What's in a Name?

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture
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Saint Michael, icon at Prince of Peace Monastery"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it." --Revelation 12:7-9

Any brother who visits my room will find images of Saint Michael throughout: on the door, next to my bed, on the bookshelf, above my desk, and so on. Although most of these prayer cards and icons have been gifts that I’ve received since entering the Order and receiving Michael as my religious name, the fact is that I have had a great devotion to the captain of the heavenly hosts for many years.

My affinity for Saint Michael began in college, when I began to learn more about our Catholic faith and discovered that Saint Michael’s feast day -- which he now shares which the other archangels -- is on September 29, just a few days after my birthday.  Tradition teaches us that on this date, during the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Michael appeared to the pope in a vision. Saint Gregory was leading a penitential procession and praying for the end of a plague that was decimating the population of Rome. As he and the other pilgrims made their way across the Tiber River, suddenly the sound of an angel chorus could be heard. Saint Michael appeared above what is now known as the Castel San’Angelo, and sheathed his sword -- which was dripping with blood -- a sign that the plague was finished.

A lesser-known story says that it was on this date that Saint Michael defeated Satan, as described in the reading from the Book of Revelation above. After being cast out of heaven, the devil was hurled towards earth and finally crashed, landing on a thorny bush. The bush’s berries took on the color of the vanquished dragon’s blood, a dark violet that, at first glance, appears black. Seething and outraged, Satan cursed the bush and its blackberries. As a result, tradition holds that one should only eat blackberries harvested before this day, otherwise they will be too bitter.

Now as much as I love these stories and traditions associated with Sept. 29th, they are not my primary reason for venerating Saint Michael. The real reason I honor this archangel is because of what his name signifies. Despite the fact that “Michael” is often translated as a statement, it as actually a question – the question asked by this noble prince of heaven when Satan refused to serve and worship God. Michael means: “who is like unto God?” It is a rallying cry for the faithful, that causes the devil to tremble in fear, reminding him of that fateful day when he, in his pride, rebelled against God and lost his place among the heavenly host. At the same time, it is a reminder to all us that we must practice humility, for the answer to the question “who is like unto God?” is no one.

Let us pray, then, that Saint Michael, by the divine power of God, will help us to grow in virtue, and in humility, so that we may turn from sin and overcome the evil spirits who prowl this world seeking for the ruin of souls.

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