Saint George and the Spiritual Battle

The 23rd of April is the feast of St George Martyr. Upon seeing many depictions of this great saint, hailing from the early centuries of Christianity, I am very much encouraged by his constant intercession and support in our spiritual battles we all have to face in our lives.

But who was exactly this inspiring saint whose feast, according to the Tridentine Calendar of 1568, was given the rank of “Semidouble”? George, whose name means “farm” or “earthworker”, came from an important family. He was a brave Cappadocian officer who fought valiantly in the Roman army during the third century. George, who bravely put Jesus Christ first in his life and fully imbued with the Holy Spirit, strongly admonished Diocletian as the latter started persecuting the Christians. Consequently, he paid the heavy price of being tortured and was finally beheaded. Saint George’s heroic and contaminating joy during his torture was so powerful as well as inspiring that Christians of succeeding centuries of both the East and the West adorned his bright figure with myriad of inspiring legends.

Personally speaking, St George inspires me because he was a heroic defender of the truth. This outstanding young and very promising officer of the Roman army confessed himself a Christian and fearlessly invited all to accept Christ as their Saviour and Truth. He said: I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting in Him, I have come among you voluntarily, to bear witness concerning the Truth. And when one of those dignitaries echoed for him the question of Pontius Pilate, What is Truth? the brave George replied fearlessly: Christ Himself, Whom you persecuted, is Truth. Jesus greatly appreciated George’s faithfulness as he endured some very intense tortures of his Holy Name. His story tells us that on his final night, as the young holy martyr was pouring out his heart in prayer, Jesus appeared to him in a dream, raising him up with His hand and embracing him. Following this caring of embrace Jesus himself placed a crown on St George’s head and told him: Fear not, but have courage, and you will soon come to Me and receive what has been prepared for you.

St George’s story reminds me of what Pope Benedict XVI spoke about when he talked about the significance of martyrdom during his General Audience given at the Papal Summer Residence of Castel Gandolfo, on Wednesday 11 August 2010:

Once again, where does the strength to face martyrdom come from? From deep and intimate union with Christ, because martyrdom and the vocation to martyrdom are not the result of human effort but the response to a project and call of God, they are a gift of his grace that enables a person, out of love, to give his life for Christ and for the Church, hence for the world. If we read the lives of the Martyrs we are amazed at their calmness and courage in confronting suffering and death: God’s power is fully expressed in weakness, in the poverty of those who entrust themselves to him and place their hope in him alone (cf. 2 Cor 12: 9). Yet it is important to stress that God’s grace does not suppress or suffocate the freedom of those who face martyrdom; on the contrary it enriches and exalts them: the Martyr is an exceedingly free person, free as regards power, as regards the world; a free person who in a single, definitive act gives God his whole life, and in a supreme act of faith, hope and charity, abandons himself into the hands of his Creator and Redeemer; he gives up his life in order to be associated totally with the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. In a word, martyrdom is a great act of love in response to God’s immense love.

Wise are the artists who portray St George as slaying the dragon. Many know very well, because they experienced it first hand, that this story was purposely written to powerfully show St George’s God-given ability to overcome sin and temptation when facing the demonic force of the dragon. That is why in the prayer in honor of St George at the end of the Novena we pray: O God, who didst grant to St. George’s strength and constancy in the various torments which he sustained for our holy faith; we beseech Thee to preserve, through his intercession, our faith from wavering and doubt, so that we may serve Thee with a sincere heart faithfully unto death. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

While keeping in mind this great life-changing and life purpose let us resort to St George’s help in letting the Holy Spirit plant in us his eternal virtues, cultivating virtuous thoughts and acts and supervising them against any infiltration by the evil one. In the hour of need, when we are assailed by temptations, let us invoke St George to come to our assistance in our spiritual warfare.

Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, St. George; favored by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, thou didst fight valiantly against the dragon of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part thee from the love of Christ.

I fervently implore thee for the sake of this love to help me by thy intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Valiant champion of the Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.