150thAnniversary of Saint Michael Parish, Plymouth
Three years ago, I celebrated Mass here at Saint Michael’s on this same date, September 29th, the feast of the Archangels. We were celebrating the 100thanniversary of your beautiful church. Today we celebrate the 150th anniversary of your parish, named with the title of one of the three great archangels, Saint Michael. Our diocese was only six years old when our first bishop, John Henry Luers, established Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in 1863.
Prior to the arrival of the first resident pastor and the building of the first church, missionary priests would visit the local Catholics. They would celebrate Mass and other sacraments in people’s homes or public places. But even earlier, when Marshall County was still under the control of the Potawatomi Indians, missionary priests would periodically visit here in their ministry to the Indians. The close bond between the priests and the Indians continued for decades. I think of the young Father Benjamin Petit who would come here and, in his love for the Indians, accompanied them on the Trail of Tears (Death) when they were expelled from this region. Many of them were Catholic. Father Petit died at the age of 28 or 29 while travelling back here to Indiana. He is buried in the log chapel at Notre Dame.
When we think of the history of this parish and of Catholicism in Marshall County, we must not forget the first Catholics here, the Potawatomi Indians, and the priests who served them. We also remember the immigrant Catholics at the time of the establishment of Saint Michael’s Parish: primarily German and Irish. We remember them through two of the beautiful stained glass windows here in the church: the window with Saint Boniface who brought Christianity to the German people and the window of Saint Patrick who brought the faith to Ireland.
Since today is the feast of your patron, Saint Michael, whose statue stands here in the sanctuary, I wish to speak a bit about this great archangel. Saint Michael is mentioned four times in the Bible: twice in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament; and twice in the New Testament: in the letter of Saint Jude and in the book of Revelation.
In the book of Daniel, Michael is identified as the “great prince,” the protector of the children of Israel. In the letter of Saint Jude, Michael is presented as disputing with the devil over the body of Moses. In the Book of Revelation, in the passage we heard in our second reading today, we read of the war that broke out in heaven, of Michael and his angels battling against Satan (the dragon) and his angels, the fallen angels. Notice the statue here – Saint Michael crushing the dragon at his feet. The book of Revelation recounts how Michael and his angels prevailed. Satan and his angels were expelled from heaven and thrown down to earth. Based on these Scripture passages, the Church venerates Saint Michael as the guardian angel of the Kingdom of Christ on earth, as the heavenly leader in the fight against all enemies of God. Given our world and our culture today, it is good to renew our devotion to Saint Michael, to defend us in battle and to be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil, since as the famous Saint Michael prayer says: Satan and the evil spirits still “prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
This past July, Pope Francis, with Pope Benedict at his side, blessed a new statue of Saint Michael the Archangel in the Vatican gardens. I wish to share with you the words of our Holy Father about Saint Michael on that occasion:
“Michael. . . is the champion of the primacy of God, of his transcendence and power. Michael fights to reestablish divine justice; he defends the People of God from their enemies and above all from the arch-enemy par excellence, the devil. And Saint Michael triumphs because in him it is God who acts.” Pope Francis then went on to say that the new sculpture “reminds us therefore that evil is vanquished, the accuser is unmasked, his head is crushed, because salvation was fulfilled once and for all by the blood of Christ. Even if the devil is always trying to scratch the face of the Archangel and the face of man, God is stronger; his is the victory and his salvation is offered to every human being. On the journey and in the trials of life we are not alone, we are accompanied and sustained by the Angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome the many dangers, to be able to fly above those realities that can make our lives difficult or drag us down.”
Personally, when I think of Saint Michael, I am always consoled, especially at difficult and challenging times, by the truth that good conquers evil. I pray that this parish will continue to flourish, under the prayers and protection of Saint Michael, as a force for good here in Plymouth, as an evangelizing community of faith that attracts people to Christ and His Church by your witness of faith, hope, and charity.
As we proceed with Holy Mass, let us be aware that in our worship of God, we are joined to the angels in praising God. As we sang in Psalm 138: “In the sight of the angels, I will sing your praises Lord.” With the angels, we will sing “Sanctus, Sanctus” à Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.” The hosts are the angels, the heavenly hosts. When we praise the Lord, we do so with the angels, those spiritual creatures who behold God’s glory face to face. In a mysterious way, we are united with the angels and the saints at every Mass – the earthly liturgy is joined with the heavenly liturgy.
Dear Father Korcsmar, Father Eloy, and parishioners of Saint Michael’s, congratulations on your 150thanniversary as a parish. May Saint Michael walk beside you, protect you, and defend you always! May your parish community be a sign and instrument of the victory of God’s love and goodness!