In echoes of Pope Leo XIII, Pope Francis consecrated Vatican City to St Joseph, guardian of the family, and St Michael the Archangel, defender against evil.
“For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12)
Like most blogs, These Stone Walls generates a “monthly stats” report that’s printed and mailed to me. I’m fascinated by it, not only because the report reveals a global readership, but because it reinforces every geeky trait I have. The report includes the daily number of visitors for the previous month, and, most interesting to me, the numbers of visitors from other countries. In recent months, the most visitors to TSW have been from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. There’s also a recent marked increase in readers from Thailand, several countries in the Middle East and Africa, and Pope Francis’ homeland, Argentina. Considering that I have never even seen TSW myself, and write from the confines of an 8′ x 12′ prison cell, this monthly report is an utter mystery to me.
A part of that mystery is the perplexing revelation that three full years after writing it, one post still shows up more than any other as heavily visited month after month. That post is “Angelic Justice: St. Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed.” It had another leap in readers this past summer when the Vatican Information Service blog quoted Pope Francis in a post entitled “New Monument to Archangel Michael in the Vatican“:
“We consecrate Vatican City State to St. Michael Archangel, asking him to defend us against evil and to banish it…and to St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus, the guardian of the Holy Family, whose presence strengthens us and gives us the courage to make space for God in our lives in order that good may always vanquish evil.” (Pope Francis, July 5, 2013)
In some corners of the world, and, sadly, even in some corners of the Church, there has been a shallow and misguided tendency to see this Pope’s concerns for the influence of evil as a quaint anachronism, a dramatic glimpse back to a bygone, pre-scientific era in which the work of the devil seemed all too real, but is now just a religious fantasy.
Anyone who adopts such a view has fallen prey to Satan’s most insidious agenda. To get humanity to not believe is to get humanity to drop its guard. I live in a place saturated by evil, a place filled not only with men who have given themselves entirely over to evil, but also with men who have fallen victim to evil’s seduction, and want to climb out.
No one of you could spend 19 years here and not be convinced that evil is real, that it has an agenda, and that its agenda is our destruction. The men in my prison world are no longer Satan’s targets among humanity. Satan is not actually very present here where we live. His work here is done, and for many here, he has won.
No, Satan is at work where YOU live. It’s you he wants. It’s your faith, and your goodness, and your commitment to Christ. It’s your Church he wants, and Pope Francis knows this. The gates of hell cannot prevail against her, but all manner of spiritual harm can fall upon those in denial of evil’s reach.
Just a week before that little noticed July 5tn ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, Catholic Herald (U.K.) columnist William Oddie commented, “The secular media is beginning to think that Pope Francis is obsessed by the devil…” Mr. Oddie chided an Associated Press headline declaring that Francis is obsessed with Satan “because he has mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions within a two month period.”
The AP and other secular media would do well to pay close attention to their own news reports over those two months. Far too often they have lent themselves to an underworld of contempt for truth and justice. I described some vivid modern examples in “Strike the Shepherd: Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope.”
William Oddie had a good follow-up post at the U.K.’s Catholic Herald in which he drew a connection between the frequency of Pope Francis’ references to the devil and “the question of what is necessary for him to achieve the long desperately needed reform of the Roman curia.” William Oddie’s title for his July 10 post was “Pope Francis has consecrated Vatican City State to St Michael the Archangel, and asked him to drive out the evil one: the battle against corruption begins.” Mr. Oddie quoted Pope Francis:
“We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life. We are accompanied and supported by the angels of God….In consecrating Vatican City to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him.” (Pope Francis, July 5, 2013)
Writing in his usual thoughtful prose at the excellent The Bellarmine Forum, John B. Manos suggested that in this consecration of Vatican City to Saint Michael, Pope Francis “is following an outline given to him by Pope Leo XIII.” With Pope Emeritus Benedict present on July 5 – a scene without precedent in our 2,000 year old Church – Pope Francis blessed a statue of Saint Michael with Satan subdued under his feet. It was created by the great artist Guiseppe Antonio Lomuscio. In that brief ceremony, Pope Francis consecrated Vatican City to Saint Joseph and Saint Michael.
THE VISION OF POPE LEO XIII
For the press to reduce all this to Pope Francis having an obsession with the devil makes me wonder who, exactly, has been out of touch with reality. It isn’t Pope Francis. I think John Manos was onto something important when he connected this Consecration by Pope Francis with Pope Leo XIII.
A subheading of that August 23 post by John Manos at The Bellarmine Forum is “Leo XIII tied Mary, Joseph, St. Michael, and Sts. Peter and Paul together to protect the Church.” The evidence for why Pope Leo XIII included St. Michael the Archangel in such a mission might be found in the longer version of the Prayer to St. Michael composed by Pope Leo in 1888 after a terrible night in which God allowed him a vision of Satan’s plan to disrupt the Church. The prayer was approved for use by the faithful on May 18, 1890.
Anyone who prays this prayer by Leo XIII will find in recent news out of Rome the “crafty enemies,” “impious hands,” “abominable impiety,” and “iniquitous design” that have pervaded Rome in the time of Benedict and Francis. Recent stories of a misled butler, stolen documents, the Vatican’s own versions of “Wiki-leaks,” rumors of money laundering, and worse rumors of a secret gay cabal with an agenda should all conspire to focus new interest and new urgency on Pope Francis’ actions and in Pope Leo’s prayer.
The well known prayer to St. Michael posted on the Home Page of These Stone Walls is but a segment of this longer version which I prayed daily in the tumultuous period between the resignation of Pope Benedict and the Conclave that elected Pope Francis. In the August/September issue of the excellent magazine, Inside the Vatican, Paul Haffner has a meditation entitled “St. Michael the Archangel” that includes the complete prayer. I invite TSW readers to offer this prayer in support of Pope Francis, mindful of the mission set before him:
“O Glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, be our defense in the terrible warfare which we carry on against Principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, spirits of evil. Come to the aid of man, whom God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil. Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in heaven. That cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels.
“Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay, and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men, of his depraved mind, corrupt heart, spirit of lying, impiety, blasphemy, his pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity. These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the Spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.
“Arise then, 0 invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee Holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious power of hell; to thee God has entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.” (Pope Leo XIII, Vatican City, 1888)