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. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
- Insight from Fulton Sheen: According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
- Insight from St. Louis de Montfort: Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
- Insight from Genesis: Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
- Insight from Judith: Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
- Insight from Judges: Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville, “The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.
In the age of the Internet, iPhones, social media, and other technological amenities of the 21st century, is learning from the pages of centuries old writing even relevant anymore? Have we not progressed as a society where psychologists, depression medicine, and other self-help tactics are a dime a dozen? While I do believe there our current social-historical environment enjoys some of the greatest advancements and quality of life in the history of the human race, there still is wisdom to be gleaned from ancient texts. I came across such writing recently in both a familiar yet fresh place—the Epistle of James from the New Testament.
1. Build your house on the living cornerstone instead of out of straw: One of my favorite children’s short stories is The Story of the Three Little Pigs. Along with being able to tell that tale to my children now, I enjoy the practical and simple message that the story contains. Preparation is key and having a solid foundation is vital not only to having a secure home, but also leading a stable and joyful life. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation, once called the Letter of James an “epistle of straw”. He jettisoned this work from his New Testament. As a result, the Protestant canon does not officially contain the Epistle of James.
Simply by reading the writing by St. James, his work is definitely not built on straw. Rather, this is truly an inspired text. I find practical applications of its message in my daily life. James 1:2 provides healing during stressful times in my life. Chapter 1 verse 2 states, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” This advice is much tougher than it sounds to incorporate, but I have noticed when I take time to discover joy in my suffering that weight becomes more bearable! Let Christ me a cornerstone for your life.
2. Tame the tongue: James 3 focuses on the dangers and evils associated with ill words. The New Testament writer uses such eloquent speech and examples. Because I do not want to downplay the inspired epistle I will cite James’ text before I provide the lessons I learned. St. James authoritatively states,
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.
Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.b 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.c (James 3:1-12).
Here is the practical wisdom and spiritual guidance I gather from this passage:
· Words guide actions
· Men may tame the natural world, but only the Holy Spirit may tame mankind
· Failure to control our speech will have dangerous consequences in daily life
· Complaining and cursing lead to destruction of a person’s entire character
3. Actions speak louder than words: Music provided a refuge from my depression in high school. During my junior and senior years, I was a part of nearly every musical group the school had to offer: All-state choir, chamber choir, musical, caroling, and show choir. There was a particular song I remember the varsity show choir sang during my freshman year—Louder than Words from the musical Tick, Tick…BOOM. I occasionally find myself singing the refrain randomly over the years. Below is an excerpt from the more famous part of the song and the section that I most remember.
Why do we play with fire?
Why do we run our finger through the flame?
Why do we leave our hand on the stove-
Although we know we’re in for some pain?
Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light
When the streets are dangerous?
Why does it take an accident
Before the truth gets through to us?
Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.
Fear or love, baby?
Don’t say the answer
Actions speak louder than words.
I am not sure what the original intention the songwriter’s had in composing the lyrics, but the juxtaposition between cages or wings is a simple and relatable image that I reflect on constantly during my battles against depression. I often toe the line between freedom and entrapment. What this song does a good job doing is reminding myself that deeds define a person. Words are cheap. Verbal promises are created easily. Where it gets difficult if when we our actions need to be consistent with our words—especially in times of trial! How often do we select cages over the freedom of wings? Do we allow sloth and our pride to prevent us from seeking new opportunities to act, to serve others, and engage in things that bring us true and lasting freedom? Do we choose fear or love?
The epistle of James provides us an answer to these questions. James states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). It is not sufficient to say that you love God, or that you love your neighbor. True faith is demonstrable. It dons the cloak of charity in feeding the hungry, comforting the depressed, or helping the disenfranchised.
Will you make your house out of straw? Why is refraining from sins of the tongue a good thing? Do you prefer cages or wings? The Epistle of James provided me practical answers to these questions. His writing leads me to have the possibility for daily success!
Approximately 70-75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water and water makes up about 70% of the human body. Water is arguably the most important natural resource in the entire world. All life depends on it. On the other hand, water may be a terrifying life changing force when it comes in the form of hurricanes, floods, or blizzards. Because of the universal nature of water, it is not surprising that H20 plays a central role in the Bible as well.
Today we are going to explore the watery events in the Old Testament that foreshadowed the New Testament sacrament of Baptism. Drawing from both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, I will focus on the two major aquatic events that prefigure baptism. Finally I will explain how the destructive powers of water superbly describe our faith life.
- Great Flood of Genesis: Genesis 7 tells of a large flood that covers the earth after 40 days of continual rain. Whether or not a literal flood covered the entire earth or if it was a localized deluge does not matter. What is important is the symbolism used and the ways the Early Church Fathers interpreted this event as a prefiguration of the sacrament of Baptism. According to St. Justin Marytr in chapter 138 of his Dialogues with Trypho,
You know, then, sirs, that God has said in Isaiah to Jerusalem: ‘I saved you in the deluge of Noah.’ By this which God said was meant that the mystery of saved men appeared in the deluge. For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, forever the first in power. For Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became again the chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of the cross; even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode over the waters with his household. Accordingly, when the prophet says, ‘I saved you in the times of Noah,’ as I have already remarked, he addresses the people who are equally faithful to God, and possess the same signs.
It is interesting to point out that traditional Baptismal fonts were built in an octagonal structure to represent the eight souls saved in the Genesis Flood. The number eight in ancient times is a number associated with eternity. A second way the Genesis flood foreshadowed Baptism is the dove Noah sent out to test the subsiding of the waters in Genesis 8:10. Cardinal Jean Danielou states that this reference is a foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove in the Gospels. Lastly, the Church Father Tertullian viewed the saving wood of the ark as prefiguring the wood of the Cross by which Jesus dies for our salvation.
- Crossing of the Red Sea: Aside from the Genesis flood, the most common typological Old Testament event that foreshadows Baptism occurs in Exodus. Here the Crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites represents a freedom from slavery [they were under the rule of the Egyptians]. Using Moses as an instrument of His power, God parts the Red Sea and allows the Israelites to leave slavery while at the same time destroying the Egyptian army that tries to chase after them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1220 declares, “But above all, the crossing of the Red Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism: You freed the children of Abraham from the slavery of Pharaoh, bringing them dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea, to be an image of the people set free in Baptism.”
Baptism Kills. Tying the previous two examples together, the common thread is that Baptism represents a type of death—this sacrament KILLS original sin and makes us ADOPTED sons and daughters of God! St. Paul states it best, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our process in becoming a new creation starts with the sacrament of Baptism. What is more, the Greek word βαπτίζω [Baptism] translates to submersion under water. When I hear the verb submerge the image that is usually associated in my mind relates to drowning or death. In a real sense a spiritual death occurs—death to one’s sins, namely original sin. I do not think it was a coincidence either that the Gospel writers placed Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his public ministry. The submersion of Jesus in the baptismal waters of the Jordan River prefigures his death on the Cross and the death to self we are all called to partake in!
I found the meanings of names fascinating. Discover the meaning of your, siblings, or children’s name(s) and it might generate nice table talk at your next family gathering or shed light on a particular personality trait. The same is true for names within the Bible. Each and every name in the Old and New Testament has a meaning whose knowledge of its enhances one’s ability to learn about the biblical story. For example, the name Jesus means “God saves”—this is key in understanding the purpose of the Gospels in telling us about God’s plan of salvation for mankind. The name that I want to focus on today is Adam.
First mentioned in Genesis 2, Adam is created by God as the first human. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word āḏām actually translated to “human or man”. This is an important point because as I will demonstrate today is that through a contextual reading of the Old and New Testaments God plan for all of humanity is salvation! There are three ways by which a contextual approach to Scriptures will show Adam as the Old Man and Jesus as the New Man.
- Priest, Prophet, and King- Both Adam and Jesus exercise roles as priest, prophet, and king. I will briefly chart out evidence for all three of these roles and explain why Jesus is the perfect priest, prophet, and king. Regarding Adam, he is a priest because he is asked to tend the garden [which the Early Church Fathers commonly symbolically saw as a foreshadowing of the Temple]. Secondly, Adam had a prophetic role in being called to be a role model for his wife Eve. Thirdly, Adam exhibited kingly dominion over the garden [see Genesis 2:19-20]. In spite of these initial roles, the Old Man [Adam] is imperfect—he is expelled from the garden and blames his wife for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.. On the other hand, Jesus is the perfection of the roles of priest, prophet , and king. Jesus offers the most perfect sacrifice—himself in the Eucharist offered to God the Father. Next Jesus’ message of God’s love shows him to be a prophet par excellence. Lastly, John 19 shows Jesus as a king and the last Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar celebrates the Kingship of Jesus as well!
- Disobedience vs. Obedience- Paul juxtaposes the disobedience of Adam versus the perfect obedience of Jesus in Romans 5:15-19,
But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many. 16And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. 17For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ. 18In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all.k 19For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.l
Through the eating of the fruit of a tree in an act of disobedience sin and death came into the world. Ironically, it is through eating of the fruit [Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist] of a tree [The wood of the Cross] that grants us salvation and the graces to overcome sin and death!
- Eve and Mary’s Role- Another parallel between Adam and Jesus is the comparison of the major women figures in their lives. Eve fell into sin through the temptation posed by the serpent whereas Mary in Luke 1:38 accepts God’s will in being the Mother of Jesus. Moreover, there is a promise in Genesis 3:15 where the offspring of the woman will be at odds with the serpents offspring. I wrote in 3 Reasons Why God May Not Be the Devil’s Greatest Enemy in relation to this topic. I suggest reading this post for more information.
In sum, the New Testament is all about God’s plan of salvation coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect man and ushers in a new humanity through the sacramental system whereby we may become ADOPTED children of God. Though we are born to original sin and are connected to Adam at birth, God’s mercy allows us to wash away that original sin through Baptism and increase our family bond with Him through the other sacraments!
I have yet to meet a person who loves snakes. Aside from the fangs, venom, and ability to suffocate, snakes are peculiar creatures because they are one of the few creatures in nature that lack limbs. I am not going to get into an evolutionary answer for why snakes slither on the ground. What I am going to do is examine the connection between the theme of snakes in the Bible and how a contextual reading of Genesis and Revelation opened my eyes to the genius of the Holy Spirit in ordering and confirming the biblical canon.
According to Genesis 3:14 God places the following curse on the serpent, “Because you have done this [led Eve into sin], cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” The immediate next verse I mentioned last week shows a foreshadowing of Satan’s animus towards Mary. When we fast forward to the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation a similar opposition occurs.
Revelation 12 describes in vivid symbolic language a battle between a woman and a dragon. The writer of Revelation identifies the dragon as the Devil and Satan in verse 9. It is interesting to note that the bible is book-ended by this theme of the battle between a woman [Mary] and the dragon [Satan]. According to Alice Camille in her U.S. Catholic article In the Garden of Good and Evil, “In the Bible, snakes appear at the launch of creation and again just before the apocalypse. The first serpent is really a proto-snake: He only loses his legs after enticing the first couple to sin. The final serpent is a full-blown dragon, which in ancient mythology was just a snake with wings. These biblical book-end snakes are no accident. The story in Revelation of the woman snatched away from the dragon’s harm is a conscious reenactment of the creation story, with happier results the second time around” (U.S. Catholic September 2014, page 45).
Without reading the Bible through an A.D.D. contextual lens, I would not notice the perfect book-ending of theme. There is a logical flow and order to the canon of Scripture and it is an amazing experience to discover. I hope that you found today’s topic to be interesting and I continue to challenge you to find connections between the Old and New Testaments!