External Solemnity of the Holy Rosary
The month of October brings back before our minds – even though it is never far away – the wonderful prayer of the Holy Rosary. The feast of the Holy Rosary is on 7 October but is solemnised on this first Sunday of the month. It was on Sunday 7 October 1571 that took place the great naval battle at Lepanto. The Christian fleet was heavily outnumbered, with only 208 galleys against 286 for the Turks. The commander of the fleet, Don Juan of Austria, adopted tactics he did not learn in the naval academy. No women were allowed on board. Blasphemy was punished by death. All of the 81,000 sailors and soldiers fasted for three days, confessed and received Holy Communion. As the ships left the harbour, the crusaders knelt on the decks to receive the blessing of the papal nuncio. A long cheer broke out as the Pope’s banner, with the image of Christ crucified caught the glint of the high sun and rose beside the blue flag of Our Lady of Guadalupe. What is more moving still is the fact that as the awesome Turkish fleet advanced amid bloodcurdling screams, hoots, jibes and groans, the clashing of scimitars on shields, the blaring of horns and trumpets, on the Christian side a profound silence fell over the whole Armada – a great hush like that which comes just before the consecration of the Mass. The Christians waited in silent prayer while Pope St Pius V, in Rome, was encouraging all to pray the Rosary. At that moment, the wind which had thus far favoured the Turks, shifted, and sped the Christian galleys on to victory. And the rest is history. That is why on this day we also commemorate Our Lady invoked as Our Lady of Victories.
It cannot be a coincidence that October also brings before us the struggles of the Maccabees – which we read at Matins throughout the whole month. As the victory of Lepanto, the story of the Maccabees inspires and reassures us that it is not about numbers, but about our fervour. God does not need numbers; what He needs are a few souls that give themselves to Him without reserve. At the beginning of the first book of Maccabees, we see them refusing to get involved with pagan rites, choosing instead exile and resistance. Most of their compatriots gave in to the way of the pagans, and built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, but the Maccabees refused to take part in this. The mention of a gymnasium can puzzle those who are not aware that the word gymnasium comes from the greek gumnos, meaning naked. A gymnasium was a place for the athletes to show off their naked bodies, which gave rise to all the evils that go together with public nudity.
In one of the responsories this morning at Matins we heard the Maccabees say: “The pagan nations are gathered together to fight against us and we do not know what we will do”. If they did not know what they would do, they did know what they would not do. They would not participate in pagan ceremonies or even in their games. They would not take part in immoral activities of any kind. We will find an echo of this in the New Testament when the apostles warn the first Christians not to adopt the ways of the pagans. When you are a chosen people consecrated to Christ through baptism, you cannot share the licentious living of those who have no hope, and whose end is death and hell.
Again it is no coincidence that the month of October is also the month of the holy angels. A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St Michael, and today is the feast of the holy Guardian Angels. There is more than one affinity between Our Lady and the angels, and it is intriguing that according to Holy Scripture the angels will be involved in the end times victory over evil and that Our Lady has been sent by the Lord numerous times to warn us of the evils of the latter days. The presence of the angels in the apparitions of Fatima in particular is most striking, from the angels who precede her and prepare the children for her visits, to the angel with the fiery sword about to strike the earth in the third part of the secret.
The angels are not just our helpers; they are also a great inspiration. They gave themselves wholly to the cause of God when Satan caused a revolt in heaven, leading a third of the angels into hell. The good angels (our guardian angel was among them) under the leadership of St Michael, took a stand for God, for the truth, relying on the power of God Himself and not on their own strength. That is the fundamental difference between those who choose God and those who reject Him. The latter rely on themselves as Lucifer did, and they find therein death and hell. The former rely on God’s grace. St Jude tells us in his epistle that when St Michael was arguing with Satan over the body of Moses, he did not oppose him with his own strength, but said: May God rebuke thee.
Like the Maccabees, we find ourselves in a dire situation, with so many Catholics caving in to a pagan lifestyle. From a human perspective the odds are against us. We feel so helpless in the face of so much evil. And that is why it is also providential that not only do we have Our Blessed Lady and the Holy Angels, but tomorrow we will be celebrating a little child who became the greatest saint of modern times, whose iron heroism is clothed in the meekness of apparent sentimentalism. St Therese of Lisieux, or of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, as she is known in religion, also teaches how to fight manfully the battles of the Lord, but her tactics are more accessible to many souls. Therese is so great and so powerful because she learned at a very young age that she could not win the war on her own, that she was helpless to do anything herself, that her need for God was absolute. She understood the word of Our Lord: without me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Nothing. He did not say: without me you can do little. But without me you can do nothing. Having realised this, she simply opened her hands to receive what God was prepared to give, and when God finds a soul that is fully open and places no obstacles, then He give and gives and gives.
That is why she is a great patroness in the battle we wage today against the proud forces of evil. The one weapon the devil has no power against is humility and total abandonment to God. None of our human means matter to him. None of us are a match for Lucifer and his cohorts. I once attended an exorcism in which the young exorcist started getting worked up and yelling at Satan. It was useless. Satan is not impressed by our show of anger. We are ridiculously weak compared to him. The only thing that terrifies Satan is the power of God, and that power is communicated to His saints, especially to our Lady, St Michael and the other angels.
And so my dear Friends, let us constantly pull out our Rosary in times of temptation; it’s like pulling out a machine gun in the face of fearsome enemies who are charging at us with knives. If only we use our weapon, we can annihilate the enemy hordes. If there are times when, like the Maccabees, we do not know what we will do, we do know what we will not do. We will not go along with all the compromise in the Church today. We will not forget that there are absolute moral norms that bind everyone at all times and in all places; we will not allow the Traditions of our Fathers and their form of worship in the holy sacrifice of the Mass to be taken from us or polluted with admixtures of paganism. We will stand firm with Tradition. This is the final struggle, a fight to the death between God and Satan. We know who will triumph in the end; what we need to be sure of is that we are on the right side. Let us be courageous, and not half-hearted, for those who hesitate can expect nothing at all from the Lord.