Today we celebrate our patronal feast as we honor the Blessed Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. Most likely you already know that this is one of several feasts of our Lady which celebrate her holy protection of her people from one form of disaster or another. This particular day celebrates the naval victory at Lepanto, and the beginning of the liberation of the Mediterranean from domination by Moslem pirates and slave traders.
Most of these Marian feast days commemorate military events, wherein Christian troops were given special divine aid to gain victory over their adversaries. But they all possess one other characteristic in common-they all represent victories that are more religious than political-victories in which Christian people are delivered from the clutches of heretics and heresy. Albigensians, Moslems, Mongols, Nazis, and Communists-to name a few-all have in common the fact that they represented a serious threat to the peace of Christ’s Church and to the Catholic Faith of Christ’s people. Many of these heresies are still with us; some are known today by different names, and some have changed form enough to be difficult to recognize. They are still with us because, while our Blessed Lady protects her people, she does not work magic.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that victories like that at Lepanto or Vienna were possible-with our Lady’s aid-because the Christians were able to muster capable troops-soldiers, sailors, and marines who were not only willing, but capable of defending Christendom and Holy Mother Church. In a very similar manner, it is necessary for Christendom and the Church to have capable intellectual defenders if the heresies themselves are to be vanquished, and not be a threat to future Christians. The armies may be defeated, but that is not the same as the ideologies being defeated.
Islam, for example, has been a military threat to Christendom for roughly thirteen-hundred years. At a fairly great price in human blood, the West has been more or less able to contain it, but has made very little progress in convincing its adherents to give up their heresy. Communism is not “dead” as many modern politicians would like us to believe-even Nazism rears its head now and again. Some of these errors have changed form a bit, but they are certainly still with us. Some of them have even been adopted by the more Modernist members of the Catholic hierarchy. It is easy, you see, to recognize the enemy when he is coming at you with a rifle in hand-but much more difficult to recognize him when his only weapon is an erroneous conception of God and man, with which he intends to reshape as much of the world as he can.
Back in the August Parish Bulletin, we published an excerpt from an encyclical by the holy Pope Pius XI (Ubi arcano Dei consilio), written in 1922, that spoke to this problem. Christendom has, in fact, assimilated many of the errors of its enemies. In our excerpt, Pope Pius condemned the way in which modern society had the secularized the education of our children, and had reduced of Holy Matrimony from the dignity of a Sacrament to a mere contract of convenience. In this month’s Bulletin there is another encyclical-this time by Pope Leo XIII (Supremi apostolatus officio, 1883)-that asks us to take up the weapon of the Rosary in order to ask our Blessed Mother’s aid. We are asked to implore her aid, not so much to defeat an external enemy in combat, but to win over an internal enemy by convincing him of God’s truth. We are to ask our Lady to purify and renew Christendom itself.
Pope Leo asks us to pray the Rosary and to recite the Litany of Loreto each day during October-here in church, before Mass, if possible-but otherwise, faithfully, each day, on our own if we just cannot be together.
Please keep in mind that there is no magic! There is no victory, be it military or ideological, without well trained and dedicated troops. What we are praying for is for our own strength and rededication in the Catholic Faith-both so that we may be better Catholics, more pleasing to God-and so that we may spread the Catholic Faith to those around us through our good example, and through our increased interest and activity in our families and in the society around us. There is no magic, and society will not be changed by the token gestures of politicians, which do not even address the causes of society’s ills, but, rather, are designed not to offend any block of voters except, perhaps, the Christians. We must ask our blessed Lady to change our selves so that we can change the world around us.
Now, on a related note, I must ask you to include in your October prayers (and your practical generosity to the poor) those who have been so severely affected by natural disasters in recent weeks and months. I have never been one to see God’s hand in nature as a direct punishment for mankind’s evils-at least not most of the time. I am inclined to believe that the things in nature happen because they are ... well ... natural-and that human beings may be harmed by nature because, through original sin, we have lost the special protections of God which would have raised us up above nature’s harm. Yet, while I don’t see the hurricanes, and the earthquakes, and the fires, and the mud slides, or even the volcano as elements of divine justice, it is hard to imagine God rendering any special assistance to those who have forsaken Him. It is hard to imagine anything in modern times like the Christendom of a few centuries ago joining in the Rosary to implore the Blessed Mother’s intercession for this need or that. All the more reason for us make the point of doing so during this month of her Rosary.
Finally, let me ask you to keep firmly in mind that in praying the Rosary, we do so most effectively when we recognize Mary and all of the activities of her life as part of God’s divine plan-a plan which includes us and the world around us. I am going to close now, by reading to you something from the Night Office written by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the great Cistercian Abbot of the twelfth century. Pay careful attention, please, for it tells us something about who Mary is, and how she relates to all of us.
Don’t forget to join us at Mass during October to pray the Rosary and the Litany. And please take a leaflet so that you can say these prayers at home when you cannot be here.