Now the new People of God is the Church. That is the reason she considers him her protector and support in all her struggles for the defense and expansion of the kingdom of God on earth. It is true that “the powers of death shall not prevail”, as the Lord assured (Mt 16:18), but this does not mean that we are exempt from trials and battles against the snares of the evil one.In this struggle the Archangel Michael stands alongside the Church to defend her against all the iniquities of the age, to help believers to resist the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Petr 5:8).” This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man’s moral equilibrium. – St John Paul II
On May 10, 2014, the Washington Post ran an article by Anthony Faiola entitled A modern pope gets old school on the Devil which caused quite a stir. Faiola wrote:
(I)n his words and deeds, the new pope is locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation: The Devil. After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.”
The article went into detail concerning the emphasis which Francis has placed on the teaching, affirmed in Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that the Devil is real, and is the enemy of the Church. Further, that we are engaged in a continuing battle with him:
(F)or instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church – the International Association of Exorcists – for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”
“ ’But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century,’ ” Francis, quoting those who have noted his frequent mentions of the Devil, said last month while presiding over Mass at the Vatican’s chapel in St. Martha’s House. He warned those gathered on that chilly morning to be vigilant and not be fooled by the hidden face of Satan in the modern world. “Look out because the Devil is present,” he said.
Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. In recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.
Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.” Now, his focus on the Devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.
“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him. Yet, as with so many of his actions, Francis may simply be correctly reading the winds of the Catholic Church.”
Of course Pope Francis is reading the winds, the winds of the Holy Spirit. Those winds are blowing in a new missionary age of the Church and he is leading the troops. The main stream media is enamored with his gospel simplicity, love for the poor and joyful witness to the Risen Jesus. Now, they are noticing his dedication to spiritual warfare – but they do not understand why or what it means.
Pope Francis knows the reality and the intensity of the spiritual warfare in which the Church is engaged during this hour. He regularly speaks of it. Let me share just a few examples.
On Friday morning, October 14, 2013 at the Chapel of St Martha, Francis presided at morning Mass. That Gospel was from Luke 11: 15-26. This is one of the Gospel texts which clearly reveal that the devil is real. Francis reminded the faithful that not only did Jesus confront the devil during his earthly ministry but that we are called to do the same.
The Pope who took the name Francis did what his namesake, the little poor man of Assisi, did quite regularly – he called all who listened to his words to take the task of spiritual warfare seriously and learn how to engage in it effectively.
To the chagrin of some who think talk of the devil is silly or outdated, and the dismay of the demons of hell, Pope Francis takes the Bible passages that mention the devil seriously. He speaks regularly of spiritual warfare as a vital part of the Christian mission for every believer.
Several months before that, On Friday July 9, 2013, he joined with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, in the Vatican gardens where they consecrated the Vatican to Michael the Archangel and again placed the whole Church under his protection.
Following a prayer ceremony, Pope Francis noted that St. Michael defends the People of God from its enemy, the adversary, the devil. He said even if the devil attempts to disfigure the face of the Archangel and thus the face of humanity, St Michael wins, because God acts in him and is stronger.
Some news reports spoke of the Pope’s ‘obsession’ with the devil. However, it is not an obsession; it is a call to arms. Francis reminds us that evil is real – and the devil exists. Further, that he is the enemy of Jesus Christ and His Church, of which we are members. He has been crystal clear on this subject throughout his ministry as priest, Bishop and successor of the Apostle Peter.
One of the better explanations of this came in a May, 2013 interview which Kathryn Lopez, Editor at Large of National Review, did with my friend, Alejandro Bermudez, the director of ACI-Prensa and executive director of Catholic News Agency. It concerned the book, Heaven and Earth based on interviews with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. Here is one question and answer:
“LOPEZ: In On Heaven and Earth, Cardinal Bergoglio says: “Maybe [the Devil’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.” Why is he so obsessed with the Devil?
BERMUDEZ: If his focus on the Devil is an obsession, well, I think we should all be obsessed. The reality of the existence of the Devil is so overwhelming, especially in the unexplainable evil of our day, that is easier for me to understand how a person can not believe in God than how one cannot believe in the Devil. In any case, Pope Francis believes that taking the Devil out of the equation is more irrational than making long-term plans believing that nothing will ever go wrong. Any company would immediately fire a manager that naive.”
Alejandro was correct. The fact that the two Popes joined one another in an act of consecration of the Vatican to St. Michael the Archangel reveals the realities of the prophetic moment in which they both feel we are in. It is also an invitation to enter into spiritual warfare.
In 1886 Pope Leo XIII added a prayer seeking the intercession of St Michael the Archangel which was recited at the end of every low Mass for many years.
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, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen
The prayer was a response to an encounter he had in prayer. He saw that the Devil had unleashed a furious assault on Christ’s Church. He wanted the Church to take up spiritual arms and enter into the conflict. In the Liturgical renewal which accompanied the Second Vatican Council, the prayer fell out of use.
The intention in no longer requiring it at the end of every Mass was not meant to dissuade its use. It was considered to be a prayer which the faithful which would continue to be regularly recite on their own and did not require priestly leadership. Sadly, along with other reactions to the well intended renewals of the Council, such acts of spiritual warfare began to wane.
Saint John Paul II called the faithful back to asking for the assistance of Michael in the work of spiritual warfare. In 1994, he explicitly requested all of us to enter into the spiritual warfare our age requires. He requested that the Prayer seeking the assistance of St. Michael in this battle “against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world” resume a place of prominence in our devotion:
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” (Eph 6 10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Rev. 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.”
“St 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)”
The last Book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse of John, records the account of the Battle in the Heavens: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world-he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev 12:7-9)
Pope Francis is carrying forward the trajectory of his predecessors with a fresh urgency. He knows that spiritual warfare rages all around us. Maybe it is time to reinsert that prayer to Michael the Archangel at the end of Holy Mass? It is still used in the extraordinary form and is returning to prominence as the practice of Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament undergoes a revival.
In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a book exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around all of us which uses a series of letters between two demons – the older Screwtape, an instructor and the younger student Wormwood – the great apologist CS Lewis wrote:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
We are in a fever pitch struggle for the souls of men and women in this historic moment in the history of the whole Christian Church. We face intense opposition from the devil. We must remember that the struggle we are facing, though waged on many fronts, is at its root a spiritual battle. We need the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of heaven to move forward.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood; but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Eph. 6:12,13)
He wrote to the Christians in Corinth: For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:4,5)
These words are not outdated. They are ever new. They can help us, if we open our eyes, our hearts and our lives to the working of the Holy Spirit.
I will conclude with another excerpt from Saint John Paul II from a talk he gave on May 24, 1987, when he visited a shrine dedicated to Michael the Archangel. He gave a teaching on the biblical roots and teaching of the Tradition of the Church on St Michael the Archangel in the task of spiritual warfare. It can be read in its entirety here. His canonization reminds us of his vital role in this moment in history:
As fragmentary as it is, the evidence of Revelation concerning the personality and the role of St Michael is very eloquent. He is the Archangel (cf. Jude 1:9) who affirms the inalienable rights of God. He is one of the princes of heaven (cf. Dan 12:1)-charged with guarding the Chosen People-from whom the Savior will come.
Now the new People of God is the Church. That is the reason she considers him her protector and support in all her struggles for the defense and expansion of the kingdom of God on earth. It is true that “the powers of death shall not prevail”, as the Lord assured (Mt 16:18), but this does not mean that we are exempt from trials and battles against the snares of the evil one.
In this struggle the Archangel Michael stands alongside the Church to defend her against all the iniquities of the age, to help believers to resist the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Petr 5:8).”
This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man’s moral equilibrium.
St Paul does not hesitate to call him “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), inasmuch as he shows himself to be an astute enchanter, capable of insinuating himself into our actions so as to introduce deviations that are as destructive as they are apparently conformed to our instinctive aspirations.
It is for this reason that the Apostle of the Gentiles warns Christians of the snares of the devil and his innumerable followers, when he exhorts the inhabitants of Ephesus to put on “the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:11-12).
We are reminded of this struggle by the figure of St Michael the Archangel, to which the Church in both the East and the West, has unceasingly directed a special devotion. As is well known, the first sanctuary dedicated to him arose in Constantinople through the work of Constantine: it is the celebrated Michaelion, which was followed in that new capital: of the Empire by numerous other churches dedicated to the Archangel.
In the West, from the fifth century the (devotion to) St Michael spread to many cities such as Rome, Milan, Piacenza, Genoa, Venice; – On the bronze door molded in Constantinople in 1076, the Archangel is depicted in the act of vanquishing the infernal dragon.
By Deacon Keith Fournier