Father George David Byers writes this guest article on Saint Michael the Archangel, Patron Saint of Justice, while being Pope Francis’ Missionary of Mercy.
Father Gordon MacRae has written a number of articles for These Stone Walls on Saint Michael, “Angelic Justice: Saint Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed” and “Pope Francis Consecrates Vatican City to St Michael the Archangel.” This year he asked if a guest article for the feast day (29 September) might be written, even suggesting a title which continues the theme of Saint Michael and justice. Permit me to set the tone with a personal anecdote about guardian angels – whose feast is on 2 October – for they are of assistance to Saint Michael.
It was the Summer of 2010, in between school years, and I was in my little Nissan Versa passing by Lebanon, Indiana, on Interstate 65 just North of Indianapolis on my return trip to the Pontifical Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. I had been up to Mundelein in Chicago for some pointers on the Extraordinary Form, which I was to introduce into the curriculum at the Josephinum. Otherwise alone in the car, I asked my guardian angel, as was my constant practice for some years (to my great shame), to teach me to have the same reverence he has before God, since he sees God in the face (see Matthew 18:10) and I manifestly do not. It’s a matter of justice, I thought. After all, this guardian angel was assigned to get me to heaven. But he was finally fed up with my out-of-place request, and he reprimanded me with a manifestation of the truth clearer than words could ever be. He said, so to speak:
“I am an angel. You are not an angel. I have my own reverence before God which you will never have, as I am an angel and you are not. I see the Most Holy Trinity in the face as an angel, but you are to see God in a way that I can never see Him. You are a man and I am not. You are to see God through, with and in Jesus, as a member of His Body, He seeing the Father now for you. I will never have the same kind of reverence before God as you are to have, for you are a man and I am not.
Angels are like that, full of incisive irony, aggressively humble, full of charity, it being all about Jesus. I mention this as an introduction to Saint Michael since he is patron of justice inasmuch as he assists us in coming to have the reverence we are to have before our Heavenly Father through, with and in Jesus. It is quite demonic and in the spirit of the anti-Christ to deny the Incarnation of the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, something I was effectively doing by insisting on wanting to have the self-same reverence before God as do the angels. Saint Michael does battle with Satan until we come to realize that it’s all about Jesus, for Jesus is God. Now I just ask my guardian angel to teach me the kind of reverence I am to have before God even if this is different from the reverence he has before God. In all of this, recall that in Hebrew the name Michael means “Who is like God.” But let’s begin at the beginning, back in the Garden of Eden, where this battle between Michael and Satan, the battle between justice and injustice has its start.
When Adam and his wife were created by God, they were formed to be like God, God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26-27). In this sense, Adam and his wife were non-divine gods reflecting God, being God’s co-workers in creation, taking the material universe up in themselves and laying it down in reverence before God, representing in themselves all that is outside of God, all of creation. They were like God. They were non-divine gods but nevertheless more godly than any god of any pantheon in the ancient mythologies of the Middle-East.
You’ll remember that Satan’s clever temptation involved Adam and his wife becoming like gods. And, indeed, this was a deception, however true it was, for they who were gods (see John 10:35; Psalm 82:6; “YHWH Elohim” = “He who causes them to be gods”) would become merely like gods, and so therefore hardly like God Himself anymore. It was Satan, before he fell, who was merely like a god – being of assistance, as he was, to Adam and his wife – and was now far from what he should be as well, even less than merely like a god. While God knows goodness and therefore also in contrast that which is less than good, that is, evil, Adam and his wife after the fall would know good only as lessened by evil. They would not know the pristine goodness of charity, but would be controlled by the temptation of an egotistic “what’s in it for me?” attitude, so dark, self-absorbed, self-referential, self-congratulatory. They would thus make idols of themselves, merely farcical gods before whom they become seemingly irretrievably cynical: they are like unto themselves, and not even that.
But then our Lord offers the gift of Himself, saying that He Himself will place enmity over against Satan between us and Satan. Enter Saint Michael, who is like God Himself, who is to do battle for us against Satan by assisting us in our reverence before God, helping us to be formed into the image of Jesus, and thus like God once again. Since Saint Padre Pio is the patron of Father MacRae, and since we just celebrated his feast (23 September, the day Father MacRae was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned 23 years ago) let me take the event of Padre Pio’s reception of the stigmata as an example. Pio wrote about this to his spiritual director (now in the office of readings for the Liturgy of the Hours). The fiery sword referenced here is that of the conclusion of the Proto-Evangelium in Genesis 3:24, a sword of ardent charity which transforms those presented to it into the likeness of God once again.
“I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. […] I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. [Two weeks later…] in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass I yielded to a drowsiness […]. Absolute silence surrounded and invaded me. I was suddenly filled with great peace and abandonment which effaced everything else and caused a lull in the turmoil. All this happened in a flash. While this was taking place I saw before me a mysterious person [Jesus] similar to the one I had seen on the evening of August 5th [Pio later names him as Saint Michael]. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. [Saint Michael, who is like God, is also like Jesus, who is God, but does not, cannot bear Jesus’ wounds.] This sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should die and really should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood. Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. […] The person of whom I spoke in a previous letter is none other than the one I mentioned having seen on August 5th [Saint Michael]. He continues his work incessantly, causing me extreme spiritual agony. There is a continual rumbling within me like the gushing of blood. […]”
And so this priest was transformed to be like Jesus, who is the image of God. And this is justice. Jesus came to make us members of the Body of Christ, He the head, we the members. As the Master, so the disciple. Jesus became like us in all things but sin, standing in our stead, taking on the death we deserve because of sin, becoming sin for us on the cross as Saint Paul says so succinctly (see 2 Corinthians 5:21), He doing this so that we could once again by made like God. Saint Paul bore such wounds as did Francis of Assisi. If our angels assist us in becoming members of the body of Christ, they do so for the sake of justice. Because our salvation is the work of Jesus, of God, justice demands our transformation to be like God, so that through Jesus, with Him and in Him, by the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor might be given to the Father for ever and ever.
When Satan and his anti-Christ deny to the utmost the incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity (see 1 John 2:22, 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7), when they deny that the Immaculate Virgin Mary is Mother of God, that is when Saint Michael takes up arms to destroy the power of Satan. A sign that Satan and his anti-Christ are at work is when Jesus’ own priests are not provided the mercy of justice, which is due process. When priests pronounce the words of the consecrations at Mass in the first person singular they are not only like God, they act in the very Person of Jesus – This is my Body given for you in sacrifice, my Blood poured out for you in sacrifice – so that a purposed lack of due process for priests, a purposed lack of justice for priests – you know, to save thirty pieces of silver in litigation, is a blasphemy against the Incarnation of Jesus, against the Body and Blood of Christ coming to our altars. Where is Satan to be found, where the anti-Christ? Wherever priests are wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned. And Saint Michael is to be found transforming those priests into images of Jesus that they may once again be like God, possibly even with the wounds. They already know the humiliations.
Saint John Paul II requested that we ask for the help of Saint Michael:
May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Draw strength from the Lord and from his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St Michael throughout the Church. “Saint Michael the Archangel defend us in battle, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” Although today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it, and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world. (Pope John Paul II, Regina Caeli, 24 April 1994).
When John Paul mentioned that “this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass,” this is not a rubric he cites, but it is instead a lament. After the final blessing and dismissal, the Saint Michael prayer may of course be recited as we do after weekday and weekend Masses in my parish:
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 hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
On a personal note, and on behalf of all priests everywhere, I thank Father MacRae for being faithful to his priestly vocation where he is, fulfilling in his own body the suffering that is lacking to these members of the Body of Christ (see Colossians 1:24).
Editor’s Note: Father Byers was filling in for Father MacRae when he was busy publishing an important article on SperoNews: “The ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and its real-world version.” It’s an important article for the concept of restorative justice and is complementary to this article on These Stone Walls.