Three years have now passed since I began this antiblogue, in the spirit of ironical defiance, and as an essay in creative self-contradiction, with a quixotic declaration of war: a voice on the Internet in opposition to the spirit and style of the Internet, raising the standard of a bellicose Idleness. (See my previous notes for this Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels: here and here.)

Three hundred days, plus or minus, have passed since, on a kind of spiritual dare, I undertook to post more or less daily, in the tradition of Addison and Steele. Gentle reader may judge whether this was a good idea. As Doctor Johnson said, “A man who writes … thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.” (Judging from receipts through PayPal, it is thumbs down.)

Anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on constants; to make what would not otherwise be topical, current again. The Church, in her wisdom, arranged her memorials in a garland to encircle the year. In private lives, recollections are made of births, signal events, and demises. More and more, like the Church Calendar, I find my own daybook marked with the deaths: of family, good friends, and my heroes through the centuries. …

“Promoted to Glory,” as the Salvation Army terms its obituary list; raised to rank in Saint Michael’s armies, as I earnestly hope and pray. But down here on Earth we footsoldiers slog through the mud of a battle whose outcome always looks doubtful, some of us sunk deeper than the waist. It is a trench warfare that feels as if it will go on forever.

Saint Michael, passing overhead, sounds the bugle. Keep fighting, keep moving, do not break ranks. Ascend, ascend, upon the citadel of the Enemy.

My grandfather’s diaries often come to mind (I have them up here in the High Doganate): he at the bottom of Vimy Ridge, in a moment of sobriety, early in April, 1917; and “Jerry” at the top. (The Kaiser; Cardinal Kasper; whoever.) The task is simply to reverse these positions, a matter merely of dashing up the hill, under intense and steady hellfire. Yet sometimes the simplest operations may appear to be impossibly difficult, as in this case. It can be done, however, as grandpa and his illustrious (Canadian!) comrades were about to show.

There is oddly little emotion in his diary. It was just another day, facing death. If you make it, grand; and if they cut you down on your way up, hey. The view is anyway better in Eternity, and Glory is finally not of this world.


The prayer to Saint Michael, Archangel, which surely every Catholic has magnetized on his fridge, could be read narrowly as a call of desperation. The content is ancient, but the form rather new, dating only from the 1880s, when Pope Leo XIII published a much longer version of it as an act of Exorcism, in the Roman Missal. Then it was shortened, and ordered to be said after all Low Masses. It was a prayer specifically for the freedom of the Church, whose temporal sovereignty had been stripped away, country by country; finally even in the Papal States of Italy, depriving the Holy See of a very necessary independence from the routinely anti-Catholic, secular powers.

That issue was technically resolved, by the delineation of the Vatican “city state” in 1929. Pope Pius XI retained the prayer in its position, however, “repurposing” by turning it outward — as a prayer from and for all Christians, especially those enslaved under totalitarian regimes (and particularly in Russia). It is beyond this our prayer for a struggle everywhere on this planet, against seemingly insuperable worldly powers in the service of “the other side.” The words, after all, say what the words say.

From various memoirs, it is apparent that Pope Leo composed the prayer in the course of a vision. After celebrating a Mass, he was found staring. His vision was of devils invading the Church herself, and of Satan boasting that they were now inside. Leo was pushed or carried into another room, where he suddenly seized a pen, and wrote down the words very quickly.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI had the old papal order suppressed, as if the prayer were now dated and could be set aside. In 1994, Pope John Paul II publicly revived and recommended it, realizing that the prayer was still appropriate to our circumstances (in the extreme), and would always be so while the world lasted. By the use of the Tridentine rite of 1962, this shameful interlude may be skipped over; and once again, in churches around the world like my own, we are saying this prayer after each Low Mass, as we will do with perhaps some extra “attitude,” this morning.

Gentle reader, pray for me, in my little trench, and I for you in yours. Know that it is not a prayer of desperation, but an intimation of immortal Victory:

Sancte Michaël Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus,
supplices deprecamur: tuque,
Princeps militiae caelestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.