The end was near. The year: 1571. Troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire were on the doorstep of Christian Europe and threatened to extinguish the heart of Western culture and faith. Make no mistake, 50 years earlier the same troops had already vanquished the Byzantine Empire bringing a large portion of the world under Islamic law. Slowly and steadily, the Turks expanded their empire westward on land and asserted their naval power in the Mediterranean. In 1565, they attacked Malta, envisioning an eventual invasion of Rome. Though repelled at Malta, the Turks captured Cyprus in the fall of 1570.
Since the Byzantine Empire was better equipped and outfitted in comparison to its Western counterparts, the future looked bleak for Europe. In response to the Turkish terror, three Catholic nations on the continent – Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States - formed an alliance called the Holy League, to defend their Christian civilization against Turkish invasion. Its fleets sailed to confront the Turks near the west coast of Greece on October 7, 1571. Encouraged by the Dominican Pope Pius V to gather in their churches to pray the Rosary, thousands lifted their voices in prayer. Even crew members on the ships organized “Rosary watches” as they invoked the Virgin Mary’s protection against the daunting Turkish forces. Without a doubt, the Pope understood the significance of the day's events; defeat would be disaster. In his analysis of the battle of Lepanto, noted military historian John F. Guilmartin, Jr. remarks: “Turkish victory at Lepanto would have been a catastrophe of the first magnitude for Christendom. Europe would have followed a historical trajectory strikingly different from that which was obtained.” When Pius V was eventually informed that all but 13 of the nearly 300 Turkish ships had been captured or sunk, he was moved to institute October 7th as the feast now celebrated universally as Our Lady of the Rosary.
This weekend we celebrate Rosary Sunday. The historical context of this feast reminds us of the potent power of the Rosary. When the situation is hopeless, when we feel helpless, when our hopes and dreams fade into the gloom of impossibility, Mary supports us as our mother. More than ever, we need her care. Pandemic, political rancor, violence, and natural disasters beset us on every side. We struggle to normalize our lives, even as we realize life will never be quite the same. Living well in such times seems impossible. It is precisely in this moment when Mary is our model. She who believed that “nothing is impossible for God” and always “pondered the mysteries of God within her heart,” teaches us to imitate her. When we take time to pray, we will experience the peace and serenity of God’s presence in our life. And yet, will we find the time to say the Rosary?
1%. That’s how long each day it takes to pray the Rosary. God gives us 1440 minutes each day, though sometimes we feel like we could use a few more! Praying the rosary takes about 14 minutes, just 1% of the gift we’ve been given. With all that we need, with all that we have to be grateful for, perhaps during this month of the Rosary, we can cultivate the habit of praying the Rosary, either individually or with others. The expression “the family that prays together stays together” is familiar because it is true. May she who followed her Son to the end, offer us the gift of a new beginning of God’s grace in our lives.
~ Fr. Michael