St. Michael the Archangel is my patron saint, and I have loved him for as long as I can remember. In true Catholic geek form, I dressed as an angel for Halloween in Kindergarten, and spent my time chasing a friend who dressed like a devil so that I could “fight him like St. Michael did.”
Although I understood that St. Michael fought the devil (and won), I didn’t fully understand how he did that until I was much older. I was fascinated with name meanings as a child, and I remember looking up the meaning of the name Michele and reading that it meant, “Who is like God.” I would tease my sister (who was named for St. Francis of Assisi) saying, “Well, my name means that I am like God.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that what my name meant was a question, not a statement. The meaning of Michael/Michele/Michelle is a question, “Who is like God?” Lucifer, who started out as a great angel, refused to serve God, and decided that he wanted to be greater than God. Michael, also a great and powerful angel refuted him by asking, “Who is like God?” Unspoken, Michael implies the answer, “Certainly not me. I shall never be as great as He.”
Michael’s greatness is not what makes him great. He is not great because he is an archangel, and he did not defeat the devil by the power of his own greatness. What makes St. Michael so great is his humility. He knows that he is an archangel, yet he also knows that he is less than God. He knows his place in God’s plan, and he gladly embraces his place. He does not desire to be greater than he is, and he certainly doesn’t desire to be greater than God.
In recent months, the Church has been facing significant challenges. Horrendous acts that have long been hidden are now coming to the light. The Church is hurting, as she comes to terms with the extent of abuse and begins to seek justice for the wrongs done.
I have seen a variety of different responses from priests, bishops, and laity, but do you know what the most effective responses have been? The most effective responses have been those that are humble. What does humility look like amid this crisis? Humility is recognizing failure. Humility is seeking justice. Once just decisions have been made, humility also means accepting and embracing penance and punishment.
Because this situation is changing almost daily, I’m not sure what the situation will be with various bishops and priests by the time this article is published. As I am writing this, there are several men who have been implicated in serious failure and yet are still afraid to admit their failures and face the consequences. They are afraid, so afraid of that heroic humility.
Humility in Parenting
I was thinking of this recently, on a particularly frustrating day of parenting. My children were fighting, and I was just so tired of listening to bickering that I yelled at them. It got their attention, but it wasn’t the best way to parent.
No parent wants to yell. It felt good to exert my authority over them, but it wasn’t the best way to do it. After the fact, I wrestled with whether to apologize. It is always hard to apologize to my children. There are times when punishment is deserved, and there are times that it is necessary to raise my voice or speak firmly to make my point clear. That is very different than yelling in frustration. I know that.
I have taken this problem to confession numerous times. But even though I know that I am wrong, and even though I know that I don’t need to take my anxiety and frustration out on my children, it is still hard to apologize when I am wrong. (Just to clarify, I know that I don’t need to apologize for disciplining them. I don’t apologize for disciplining them. I do apologize for yelling out of frustration, because I’m trying to teach them not to yell in anger and want to set that example.)
On the day that I’m recalling, I remember apologizing to my daughters and thinking of the bishops. I found it hard to apologize to a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old for a small infraction against them. How much harder would it be to admit my failure to a diocese of thousands or millions? That kind of humility is heroic.
As I’m writing this, there have been bishops who have responded to this crisis with heroic humility. But many priests and bishops are like me. They are grappling with whether or not they should apologize and are worried that maybe that level of humility will make their children respect their authority less.
Real Love and Power
In my own parenting, though, apologizing when I need to strengthens my relationship with my children. I am a fallen human being, and I fail. They deserve a better mother than me (which is why I often remind them that the Blessed Mother is their mother, too). But in my humility, hopefully they can begin to see that they are loved. Hopefully, they can begin to see what kind of love they deserve. Real love is just, but it is also humble. Real love knows it needs Love Incarnate.
The real power of St. Michael the Archangel is his humility. Michael does not try to be greater than God. He only chooses to be God’s. By pledging his allegiance to God and humbly acknowledging that he is not God, he finds true strength.
Humility is also the key to powerful, effective parenting. Ultimately, my children are God’s, not just mine. They are his, and I need his help to raise them. I need his grace to parent them the way that he wants me to parent them.
This humility is what the leaders of our Church need, too. Our priests and bishops are called to be fathers to us. Human fathers are not perfect. Human fathers fail. But good fathers admit their limitations, apologize for their failures, and pray for the gift of humility.
Let us pray for our priests and bishops, that God may give them the grace they need to fight evil in our day the way St. Michael does.
image: By Hugo Zea from Bogota, Colombia (20160910 140328_4) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons