15 Jan Our Lady of Victory: What the Rosary Can Do For Us Today
On a pleasant afternoon in the spring of 2008, I was praying in my room in New York. It had been less than a full year since I was baptized as a Christian. It would be another four years until my confirmation in the Catholic Church. Having recently learned the word “grace” in its religious context, I figured I would be exempt from struggles once I became Christian enough, that life would be rosy from then on. Even for a 25-year old, I was incredibly naïve. I had left my job at a marketing company some months prior, and was in the midst of a season of underemployment and scarcity, increasingly turning to God in frustration and concern, realizing how utterly dependent all of us are upon Him. Maybe realizing my need for God was the real grace, although learning it certainly didn’t feel much like grace at the time. The infancy of my Christian journey was rather clumsy, as I was still figuring out how to communicate with God personally, in my own words rather than reciting verses from the Quran in Arabic. And it was while in silent prayer that I saw something, much like a dream even though I hadn’t fallen asleep:
There were three fierce dogs, leashed back by chains, barking and snarling and standing on their hind legs in fervor to pounce upon the world before them. The chains snapped, and the dogs ran forth, trampling across the globe. Dark clouds followed their trails and the darkness nearly enveloped our entire world. A woman was standing on the eastern edge of the globe, facing the dogs. She was stunningly beautiful. She wore a white robe. She held a candle before her breast. A glow surrounded her entire being. She began to walk westward on the globe. Those hounds of hell, still barking and snarling, charged right at her. She looked so harmless, like someone who could rather easily be intimidated. She didn’t even flinch. The dogs ran right into her, intent on tearing her to pieces. She didn’t even flinch. The very moment the dogs’ snouts touched her body they whimpered and evaporated into clouds of dust. A procession of men and women, all dressed in white robes and holding candles of their own, began following the woman on her westward march. They were singing in chants. The procession went onward, and wherever they walked, the dark overcast rolled back. The world was turning bright again.
For the record, I am not someone who receives visions often.
“Who was she?” I wondered to myself. Sometimes I miss the obvious. It took some years, after I had joined the Catholic Church, for it to become very clear to me who she was.
Give me an army saying the rosary, and I shall conquer the world.
Pope Blessed Pius IX
October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. It was initially instituted as “Our Lady of Victory” by Pope Pius V, and known by this alternate title for centuries. This was because the Battle of Lepanto took place on October 7, 1571. In the worrisome days prior to the battle, the world, which all too often fails to see beyond the material world, had much reason to believe that the nations of Christendom would soon be falling under the banner of Islam. The naval fleet of 278 Ottoman ships rowing westward toward the Italian Peninsula appeared as formidable as a Goliath. The prospects of the Holy League’s defense, with its much smaller fleet, looked rather dim. Pope Pius V, believing that a miracle was necessary, urged the desperate peoples of Europe to pray the rosary, and even led a rosary procession in Rome himself. The battle came. The Holy League annihilated the invading fleet. Roughly 12,000 Christians were freed from captivity. The victory was so resounding, and the naval prowess of the Ottoman Empire so crippled, that the Turks would never again threaten to overrun Christendom by sea. Pius V credited the Mother of God’s prayers for this victory, so that we have this feast day today.
The Ottoman Empire would come near to overrunning Christendom one more time, during the Battle of Vienna, which, after a months-long siege, commenced on September 11, 1683. Once again, the armies of the Christian Coalition, banded together through the efforts of Blessed Marco d’Aviano (a Capuchin friar), were vastly outnumbered. Once again, while the Turks sought to avenge Lepanto, the besieged faithful were urged by d’Aviano, whom Pope Innocent XI had nominated chaplain, to recite the rosary. The Polish relief army arrived on the morning of September 12, the date which is now the Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a High Mass was held. Polish King John Sobieski placed his troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sobieski followed this by leading a daring (though many would have been more inclined to call it “suicidal”) charge, an assault that would be the decisive blow to the six-figure-strong army that the Ottoman Empire had amassed. Never again would the Turks threaten to overrun Christendom by land.
Our world today would be very different, and almost certainly much darker, if either of these events would have turned out differently. As a former Muslim, well-aware of Islam’s (though not every Muslim’s) true intent to conquer and subjugate the kufar (non-Muslims), I am especially grateful for the power of the rosary. You, the reader of this article, could well have been a Muslim today had a single event resulted differently some centuries ago. And in these events there is a lesson that every Catholic, and indeed every fellow Christian, may absorb: that all of the hostile armies of all of the world don’t stand a chance when up against the prayers of Our Lady.
I see Mary everywhere. I see difficulties nowhere.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
The Queen of Heaven continues to lead the procession of saints in our day. We, sinners, are still led to Christ through her, just as sinners were back in 1571.
The world has become, in so many ways, a much better place in the years since the Church was founded, precisely because the Church has had 2,000 years to run her course. But there remains much ground to cover. There remain plenty of problems in our own age, as in any age. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the Good News, the gift of redemption, everything that anyone would ever need, is readily available and transparent and free, like a pearl hidden in plain sight, and yet so many of us still don’t accept it, opting instead to live like men starving to death in front of a full plate of food. And God, who is Love, won’t force his gifts upon any of us, the beloved. Christianity is a fighting faith, and the world depends on the Church continuing to run her course. And so we need Our Lady to continue praying for our battles just as much today as any of our ancestors did in years past.
The gates of Christendom are not being pressed by the Ottoman Empire in our day, but there are still many Christians throughout the world, and especially throughout the Muslim world, being persecuted at alarming rates. While Christian practice has grown like wildfire over the past few decades in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and Korea and China, it has faded, and largely been displaced, throughout the West. Technology that has benefitted so many of us has likewise made pornography so accessible that many millions, men especially, now struggle with temptation daily. So many of our friends struggle with drug abuse, depression, or even contemplate suicide. An ideological threat, often dubbed political correctness, has malignantly grown within the borders of the Western nations, as its Communist predecessor did a short while ago (we can be remarkably slow learners). The family, the one institution that is the health of any civilization, is being undermined from every angle in the name of “progress.” Abortion is widely regarded as a “right.” Marriage has been redefined. Even the definition of something so obvious as gender has been turned into a topic of confusion. This list of troubles can go on and on and on.
It can be very difficult to live sanely in an insane world, in the world but not of it. There is plenty of cause to worry over the state of our world. I can even sympathize, even if I would disagree, with a Christian who would give up on the world, and try his very best to live in a shell. But regardless of the world’s troubles, we can realize what Our Lady does for us today by remembering what she has done for us yesterday. The same Queen of Heaven who prayed for those victorious sailors and soldiers, all of them sinners just like us, centuries ago continues to pray to God for us today. Try as we may, she doesn’t love us any less than she loved them. With the aid of her prayers, we can be unstoppable. Without her aid, our efforts to ameliorate the world’s lot may well be in vain. So then are we called to panic, or to pray?
If the hounds of hell were ever to charge at me, I’m pretty sure I would run like hell. But they can’t even make Our Lady flinch. And it is because she doesn’t flinch that every Catholic, and every fellow Christian, can walk upon this world with a swagger: knowing that no matter how dim the prospects may appear today, we’re still going to win in the end.
The power of the rosary is beyond description.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary blesses us all with an easy excuse to remember how the Mother of God loves us all, an easy excuse to contemplate how our fortunes can change as our fingers pass those blessed beads, an easy excuse to follow the advice echoed by so many holy men and women:
Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil.
St. Louis de Montfort
There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.
Sister Lucia dos Santos
I beg you to pray it.
Pope St. John Paul II
And, of course:
“When you say your rosary, the angels rejoice, the Blessed Trinity delights in it, my Son finds joy in it too, and I myself am happier than you can possibly guess. After the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there is nothing in the Church that I love as much as the rosary.”
Our Lady to Blessed Alan de la Roche
How lucky are we to have a prayer with such power, and with so many promises? Who are we not to oblige Our Lady?
This day is a reminder to those of us who pray the rosary to keep it up! This day is a call to many of us who don’t pray the rosary to pick it up! It’s never too late to start. Anyone can spare fifteen minutes to pray five decades, or even the hour it takes to pray all twenty decades, if the Spirit leads them to. I myself am among those prone to getting distracted while praying the rosary. And I, now twelve years Christian and seven years Catholic, have learned since my Christian infancy that praying badly is still infinitely better than not praying at all. So let us pray as though the whole world depends on it: because it does.
Have a blessed feast day!
O muse of saints! Creature and Queen! Hear the song of angels echo forth from Heaven’s Halls. O commander of the saint’s processions, leader of intercessors, pride of sinful man who gave birth to Our Redemption, hold thy candle, and stir the hounds of hell to whimper until every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus Christ. God’s ears are ever open to thee, that we all may come to Our Lord, Jesus, through you, Mary. For this we bestow titles upon thee, tho none be altogether fitting:
Holy Queen, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, Queen of all Saints. Immaculate, Blessed, Ever-Virgin, Most Holy, Most Pure, Madonna. Star of the Sea, Morning Star. Mother of God, Mother of Mercy, Mother of the Church, Mother of Sorrows. Undoer of Knots, Comfort of the Afflicted, Refuge of Sinner, Gate of Heaven.
All the saints are ever grateful to thee.
Whatsoever he saith unto you, she tells us to this very day, do it.
She is, and shall ever be, Our Lady.”
-from the Rose: A Meditation