Words on the Word
St Michael The Archangel
A great deal of nonsense is often said about angels. We may find we’re given to thinking nonsensically about them ourselves, haunted as we are by images of feathers, celestial chariots, and cascading cloaks. So earthbound are we poor human clods, so conditioned by our bodies, that it is hard for us to conceive of pure spiritual existences. Another hurdle that separates us from the angels we celebrate today is this: they have no truck with sin, no experience of it. They can distinguish between good and evil with perfect clarity, whereas we, often enough, are captive to deadly ambiguities, not knowing, sometimes not wanting to know, what’s what.
It is striking that the Church presents the angelic hosts by contrasting them with fallen spirits. We learn who St Michael is by seeing him over against his opposite, ‘called the devil and Satan’. Here, too, we are conditioned by caricatures. We do well to shed them and to engage instead with what Scripture really tells us about God’s enemy. The name diabolos is Greek and means ‘the tearer-apart’. The devil’s strategy is clear: divide and rule. He is satan (a Semitic term this time), which means ‘the accuser’. That’s what he specialises in: accusing the brethren. Thereby he sows deceit, darkness, and confusion. He leaves his unmistakeable hallmark: fear.
Thank God for the armies of light that erupt into his murky domain, which can sometimes seem so compact. Michael and his angels have already cast the devil out of heaven. The battle, these days, is joined on earth. Here, the angelic cause is upheld by those who ‘loved not their own lives even unto death’, who fight darkness with light, who excise falsehood with the scalpel of truth. There is a strategic alliance between God’s angels and the Church’s martyrs. Their cause is one and the same. To get a notion of angelic integrity, we are asked to consider the Slain Lamb’s faithful witnesses. Why? Because these latter show that there is a way to live, even in our earthly half-light, that is not a way of compromise. They show us that belonging to the party of angels is ours for the choosing, here and now. Today’s feast invites us to marvel at the highest order of created beings, to give thanks for God’s providence through them—yes, of course. But it also presents us with a concrete challenge: will we, today, choose light rather than darkness, truth rather than falsehood, freedom rather than servitude? Will we do our bit to cast out fear, within us and around us? A share in angelic life proceeds from right judgement. By grace, may it be ours. Amen.