St Michael and the Presence of Evil

Purgatory by Carracci

















Most of us prefer to dismiss unpleasant subjects from our minds. If we can find a specious reason for doing so, so much the better. Evil? An outmoded concept, surely? One which our clever theologians can wrap round with weasel words until we deny not only its existence but the very possibility of its existence. Then we look at the broken body of a child from Aleppo and are forced to admit: this is evil, not an abstraction we can dismiss as a figment of an over-heated imagination or simplistic reasoning. There is something more terrible here than blasphemy: a deliberate rejection of God, delight in destruction, a darkness of mind and soul so absolute that no chink of light can penetrate it.

The Catholic Church has never wavered in her understanding of evil; and in her advocacy of the the old prayer to St Michael, whose feastday this is, has expressed both her awareness of the presence of evil and her reliance on heavenly help to combat it:

St Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defence 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.

Most of us can see the evil in Aleppo, but are we quite so alert to the evil in, say, Sam Allardyce’s defence of his own conduct, when he claims to be a victim of entrapment rather than a man prepared to break rules and denigrate others for the sake of money? Greed can be evil; fudging the rules can be evil; treating others with contempt can be evil; but we tend to make excuses for ourselves. It is a white lie we are telling, an understandable little human frailty that doesn’t matter very much. I’m not so sure. Every time we choose to be less than honest, less than straightforward, I think we are colluding in some degree with the crookedness of evil; and it changes us. Today it would be useful to spend a few moments thinking about some of the habits we may have fallen into and the way in which they blunt our sensitivity to good and evil. It can be a salutary shock to realise that, without being what others call wicked, we may have drifted into a state that is far from being what it ought to be. Let us ask the prayers of St Michael and All Angels to help us see what we must change and grant us the courage to do so.

Note on the illustration
St Michael rescuing souls from Purgatory — a reminder that God is more interested in saving us from evil than in condemning us.


6 thoughts on “St Michael and the Presence of Evil”

  1. Puts me in mind of that homely proverb ‘A stitch in time saves nine’. If everybody tried to keep their small, human faults in check, then maybe the world would be a better place. Nobody is perfect but at least we could try.

  2. Thank you,dear Sister, for yet another inciteful article.I know that evil is around us. I have experienced it without a doubt.
    An example: this week I have been completing a difficult piece of work, which will mean the difference between me completing theology studies, or not.Two computers have broken.One printer.I lost my phone. Anything that could get in the way, has done so.Can you imagine my state of mind?! And how quickly we feel abandoned!This was not just the figment of a far too colourful imagination, I assure you!
    I have made a copy of the prayer to ST.Michael. Indeed this earlier in the week, obviously!

  3. Again, thank you, Sr. Catherine for your insightful observations! The older I become, the more aware I seem to be of the workings of evil in the world. Things seem much more difficult these days. As seen in countries throughout the world, nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments abound, we want to take no responsibility for the “others,” whom we know are our sisters and brothers, we draw into ourselves, and don’t want to be bothered.

    The more I discover about Donald Trump’s life and story, the more convinced I am that his quest for power is bringing this hatred, divisiveness, and desire for personal gain to the surface in my country.

    As you point out, it can be so easy to give in to the “little sins,” which are really not so little. They lead to a mindset that honesty and transparency are less important than they really are, and lead to a further breakdown in our ability to trust each other. That makes it easy to divorce ourselves from the consequences of our actions. As a Buddhist text says, “My actions are the ground on which I stand. I cannot separate myself from my deeds.”

  4. I like the idea of the crookedness of evil. It often seems to start as something almost good but twisted out of shape, then we ignore the crookedness till it seems normal to us. Most things we think and do can be good or evil. Anger at injustice can prompt great action, but a very similar (crooked) anger can mean we fly into a violent rage and still feel we are doing the right thing.
    Evil certainly exists and I do believe in a personal and very specific form. It is not a vague theoretical concept – the worst thing we can do is be attracted by its glamour or assume it does not exist..

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