Many people in this room, my age and older, will remember that, years ago, Saint Michael the Archangel was invoked in prayers after Mass. These prayers were called the “Leonine Prayers,” after Pope Leo XIII. He is said to have seen a great vision of the activity of the devil in the world, and so he composed this prayer to Saint Michael, and ordered that it be prayed throughout the whole Church.
The prayer goes like this: “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, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.” Maybe you thought of that at the mention of Saint Michael in our first reading today.
II. Not with flesh and blood
Even though the Leonine Prayers are no longer prayed publicly at the end of Mass, they remain very much a part of the Church’s spiritual treasury, and they remind us that as we journey to our heavenly homeland, the forces we struggle against are both visible and invisible. As Saint Paul writes so bracingly to the Ephesians – and to us – “[O]ur struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.”
We do not claim to be on the verge of apocalypse right now, and although we can never know with certainty, it does not seem that the consummation of this present age is immediately before us. However, if we are to take seriously Our Lord’s words in the Gospel this morning, we would be foolish to ignore the ‘signs of the times,’ given the events of recent days. It is no exaggeration to say that in many places, including the United States, the Church is now facing opposition and trials the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes, and it promises to get much worse before it gets better.
Decades ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger offered a troubling reflection which seems more and more applicable. Allow me to quote it at length; he wrote: … “The Church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes … she will lose many of her social privileges. As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.”
But, he adds, “Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
“And so it seems certain to me,” he writes, “that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life, and hope beyond death.” (Faith and the Future, 1969, reprinted by Ignatius 2009).
III. A simple duty for you and me
We spoke yesterday of our call to conversion, and to holiness. As our first-ever Gaudium et Spes honoree, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, put it, “Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and me.” From time to time, it’s easy to wish we had been born in another age, a simpler, more wholesome age, when it was seemingly easier to be virtuous, and easier to be Catholic. But God, in his providence, has decided that you and I should live precisely now.
Our Supreme Knight spoke movingly this weekend of his confidence that there are no “sunshine patriots” among the Knights of Columbus Let it also be said that there are no “sunshine Catholics” among us. Even as, an authentic witness to Christ in His Church becomes more and more socially disadvantageous – let it be said that the family of the Knights of Columbus – each of us individually, and all of us collectively – … stood with the Successor of Peter, … stood for the timeless truths which made our country great, … stood joyfully and faithfully as courageous Catholic gentlemen and ladies, Catholics who fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the Faith.
After all, we are supported, too, by powers both visible and invisible. We are urged on by the prayers of the saints, who have lived lives of heroic virtue, and have now gone before us into eternity. And we have at our disposal all the means which they had at their disposal to cooperate with God’s grace, to become saints: the Gospel, the sacraments, the life of prayer, learning, grace, and faith.
IV. Be of good cheer
The ultimate fulfillment of our Baptism, of our respective vocations, and of our membership in the family of the Knights of Columbus, is nothing less than that we become saints. “Holiness,” said Blessed Mother Teresa, “is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and me.” Ultimately this is the only thing that will convert our culture to the truth of the Gospel.
We may never see a complete turnaround in our lifetime, but if we are faithful, we certainly will see great fruit borne in individual souls, and we will come to eternal salvation, and bring others with us. So let us keep before us always the words of Our Lord to his disciples: “In the world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
In this Year of Faith, then, conscious of dangers and coming trials, but trusting more deeply God’s mercy and providence, let our highest priority be to grow in holiness and in real friendship with the living person of Jesus Christ – as individuals, in our families and parish communities, and in the family of the Knights of Columbus.
So that, when the work of grace is done and we too depart for eternity, the words of the Book of Revelation may apply to us too:
“These are the ones who have survived the time of the great distress. They have washed their robes, and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”