There is a real spiritual battle going on all around us. Our faith teaches us that humans aren’t the only intelligent creatures God made, that God also made angels and that some of those angels fell away in rebellion. The two sides continue to fight for human souls today.
A popular prayer that references this battle very explicitly is the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Composed by Pope Leo XIII in the 19th century, there is a short version that many Catholics have memorized, and then a longer version used for exorcisms.
What makes this prayer particularly interesting, though, is its supposed origin story.
One day after celebrating Mass, Pope Leo XIII was found staring blankly. A moment later, he suddenly snapped back to the present and quickly shut himself into to his private office. A half an hour later, with his attendants knocking to see if everything was okay, he emerged having composed the Prayer to St. Michael. From that day forward, he was known to regularly recite the prayer.
What did he see that inspired the prayer? In one account, he had a vision of demonic forces circling Rome. In another account, Leo actually heard a conversation between God and Satan, in which God allowed Satan to choose one century in which to do his worst work. And what century did the evil one choose? The 20th century.
Since the 1930s, various articles in Catholic publications have recited stories like this. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if there’s any truth to them, since the earliest account don’t appear until about 45 years after Leo XIII composed the prayer. At least one article published in the 1950s credits Leo’s personal secretary as a source, but it’s unclear how accurate it is, since no sources from the 1880s refer to the story.
Either way, the lesson is the same: don’t be naive, spiritual warfare is all around, and keep praying!
Here’s the Prayer to St. Michael:
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.