A homily offered on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred) at the Community of St. John Baptist, Mendham, NJ, on October 1, 2019. The scripture readings are Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 103 or 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, and John 1:47-51.
In the news and elsewhere, there’s a lot of talk about “strategy.” One develops a strategy in order to win an argument or court case. One develops a strategy to accomplish a goal. But we develop strategies for smaller, more personal things, as well, don’t we?
I am very much the grandson of a Southern grandmother who did her part to elevate passive-aggressive speech patterns to the level of an art form. I blame my grandmother when I ask things like, “Does it seem just a little bit cool in here to you?” When what I really mean to say is, “Would you turn off the air-conditioning?” I speak in riddles and round-about ways to accomplish what I want without seeming selfish or willful. It’s a strategy.
A friend of mine who was trying to give up smoking a while back had a strategy for dealing with his temptations to light up—he’d reach for a sugar-free candy and text or call a friend.
We have strategies for all kinds of things and many times they are helpful. They show us how to move forward in order to get things done. But sometimes we strategize rather than pray. The strategy becomes a way to manipulate and control, to get something or someone to conform to our will.
Nathaniel is someone who has no strategy. In our Gospel reading, Jesus points out Nathaniel as one in whom “there is no deceit” (John 1:47). The old Revised Standard Version had Jesus proclaim Nathaniel as one “in whom there is no guile.” This is one of those verses where I really like Eugene Peterson’s version in The Message. He has Jesus say about Nathaniel, “there’s not a false bone in his body.”
Nathaniel doesn’t strategize. He has faith in God and later, faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and that’s enough for him. With faith, he’s able to see people for who they are. He sees things for what they are, without clutter or prejudice or complication. I think this is why Jesus says Nathaniel will be able to see, like Jacob, “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Before Vatican II, a Prayer to St. Michael was often included near the end of the Mass. Though it was officially suspended in 1964, a number of churches have begun using it again, careful to do so after the Mass has officially ended, so they’re not adding or subtracting from the official liturgy. The prayer is a serious one:
St. 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. Amen.
While I don’t plan on introducing the Prayer of St. Michael any time soon, I do appreciate its acknowledgment that the fight against evil belongs to God. My job is to have faith and stand on the side of Good. My job is to be as much like Nathaniel as I can be: without deceit or guile, with no bad bone in my body. Whether it’s God or the Angels of God who do the fighting, it’s their battle and not mine.
The Orthodox have an interesting word for Michael. They refer to him as the “archistrategos,” chief commander, the leader of the heavenly troops. Our word, “strategy” comes from the Greek, “strategos.” On this day for remembering Michael and All the Angels, may the Spirit give us faith to leave the strategy to the “archistrategos,” that we might see more clearly and follow more nearly our risen Savior Christ.