Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Defend Us in the Day of Battle

On the Byzantine calendar, November 8 is the feast of St Michael and all the Holy Angels. I always find this feast to be a joyful one, and one that renews my gratitude for the presence of the Angels. Who else but God would have thought up such a marvelous group of spiritual beings, who live not only for the unceasing praise and worship of the Lord, but also as our protectors and intercessors? They are heavenly messengers, “ministering spirits,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (1:14). They’ve received all kinds of treatment in art and literature—not all of it worthy of them—but it cannot be doubted that they have captured the imagination of millions of people. And not just their imagination—stories abound of angelic visions and interventions to assist people, to save them from perils and to guide them to the ways of God.

This feast also includes our Guardian Angels, who are with us at all times, even though we may not often be aware of it. They are given by God as personal gifts to us, to stand by us, protecting us from evil, danger, and harm, and speaking the word of God to our hearts and consciences. And hopefully, they will receive an extra reward in Heaven when they finally escort us safely into the Kingdom of God. I don’t think they’ll be punished if they fail in this task—we’re the ones who will be punished, for our Angels only do the will of God, but they have to respect our freedom to choose.

St Michael the Archangel is the main focus of our celebration today, and the Gospel (Lk 10:16-22) seems to allude to his victory over the great dragon that we hear about in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation. There it says that Michael and his Angels fought the dragon and cast him down to earth—where we have to fight him now!—and Jesus says in the Gospel that He saw satan fall from the sky like lightning. Yet in the context it seems clear that Jesus was not (or not only) referring to the primordial fall of the devil and his minions, but to the apostles’ victory over the demons. Jesus had just sent them out on a mission, giving them power to heal and to cast out evil spirits, and they returned rejoicing that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. Even though Jesus then affirmed his gift to them of the power to “tread on serpents and scorpions,” He made it clear that it was not in such authority that their glory and joy should reside, but in the fact that their names were written in Heaven. So whatever gifts or talents we may have, they are not ends in themselves, but they must serve our salvation and that of others—therein lies the true and everlasting joy.

We begin the famous prayer to St Michael, written by Pope Leo XIII, by asking him to “defend us in the day of battle.” We assume (and for the most part, rightly so) that this refers to spiritual battles, temptations, demonic attacks, etc. But St Michael and the holy Angels are there to defend us in all sorts of battles. I just read a true story about St Michael’s intervention in a legal battle of a man who was being cheated by a corporation who was trying to steal his patented invention (the account is from Joan Wester Anderson’s In the Arms of Angels).

A man named Louis Saia invented a new way to keep perishable food fresh while being shipped over long distances. He had signed a contract with a company who bought 50% of his invention. But this company was bought out by another one, which wanted the whole thing. They offered him a relatively small amount for it and said if he didn’t accept it, they would take it over anyway and ruin him through litigation. Louis went through all of his money trying to keep the court battle going, but he was at his wits’ end, turning to alcohol and valium and being so stressed out that he couldn’t sleep, etc.

He was a Catholic, but hadn’t practiced for a long time, and when his wife suggested he go to church he said he was so frazzled that he couldn’t sit still. So he decided to go jogging. At the back of his property was a small office building, and standing on the porch of it was a woman in a flowing white gown. He had never seen her before. He wondered to himself: “Why is she here?” When he approached her she said, “I am praying to protect you. Just have faith in my Son, Jesus.” He fell to his knees, praying to God, while all his despair and anxiety left him. He returned to his family, who couldn’t believe he was calm and smiling. “What happened to you?” they all asked. “I saw the Blessed Mother Mary on the porch this morning,” he announced. They all looked at each other, thinking that his stress had finally caught up with him.

But he remained joyful, and prayed without ceasing and kept remembering her words. The court battle began to take a turn in his favor. After a totally unexpected victory in one round of litigation, he walked out of court and fell to his knees on the sidewalk, weeping with gratitude. At the time he was wearing a navy blue suit, a white shirt, and a yellow tie. A few weeks later a priest whom Louis did not know came to visit him. He said, “In a vision, I saw you kneeling on a sidewalk. You were wearing a navy blue suit, white shirt, and yellow tie. Standing in front of you, about nine feet tall with wings about 15 feet high, was a magnificent angel. I believe it was St Michael. His sword was drawn and touching your head. He was doing battle for you. I wanted you to know.”

Louis won every single court case after that, and the company that tried to cheat him was forced to pay millions in damages and costs. Louis turned his office into a chapel and invited people to come and pray. He had an artist paint an image of St Michael and put in on holy cards, which he distributed wherever he went. He eventually built up his own trucking company and had the image of St Michael painted on all his trucks—St Michael Motor Express, the company was called. And all his drivers carry St Michael holy cards and pass them out too!

Louis was happy, of course, about his victories in court, but he was most happy about his recovered faith, about the intervention of St Michael and the Queen of Angels in his life. He was truly defended in the day of battle, and he wants all the world to know it! This is why God blessed him even before he had given his life to Him—God knew what a faithful servant and evangelist he would become, so He sent Our Lady and St Michael to rescue him.

As we celebrate St Michael and the holy Angels today, let us first realize that they live to worship and serve God, with reverence and joy, and that we are called, in our own way, to live such an angelic life. And let us pray for an increased awareness of their presence in our lives, of how they do battle for us, protect us, intercede for us, and intervene in our lives in ways that may not be as dramatic as the one I just recounted, but that still express God’s loving care for us. It is for us simply to obey our heavenly guardians and give thanks. As the Lord said to his chosen people almost four millennia ago, He says to us today: “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and heed his voice…for my name is in him” (Ex. 23:20-21). Holy Archangels and Angels, pray to God for us!