Defend Us In Battle

I’m a student of pubs. Maybe it’s because my dad owned one. Maybe it’s because they smell so good, especially that front-door bouquet of stale beer, hamburger, air conditioning, and disinfectant. The flavor profile at my dad’s place included the unmistakable overlay of nicotine, but even without that, the pub smell is a sensory experience beloved of the truly cultured.

Many of the best pubs are decorated with framed Irish blessings. “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back”—that kind of thing. Here’s a good one: “May those who love us, love us. For those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we will know them by their limping.”

A lifetime of study has taught me that roughly 72 percent of the Irish pubs in New York feature a toast ending thusly: “May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

We talk a lot about the devil, even if we don’t usually think much about what we mean by the word. Sometimes we use it as a kind of synonym for temptation, or a catch-all excuse for our own bad behavior. “The devil made me do it the first time,” sang Waylon Jennings in 1973, before adding, “the second time I done it on my own.”

The idea of the devil is a bit of a cartoon to us now. If you’re my age, you remember that great line delivered by Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspects”: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

The devil most certainly exists. From the grand jury report exposing the shocking sexual abuse of 1,000 victims in Pennsylvania over seven decades to the New York Archdiocese review board’s finding that the allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were “credible and substantiated,” this summer has reminded every Catholic that the enemy always has the one true Church in his sights.

My wife and I, like all parents, have always wondered how to approach the problem of evil with our children. When to tell them about the worst things in the world? How to keep innocence from descending into ignorance? No one wants to place vile ideas in clean hearts. No one wants to sully what’s pure. Our love for our children makes us, naturally, protective.

Then again, no one wants a child to end up in a vulnerable position because they’ve been kept in the dark about the filth in the world. We love our children, and we are compelled to keep them safe, but there comes a point when you have to lay it on the line: The devil exists, and he’s working hard to defile everything that’s good, true, free, and holy.

Watch your back. The devil has nothing better to do than try to keep you out of Heaven. And he’s got more than 30 minutes to do it.

My wife and I homeschool our children. This has afforded us the ability to regulate more aggressively than is typical our children’s exposure to the funkier stuff. But we know that it also makes it more likely that they will find out later than their peers that the world can be a terrible place. We worry this will place them at a disadvantage. We know the devil lurks in wait.

The priests of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford solved our problem. They kept alive a tradition that had lately gone lax—recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of Mass.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard 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, cast into hell Satan, and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

When we first started attending Mass at St. John’s, this prayer was a mystery to us. It had fallen out of favor during the last few decades in the life of the church—probably because of its unrelenting insistence on the presence of true evil in the world and its clear reference to the existence of the devil.

We learned that prayer. Our children learned that prayer. Now they pray it every night before bed on the principle that it’s better to be safe than sorry. In his wisdom, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has decreed that in response to the abuse scandal all parishes shall recite this prayer after Mass. I hope it catches on in other dioceses.

Evil spirits seeking the ruin of the souls? Yes, kids, and if St. Michael does his job, you will know them by their limping.