks the spell of the cultural blather which beckons, “be all you can be,” and returns us to the Catholic sanity of “be all God wants you to be.”
Recall the St. Michael prayer for a moment:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our defense 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 power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
It was composed by Pope Leo XIII on October 13, 1884, thirty-three years to the day prior to the final apparition of our Lady at Fatima, and the Miracle of the Sun. But the circumstance of the composition is interesting. On that day Pope Leo had completed offering Mass in his private chapel with several cardinals and his household in attendance. After descending the altar, he was about to genuflect and make his exit. But the pontiff froze in place. He remained staring at the tabernacle for several minutes, a long enough time for those in the chapel to be concerned. Finally, he made the genuflection, and proceeded to the sacristy to unvest. Upon doing so, he repaired immediately to his study and wrote the prayer. At breakfast one of the cardinals inquired about the unusual pause. The pope explained that he was listening to a conversation at the tabernacle. One of the speakers had a voice harsh and guttural, the other, one soft and comforting. The guttural voice was Satan, the other, Christ:
Satan: You know that I can destroy your Church.
Christ: Is that so. Then do it.
Satan: I would need more time and power.
Christ: How much time and power?
Satan: 75 to 100 years, and power over those in the Church whom I would enlist in my service.
Christ: Done. Do what you will.
Within days of that chilling supernatural conversation, Pope Leo mandated that his composed prayer to St. Michael the Archangel be recited after every Mass, in every Catholic church and chapel throughout the world. And it was. Up until 1966, when it was abolished by prelates convinced that the Church had entered upon a new maturity which demanded a new détente with the World.
Could that détente have been another trick in the bag of the Prince of Darkness? We wonder.