The Feast of St. Michael and All the Angels
[Scripture Readings: Dan 7: 9-14; Jn 1: 47-51]
In the last chapter of his Memoirs St. John Bosco tells the story of a mysterious German Shepherd, standing about three feet tall and of ferocious appearance, who came to his aid. One night in November of 1854 he was walking along a nearly deserted street when two men jumped on him, gagged him with a scarf, and began to bind him. Suddenly a large gray dog bounded out of the shadows like a growling bear and hurled itself at one of the men, knocked him over, pinned him to the ground, and snarled at him. The other man, struck with fear, let John Bosco go and begged him to call off the dog. He did, and the two ruffians fled into the night. From then on, whenever the saint had to be out alone in dangerous quarters, the stray dog he named Grigio escorted him. He was never molested again and eventually the dog did not return. At least, not until 29 years later when John Bosco had lost his way on a dark, stormy night in an unfamiliar countryside. He heard a loud bark. Out of the darkness Grigio appeared and helped him find his destination (Don Bosco, by L. Sheppard, p. 80). Evidently, it was his angel in disguise.
In our library there are many books with hundreds of stories about people who experienced protection, guidance, healings, warnings, and encouragement from angels. They are witnesses that when we are in peril we are never alone, when we suffer temptations we are never alone, when we pray we never pray alone. Nearly every book of the bible tells stories about the activity of angels in our lives. Jacob’s first experience of the God of his ancestors was his vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven in the very place he was sleeping. He named it Bethel, the House of God and Gate of Heaven, where angels lift up our prayers to the Lord, and descend with his blessings. It was one of the Seraphim who cleansed the lips of Isaiah so he could join in their hymn of adoration, the triple Sanctus that we pray with angels at every Eucharist (Is. 6:3). The prophet Ezekiel was literally carried to and from the Lord’s House of Prayer by Cherubim. And after the Temple was destroyed, the prophet Daniel, exiled in Babylon, saw a vision of 10,000 times 10,000 angels praising and serving the Ancient of Days. Daniel was moved to tears, confessed his sinfulness, and received from the Archangel Gabriel a message that he should not fear because he was greatly beloved by the Lord. And to leave us in no doubt that we are not alone when we pray and serve the Lord, the Archangel Raphael told Tobias and his father “I brought your prayers before the Holy One and I was with you when you buried the dead” (Tobit 12:12). When we pray we are never alone, angels pray with us.
St Gertrude the Great, a mystic of the 13th century, writes in her Revelations, “[During Benediction] angelic spirits appeared around the walls, as if they had been deputed to guard the church and to repel the attacks of all enemies. Their golden wings touched each other.” St. John Chrysostom and other fathers of the church teach that multitudes of angels gather around to worship Christ during the Liturgy. Frank Kacmarcik captured this mystery in the architecture of St. Patrick’s Church in Oklahoma City. Dozens of angels in stone relief stand out from the four walls, wing-tip to wing tip, eighteen feet tall. Angels and archangels, thrones and dominations, principalities, powers and virtues, cherubim and seraphim worship with us at every Eucharist. When we pray we never pray alone.
While angels help us and pray with us, devils try to ensnare us. Isaac of Stella believed that each of us has a personal demon who watches every step and marks every action. He writes, “This is something no one should be ignorant of. I know my devil very well, and mine knows me. There is no one who does me more harm. It tells me endless stories about the pleasures of the world, all of them without a word of truth; it whispers a thousand suspicions about this person and that. It tells me I can do things I can’t, and that I can’t do things I really can” (Cist. Stud. ’70 p. 39).
Fr. Pius Hanley, who heard confessions here for over sixty years, said there are three things we should know about the devil’s temptations: first, when the devil tempt us; second, what the devil tempt us to do; and third, how the devil he does it. Satan tempts us when we are weak, especially at the hour of our death. It is the devil’s final opportunity to ensnare us, either by despair or by presumption of God’s mercy. But in our last great battle we will not be alone, for it is part of a cosmic war in which the victory has already been won by Christ. He will send Michael the Archangel to defend us in battle, to be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil, especially when we are dying. It is St. Michael who will be present with us at death and carry us into paradise.
But, when he comes I hope he doesn’t appear like a ferocious German Shepherd!