The splendor of holiness and the horror of evil
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The first thing that caught my eye when going over these readings was the verse from the first reading: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people”. The name “Michael” is from the Hebrew and means “Who is like unto God?” Traditionally it has been interpreted as a question that reveals the inner character of this angel, because Michael addressed Lucifer, who desired to “be as God”, that is, “to be his own God”. Lucifer’s heart soars with pride. He is enamored by his own gifts, he is a highly intelligent Cherubim angel, and the word Cherubim is from the Hebrew that means “fullness of knowledge”. A Cherubim angel is inconceivably more intelligent than the most intelligent human being; angels are immaterial substances, pure intelligences and they are not hindered by sense perception and time. But that’s the danger of having a great mind; one can be subject to temptations of arrogance and pride, sins far more serious sins than the sins of the flesh. Michael responds to this movement in the heart of Lucifer to be his own god: “But who is like unto God?” The implication is, of course, no one. And although Lucifer was of a superior nature than Michael—because the Cherubim angels are higher than the Principalities—, Michael overpowered Lucifer; for an inferior nature strengthened by divine grace is stronger than a superior nature without grace.

In the writings of the great doctors of the Church, the principalities are the guardians of nations, and this reading as well as the gospel reading has to do with the end times. We don’t know when that time is, but there will be a gathering of the nations, as we learn from the parable of the Last Judgment, and so the principalities, led by St. Michael, will be involved in this gathering of the nations, whatever that is going to look like.

Devotion to St. Michael is very important, especially for those who find themselves in the midst of a battle with the diabolical. There are so many people today who are involved in various occult practices, like the playing of Ouija boards, seeking out fortune tellers and mediums, etc., and such people often find themselves entangled in something preternatural and over their heads. The way to be delivered from such problems is of course through Confession, but it should also include a consistent devotion to St. Michael, the prince of angels. St. Michael is also the patron saint of police officers, and that is fitting because the police encounter the spirit of darkness to a far greater degree than most of us.

What also struck me in this first reading was the following lines: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever—“shall shine brightly like the splendor of the sky”—, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”

This reminded me of something C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: He says:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

This is such an important insight. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. Our heart moves either in the direction of choosing to be our own god, delighting in the illusion of our own grandeur, or it moves in the direction of a humility that recognizes our own radical frailty and dependency upon others, but most of all upon God’s grace and strength. And whatever direction we are choosing in this life, that will define our character, and our character determines our eternal destiny, because our character determines the company that we keep. Friendships are always based on common character. We are always attracted to those of like character.

Our character is the one thing in us that is more intimately our own than anything else. We shape it by the moral choices that we make. It is not shaped by our environment, much less is it genetically determined. Our personality, on the other hand, is very much environmental and genetic. But a person can have a great personality, but the most depraved character—sociopaths usually do have very charming personalities. And, a person can have a very dull and drab personality, even a cantankerous personality, but have the character of a saint.

But depraved character always begins with a subtle movement of pride in the depths of the heart. And pride is a ridiculous thing for a human being. The very word ‘human’ comes from ‘humous’, which means soil or dirt. We are ‘dirt’, from the earth (from dust you came, to dust you shall return), and that’s why our intellect is so slow. Our intellect is so dependent upon sense perception, imagination and sense memory, and that’s precisely the reason why it is slow and sluggish. Students learn in one semester what it took centuries for the greatest minds to figure out, especially in subjects like mathematics. Angels are unhindered by physical sense perception, they are pure intelligences, and so they are vastly superior intellectually.

Man’s glory lies not in intelligence, but in humility. An intelligent human being is only a relative thing. Compared to all that is in the physical universe, yes, we are the most intelligent creatures. But in relation to God’s intellectual creatures, we are on the bottom of the scale, just slightly higher than brute animals.

But the human heart often cannot resist delighting in itself. I think some of the most blessed kids that I’ve taught are those who are not intellectually gifted, who are very slow. Some of them are profoundly humble, and there’s no doubt the Lord looks after them. And it is wonderful to get a student—it is rare, indeed—who is young, exceptionally brilliant, but humble about it. There’s something angelic about kids like that. But then there are those who delight in their gifts and who begin to look down their noses at others who have less, and that’s a very ugly disposition. What happens is that the soul becomes ugly, because truth is beautiful, but the illusion of superiority is false, and what is false is always ugly.

That is why evil is clandestine. It is hidden under a façade. We don’t see directly the souls of those who choose to make themselves their own god. But they have a sense of who they are, and they hide it, because they know that if others were to see them as they truly are, others would find them repugnant. But those who love evil are absolute egoists and they feed off of the adulation and praise of others, so they carefully fabricate an image, a façade, a false self that is very likeable. But if we were to get a glimpse of what is underneath, we’d be horrified. They almost always appear to be committed to the well-being of others, to a good cause of one kind or another, the fact is they are entirely and utterly indifferent justice and are only interested in those who are of use to them.

Sometimes we discover that about someone we have known for years, someone we thought we knew, but we discover that we’ve been deceived all along. That’s a very painful experience, but more to the point, it’s a horrifying experience. The lie is the fundamental characteristic of evil. Jesus called the Devil the Father of Lies.

“But the wise shall shine brightly”. The reason they will shine is that they are completely unstained, like crystal, pure and emptied of self-love, and so the divine light can penetrate right through them, and so they channel the divine light. They are carriers of His light and love. Whenever Scripture describes an angelic apparition, they are often likened to crystal.

In the book of Daniel we read: “As I looked up, I saw one dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightning...”

That is such an apt symbol, because optic crystal, for example, is produced by using extreme heat, and then subjecting the molten material to extreme pressure to remove flaws. And that’s why those who are destined to shine like the stars in the heavens will always experience trials, difficulties, persecution, and distress. In this same book of Daniel, we read: “Many shall be refined, purified, and tested, but the wicked shall prove wicked; the wicked shall have no understanding, but those with insight shall.”

And so like St. Paul, we have to learn to rejoice in our weaknesses and trials. He says: “I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.”

He boasts of his weakness, for when we taste our own weakness, we come to know the deepest truth of ourselves. And then we become a clear vessel of that truth, that divine light, and everything we do during the day in some subtle way helps those who are willing, to move forward towards their eternal destiny of unending life and light.