Feast of St. Michael the Archangel – Maronite Feast: September 6
The following homily was delivered by Fr. Herbert Nicholls on September 6 at the Mother of Light Convent.
It cannot be disputed that apocryphal literature prevalent in both Palestine and the communities of the Diaspora wrote of Michael, the Archangel. We might start with the 12th and 13th chapters of the Book of Daniel. Here he is described as the special protector of Israel, who at the given time will rise up and stand for the children of God (cf. Dan 12:1).
In the Book of Henoch, considered the most important and influential of Old Testament apocryphal, he is described as the chief of the angels appointed to guard the chosen race who are the inheritors of the promises. Michael is envisioned as ushering Henoch himself into the divine presence. He is associated with three other great archangels.
There is Gabriel, messenger of the Lord, who in Daniel 8 is sent to Daniel to assist in his interpretation of dreams. There is Raphael, who appears in the Book of Tobit to grant healing of sight and of a curse. A fourth archangel is mentioned, named Phanuel, meaning the face of God; or in the East Uriel, the Light of God. Neither have any biblical reference.
Nonetheless Tradition tells us that these angels along with a fifth named Lucifer, Bearer of Light, were created by God and they were good. Lucifer ushered in rebellion and was swept from the heavens with a third of the angelic hosts. Jesus said: I saw them cast down from the heavens and fall from the sky to the earth like lightening.
Notice that with the exception of Lucifer, all of their names end with the suffix el which is translated “of God”. Their function is to cover the four compass points (NSEW) protecting humanity from the invaders. They speak to us and remind us of what constitutes true being, of what in our life is so often concealed and buried.
They bring man into himself, into his/her spirit, touching him/her with the love of God, prompting us to always respond to that grace of being “angels’ (messengers) to one another, messengers who turn people away from their erroneous ways and direct them ever forward to God.
In the New Testament, Jesus first speaks of angels when meeting the future disciple, Nathaniel (Jn 1: 45 – 51). Later, while praying and fasting in the desert for 40 days. Once again during his final agony, Jesus calls to mind the prayer of the psalmist: God will put His angels in charge over you to protect you wherever you go. They will keep you from hurting your feet against the stones (ps 91).
This is the famous quote which Satan quotes to Jesus in the desert temptations. Prove that you are God’s Son, throw yourself down off this mountain and see if the angels come and rescue you. Jesus responds: Do not put the Lord God to the test.
As Jesus had to rebuke the temptations of Satan in the desert against pride and self-exaltation, so too must we be on guard against the trap of personal vanities and self-righteousness. In 1 Peter we read: Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Be alert! Be watchful! Be firm in your faith and resist!
In the seldom referenced Epistle of St. Jude we read: Remember the angels who did not stay within the proper limits of their authority but abandoned their heavenly dwelling places. They are bound with eternal chains in the darkness below, where God is keeping them for the great day on which they will be condemned.
When the last days come, people will make fun of you. People who follow their own godless desires. There are people who cause divisions, who are controlled by their own natural desires of the flesh. They do not have the Spirit….but you must continue to build yourselves upon your utmost sacred faith. Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep yourself in the love of God. Show mercy to those who have doubts. And save others by snatching them out of the fire.
Now what may seem a total jump from religion to politics is not as dichotomized as one would make it. Pope Leo XIII was elected in 1878. He has become known in ecclestical and secular history as the advocate for social reform. Of his many encyclicals the classic is Rerum Novarum, in which he acknowledges the right of every person to inviolable dignity.
But there was in the beginning of the 20th century, a strong assault upon the Church by Marxist ideology, not only in Russia, but predominately in Mexico, which features prominently in my assessment of the definition of catholic social teaching.
It was during this dark and difficult time that Pope Leo experienced a vision of battle between St.Michael and Satan. Whether or not he was actually dictated the words of this prayer, he ordered it circulated and prayed it at the end of every Mass in the Roman Rite: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.