Text - Latin - Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
For the second week in a row, my Sunday sermon is being written with the great uncertainty of a powerful hurricane bearing down on Florida. By the grace of God and through the intercession of His holy Mother, our area was spared the great damage that we might have suffered in Hurricane Frances-indeed the entire State fared comparatively well. We must all pray that God will see fit to likewise spare us from destruction and death at the hands of Hurricane Ivan.
Last Saturday, the storm came ashore on the feast of Our Lady of Consolation. Today we commemorate the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, one of several feasts of the Blessed Virgin that were instituted to memorialize the protection of God’s people gained through the intercession of His Blessed Mother. Our own patronal feast of Our Lady of the Rosary commemorates our Lady’s intercession at the Battle of Lepanto, the first in a series of naval battles waged to free lands of the Mediterranean from the sea borne pillagers and kidnappers of 16th century Islam.
Today’s feast calls to mind two more such events: On September 12, AD 1213, during the pontificate of Pope Innocent III, the soldiers of Simon de Montfort were victorious over the Albigensian heretics at Muret in modern day France. On this same day, in 1683, troops under General John Sobieski arrived from Poland and dispatched the Moslem invaders at the gates of Vienna-a battle that led to the moderation of the power of the Ottoman Empire. For this second example of our Lady’s protection, Pope Innocent XI gave this feast day to the Universal Church.
There are, of course, many more examples of our Lady’s protection of people and families and nations. On some occasions it was protection from invasion by the Vikings or the Huns or the Moslems; on other occasions the Christian people invoked Mary’s intercession in time of plague or famine or drought; and on yet other occasions, our Lady has delivered her children from natural disasters like earthquakes and storms.
We ought to remember, however, that prayer is not magic. It is not some sort of incantation which, if uttered properly, will control the physical world around us. To be of any use, prayer must be made in the spirit of humble recognition that God is both our Creator and our Conserver-it must be made in the spirit of dependence on God, even before the 100+ mile per hour winds leave no doubt as to that dependence-it is better to be humble before God, rather than to wait to be humbled by His creation.
To be of use, prayer ought to be the work of those who believe God’s truth as He has revealed it to mankind; the work of those who keep His Commandments and habitually do His will; the work of those who worship Him regularly in the way He has established, through Holy Mass and the Sacraments; the work of those who show devotion to His Blessed Mother every day of the year, and not just in time of crisis.
A little story that made the rounds lately had a man who never prayed at all, dying in the Nevada desert because his automobile had broken down, who began to pray with great fervor that God might start his car and allow him to drive to civilization. When the man reached the Pearly Gates after dying in Nevada, he asked Saint Peter why his prayer had not been answered. Saint Peter looked up at him and said, “Oh! You’re the one! We really worked hard for you-but we couldn’t find you. God even started up two cars in Oklahoma, and one in California-we just couldn’t find you!” Clearly, the theology of that story is a little “off,” for God is all-knowing, and would know which car to start. But it makes an excellent point-why should we expect God to answer our prayers if we have always been strangers to Him?
But even if we have been strangers, now is the time to call upon our Lord and our Lady to remind them that we are here-and that we intend to remain with them as long as they allow us to remain on earth. It is a good time, also, to recognize that the things of the material world-even our very lives-are relatively unimportant when compared with the things of eternity. It is a good time to place our trust completely in Jesus and Mary-that they will do what is best for us, no matter what that might be.
Again, there is no magic. God expects us to use the talents He gave us in our own behalf. That battle at Lepanto was won while Christendom prayed the Rosary, but it was won by well trained and hard fighting sailors and marines-Vienna was protected by the excellent cavalry soldiers who were able to make the forced march from Poland in time. He has given us the wisdom and the ability to do the things appropriate to the protection of our lives and our homes and our property-if you have not already finished, go home and do them today in the spirit of prayer.
Finally, remember to help one another, as we heard in this morning’s epistle: “bear one another’s burdens.” In some sense, the forces of nature can be a means of purification, bringing about a recognition of our humble dependence on God, the need to love Him above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves.