Yesterday I attended a beautiful celebration. A parish family who live in the country invited a bunch of friends and fellow parishioners out to their home for a Lepanto Party. The name comes from yesterday’s feast, Our Lady of the Rosary, which celebrates the victory of the Christian fleet over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). We ate drank and had merry enjoying local ciders, homemade delights and -of course- locally… distilled… products. When everyone was full, the whole group gathered to pray the Rosary. It was the very first time I’d been present for something like that: a group of lay families gathered at one of their own homes all praying the rosary together. And… as if that wasn’t enough… after the Rosary ended, the children of several families lined up to recite -from memory- G.K. Chesterton’s epic poem Lepanto.
The afternoon festivities confirmed something I’d been praying about and preaching on earlier that morning: the Rosary is an incredible spark for the engine of salvation. What do I mean??
The EF readings for the feast begin with, interestingly, Proverbs 8:22-ff… a tribute to holy wisdom. As we’ve discussed before, wisdom is the fleshing out of mere information/data. Anyone can read an instruction manual to operate a machine, but the long-experienced worker who knows the machine’s inner workings, its temperament (so to speak) handles its operation with wisdom. The ordinary means for the passing on of saving wisdom is the family. God has so designed that wonderful basic unit of society that it’s particularly good at handing on wisdom. As an old Irish professor of mine used to say, “you learned it from your mother’s knee…”. But with the breakdown of the family unit, and the rupture of real catechesis that has happened over the last several decades, there has been a concomitant breakdown in the ordinary means of handing on wisdom.
I see this on display in various parts of parish life, ironically among those who are most faithful. An earnest Catholic young adult walks in. He’s read every word JPII ever wrote and visited half the Marian shrines in Europe. He knows the information that constitutes our faith. But he’s nervous as a leaf on a tree, worried that he’s committed a grave mortal sin, when -in actuality- his life has been benign. What’s going on? Information… such as the young man has read… can tell us that lust is a mortal sin… but it takes wisdom to know where and how that plays out in life. My visitor is relieved to find that holding a girl’s hand and thinking thoughts doesn’t constitute a mortal sin separating him then and there from communion and salvation.
We NEED wisdom in our lives again… and not just nervous young Catholics, but all of us. Since ancient times, God has used the mysteries of his Son Jesus’ life to jump start that engine. Mysteries so striking that the hard human heart can’t help but melt before them. In his own earthly ministry isn’t that exactly how it happened: Jesus is conceived – Mary says, “yes.” Mary visits Elizabeth – John leaps in the womb. Jesus is born – the shepherds fall down in praise and the pagan world pays its homage in the wise men. The Holy Spirit descended and the Apostles began to preach in his power. Divine mystery prompts a new human response.
Fast forward to the middle ages: the engine of faith was breaking down. All the usual methods were failing. Then Our Lady gives the Rosary to St. Dominic and the tide shifts. Speaking of tides, let’s jump back up to 1571 when the Turkish fleet, laden with over 100,000 soldiers approached a fractured Christian Europe intent on burning Rome. A lighter Christian force commanded by the illegitimate son of the House of Austria, Don John, sails out to meet them, out numbered and out gunned. Pope St. Pius V commanded all the faithful to pray the Rosary on the day of the battle… and against all odds and rules of meteorology, the winds shift… the Turkish fleet is annihilated saving Christian Europe.
The mysteries of the life of Jesus, enshrined in the Rosary are the extraordinary means of rekindling the ordinary engines of wisdom in our experience.
In our times, it can be so easy to despair. I’ve not only heard it from our people, I’ve felt it myself. But whenever I turn to meditation on the mysteries of our Lord’s life, in Scripture and especially in the Rosary, somehow worry fades and confidence is restored. If you’re feeling down about life, about the Church, whatever the case may be… pick up the rosary to get your engine going again.