A haunting dream on the Feast of Guardian Angels reveals the necessity of accepting allies before securing arms for the coming field of battle in spiritual warfare.
“Only one thoroughly acquainted with the
art of war can successfully wage one.”
(Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 500 BC)
Five hundred years before the Birth of the Messiah, the Chinese general, Sun Tzu wrote a treatise called The Art of War. The wagers of war have been trying to decipher its hidden meanings ever since. There is no point in reading it. Sun Tzu offers little to the Western mind beyond confusion, but his quote above rings as true today as it did in 500 BC.
A basic tenet of The Art of War is that victory depends not only on weapons, but on allies. Spiritual warfare is no exception. For those who disdain war, there are no conscientious objectors in spiritual warfare. It does not pursue those who have already handed themselves over to evil. They have reported to boot camp. Spiritual warfare seeks to subdue contributors to the good. It pursues those at peace. More on this later, but first my allies.
In two recent posts on These Stone Walls, I wrote about two figures who have asserted themselves into my life in this field of battle where I would rather not be. Their presence here is evident if you spend a little time with These Stone Walls, but two titles in recent weeks identify them clearly: “Saint Maximilian Kolbe and the Gift of Noble Defiance,” and “Padre Pio: Patron Saint for the Heavy Lifting in Heaven.”
In that latter post, I wrote that I would reveal a third this week, and he, too, is evident in my title Saint Michael the Archangel has a powerful presence here.
Before I tell you about it, I want to add a disclaimer. I have no delusions of grandeur. If I have any delusions at all they are the opposite of grandeur. I do not feel that I am special in any way. I was just an ordinary priest, with no special gifts, traveling through life on an ordinary path.
Then I was falsely accused, dragged through the justice system, and placed on trial – first in the news media and then in the circus of Caligula. I was sent unjustly to prison for sixty-seven years after three times refusing a “deal” that would have had me free in one but would have required handing a part of myself over to the Prince of Lies.
Remaining spiritually intact while facing such a plight requires special resilience and other gifts, but I have none. Nothing has ever come easy for me, and especially not the art of war. Like most of you would do in my place, I struggled to retain hope, sanity, and my soul as I walked in the Dark Valley of Psalm 23.
“YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS” (Joel 2:28)
The image above has great spiritual meaning for me. Though I cannot even begin to fully comprehend it, the image was revealed to me in a dream during a time when I felt stranded upon the latest of my life’s many fields of battle in spiritual warfare. I first described the dream and the above image in a 2016 Christmas post, “Joseph’s Dream and the Birth of the Messiah.”
It was a time when the prison that holds us was in a great upheaval and our peace of mind along with it. At this time one year ago I was unable to write so Father George David Byers stepped in for me with a guest post on a subject I asked him to write about “Saint Michael Who Is Like God: Patron Saint of Justice.”
Four days later, early in the morning of October 2 – the day the Church honors the Guardian Angels – I had a strange and vivid dream. You may have read of this before, but a year later it seems worth repeating and reflecting on. It has lingered in my psyche and my soul, and when my days grew dark, it stayed with me and gave me hope. It’s a dream and an image that haunts me.
In the dream, I stood gazing out the window of my cell with a trusted companion standing next to me. Who he was remains mysterious, but I can surmise by the date of the dream that it was someone who knows me well – better even than I know myself. The companion took the form of an older man, someone wiser, someone known for all my life but on another plane of existence.
He pointed out the window as I stood next to him. I looked in the dark through the bars of the window up into the western sky to where he was pointing and he asked me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see only the prison lights.” “Look beyond the prison lights,” he said. Then my eyes were strangely opened, and I could see far beyond the limits of where I stood.
I saw three stars in a perfect triangle. I knew they were very distant stars, but somehow my eyes became like telescopes. Then I saw within the triangle streams of light that seemed to flow from the three stars and interact with them. It was glowing, but it was also alive and vibrant. “It looks like neon,” I remember saying. Then my companion said, “Michael dwells within the light.” I felt as though I could have gazed forever.
The dream seemed to go on for a long time in silence and my struggles seemed to be absorbed by what I was seeing. This is all I could remember of the dream. Then I awoke in my bunk. It was just a few minutes after 3:00 AM. The dream seemed so vivid that I wondered whether it was a dream or actually happened.
So I arose and walked the few steps to the cell window with the strangest sense of a sort of echo of the “Someone” who had been standing there. I stared intensely but saw only prison lights. Then my friend, Pornchai Moontri awoke in his upper bunk as I stood in the night staring at the stretch of sky beyond prison.
“What’s wrong?” asked Pornchai. I told him that I had a dream about seeing some stars. “Oh, here we go again,” he muttered as he rolled over to resume his sleep. (Months earlier, Pornchai was awakened in the night when I jumped from my bunk in alarm after another strange dream that I wrote about in “How Father Benedict Groeschel Entered My Darkest Night.”)
Later that day after my dream about the stars, it kept replaying in my mind. I felt compelled to do as I was instructed, to “look beyond the prison lights.” I was especially struck by my mystery companion’s statement about the light from within the triangle of stars. “Michael dwells within the light.”
So at work in the library that day, I sat down with an atlas of the stars. It took an hour of searching and studying, but I found a tiny constellation called “Triangulum”.” Its stars are far too distant to see with the naked eye, but with a telescope, Triangulum can be seen above the horizon at various times of the year in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.
Later that day, I called a friend and asked her to search Google for the Constellation Triangulum. She sent me a few photographs. One was the photo above taken in a “Deep Field” survey. It was the image of my dream.
The search also yielded something else interesting. In the late 1990s, something was discovered inside Triangulum. It was a galaxy 12.2 billion light years away called Galaxy RD-1, the most distant object ever seen by human eyes or instruments. Galaxy RD-1 (above) is seen as a bright light within Triangulum, formed near the dawn of creation after The Big Bang.
To look at that image is to look upon the birth pangs of the Cosmos. In the Fourth Century A.D., Saint Augustine devoted a part of his famous City of God to an examination of the majority population of that city: the angels. Augustine noted that in the Creation account of Genesis, light was created before its visible sources in the material world: the sun and the stars.
In early 20th Century astronomy, physicist-mathematician, Father Georges Lemaître discovered the origin of the created Universe. Eighteen centuries earlier, Saint Augustine proposed a sort of Big Bang for the spiritual Universe. When God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), it was for Augustine the moment the angels came into being. “God saw that the light was good. Then God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)
For Saint Augustine, this separation of light from darkness recounts the fall of Satan and the rebellious angels. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Milhama from Qumran Cave 1) identifies Michael as the “Prince of Light” who leads the angelic army against the spirits of darkness.
In Genesis, this angelic rebellion preceded the material world and the sin of Adam and Eve who later in the narrative were lured into sin by demonic temptation (Genesis 3:1-6). I once heard a priest and seminary professor suggest that this is all just a metaphor for the darker side of human nature. He said that angels and demons are mythological concepts constructed to personify conflict within the human psyche.
What nonsense! Padre Pio was assaulted by demons in the night because they could not bear the works of his sanctity. Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and freedom were taken because he never retreated from spiritual warfare in Auschwitz, the darkest manifestation of evil the modern world has seen.
I am grateful for a reflection on this by Dr. Scott Hahn in his book, Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones (Image Books 2014):
“Since the time of the primordial fall, humanity has been beset by evil spiritual forces and defended by good spiritual forces. We call this struggle “spiritual warfare… Our troubles and our struggles in this world are not simply anxieties over material discomforts. They are also – and primarily – spiritual struggles, Spiritual combat. Spiritual warfare.” (pp. 76, 85)
Those who know the misfortune of evil at a very personal level know that spiritual warfare is real. Sun Tzu was right:
“Only one thoroughly acquainted with the
Art Of war can successfully wage one.”
Everyone else, whether they know it or not, is utterly defenseless and in desperate need of allies.
SAINT MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL, DEFEND US IN BATTLE
The famous Russian author and former Soviet prisoner, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote that “the line that divides Good and Evil runs not between nations or parties or physical armies, but right down the middle of every human soul.” The battleground of spiritual warfare is the human soul. “Our natural battles are surrounded by a supernatural battle,” wrote theologian Peter Kreeft in Angels and Demons (Ignatius Press 1995, P. 124).
If you scroll far enough down the Home Page of These Stone Walls, you will come to a feature called “Most Popular Posts.” This short list is generated by an algorithm that measures the number of visitors to particular posts – and not just the number, but also how long they stay to read and ponder.
Ever since it was written in September 2010, one post has never left our “Most Popular Posts” list. That post – which we will link to with a few others at the end of this one – examines the significance of Saint Michael’s scales, of his place in Sacred Scripture, and of what it means to be a Patron Saint of Justice. That post is “Angelic Justice: St Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed.”
Saint Michael first showed upon my field of battle in 2002. It was the year the clergy abuse scandal exploded for the second time in America and dragged all accused priests – me included – through the media mud. It was the year the U.S. Bishops opted for “amputation’ as the sole response to the due process rights of accused priests. It was the year Saint Padre Pio was canonized by Saint John Paul II.
You have been reading about all those events and their impact in recent posts on These Stone Walls. In the middle of that year, my friend, Alberto Ramos showed up at my cell door. You read about Alberto and saw his photo just weeks ago in “Labor Day Weekend Behind These Stone Walls.”
Alberto went to prison at age 14. In 2002, at age 22, he walked into my cell with an icon of Saint Michael the Archangel. He silently climbed up on a sink in a corner of the cell, reached up, and taped the icon above my door. “You need this,” he said. “And you should never take it down!”
In the following months, as the spiritual battles of 2002 raged on, one image after another of Saint Michael arrived in my mail and appeared in my cell. One was even affixed to my coffee cup and is still there.
Along with Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Padre Pio, Saint Michael has taken up permanent residence in my soul. These are our allies. Upon this field of battle in spiritual warfare, they have never left us.
The Prayer to Saint Michael is a part of a longer prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 after a terrifying vision of spiritual warfare:
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our, protection 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 evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen”
Editor’s Note: Honor Saint Michael and the Angels this week with these other posts from These Stone Walls:
- Angelic Justice: St Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed
- Pope Francis Consecrates Vatican City to St Michael the Archangel
- To Guard You in All Your Ways: The Archangels on These Stone Walls
- St Gabriel the Archangel: When the Dawn from On High Broke Upon Us
A Postscript from Father Gordon MacRae:
And by the way, for those who like to calculate the astronomical odds of such things, Father Georges Lemaître, Father of the Big Bang and modern cosmology, was the Godfather of Pierre Matthews who is the Godfather of my roommate, Pornchai Moontri.