Who is like God?

Coming back on the plane from Spain one year,  I was sat next to a Spanish lad who was heading off to work and study in England. His name was Miguel. He was named after the patron saint of his village, San Miguel, (St Michael). In Frechilla, his small village in Castille, they keep the statue of San Miguel in an ermita, a small chapel outside the village, and once a year the whole village comes out as it is carried by youths up to the parish church for veneration by the people. They have a special Mass and four days later they carry it back to the chapel, stopping on the way for the priest to bless the crops. The statue is very old, but very with it, as he even has his own Facebook page, although he only has 9 likes.

Whenever you see St Michael represented in art, he often has his sword raised to cut down the devil or a pair of scales weighing souls for judgment to see if they are fit to enter  heaven. He is the secondary patron of this church and patron saint of one of our schools. He is here in the icon and the War Memorial window brandishing a sword.

In the Book of Daniel, he appears as the guardian angel of Israel, where he is referred to as the great prince who stands guard over the people.  His name is a question ‘Mikha-el?’  ‘who is like God?’ It is sometimes seen inscribed in Latin on his shield, ‘Quis ut Deus?’  The impression you get of Michael is that he is the sort of person you want on your side, he is like the big brother who steps in to bash the bully, who confronts evil wherever he finds it.

Michael’s visible presence is a reassurance, a sign that God does confront and attack evil; that in a world that can appear frightening and uncertain, God is still in overall charge.  Angels have been described as the activity of God, which is important to remember as the all-powerful, almighty God does not seem to display that power very often. One of the big obstacles to faith for many people is why God appears to allow so much evil in this world. Some people will ask why God allowed such terrible events in Paris to happen. Man is given free will, and can choose to do good or to do evil. Each one of us has the capability to do either. To ask why God would allow such things to happen is to shift the responsibility. The question should be asked of the attackers: how could they could pervert their religion to permit themselves to commit mass murder; but that question cannot be asked of them as they are dead. 

It is in the reaction to this act of evil that we will no doubt see the power of God, the solidarity of the people of Paris will no doubt come to the fore as it did in January. May they draw courage from the great statue of St Michael vanquishing Satan, the force of evil, that stands above the fountain at the end of the Boulevard St Michel.

Three years ago, Fr Michael McLean and I found ourselves close to the village of Frechilla and we decided to pay a visit. In Spanish villages everybody knows everything about everybody else, and I was confident that if we asked after Miguel the young man who had gone to England, they would know who we were talking about. In the parish church they had just celebrated Mass in the sacristy, due to the cold, and when I asked if they knew the young man who had gone to England, they said yes, and immediately introduced us to his mother, aunt and cousin. We very glad to meet them. They took us to the Ermita of San Miguel. There they pointed out where the mass graves of  16 men were found recently, ordinary working men from an a nearby village, rounded up and shot in 1936 at the outbreak of the Civil War, shot simply for being on the wrong side. Their families had had no grave to visit, their burial site had been unknown. The grave was found and the bodies exhumed to be reburied with dignity in the village cemetery, some 75 years later. It can take time to put right what is wrong. Sometimes we have to be patient, we have to endure.

A Civil War unleashes terrible evil, as we see in Syria.  Evil may seem to be all around us, but so is God. And the divine power of God is seen in the sword of Michael, it is there in the Word of God expressed in Jesus Christ. All the terror around the world, all the wars, all the twisting of religion can never eradicate the Word of God, which shines as a light in the darkness, a light which can never be overcome by the darkness. Jesus reminds us with complete assurance in the gospel today ‘My words will never pass away.’

If the evil around us in the world frightens us, we can look to St Michael to give us courage.  If we take the sword of the spirit and the shield of faith in the enduring strength of the word of God, we need have no cause for fear.  

If we have faith we can ask ‘Micha-el?’ -   ‘Who is like God?’