Summary: A simple prayer can have amazing impact
The European union was fracturing along national lines. Political and religious rivalries had caused chasms of separation to grow, so that a threat to one part was even seen as a good thing to other parts of the continent. A resurgent Islamic state had taken territory and executed hundreds, even thousands of Christians. And almost nobody was listening to the Holy Father, who was warning of the dangers of internecine hostility among Christians, and encouraging resistance to those who would destroy Christianity itself.
No, that wasn’t last month’s news summary. That was the sixteenth century. We all know that the undereducated monk Martin Luther and his followers had torn Germany away from the Catholic faith, beginning in 1517. Zwingli and Calvin then followed with a separate movement that gave the world what is called Reformed churches. Henry VIII broke with Rome and formed the Anglican church under the supreme headship of the English monarch. By 1570, the split was complete, but Pope Pius V was having much success in bringing true reform to the true Church by implementing the decrees of the long-lasting Council of Trent. But the political and religious map of Europe was full of dividing lines, and every ruler was jealous of and even hateful of the others.
As Christendom was splitting apart, the Islamic state called the Ottoman Empire was battering down the gates. Rhodes had fallen years earlier. In mid-century the island of Malta successfully resisted an horrific siege, but more recently the island of Cyprus, much nearer Asia Minor, had been captured from Venetian control amid terrible bloodshed. The pope had prevailed upon the Hapsburg empire and Venetians to join papal forces in a naval campaign against the Turks. A great naval battle was in the offing, and if the Christians were to lose, the Turkish commander had vowed to turn St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome into another great mosque. The fate of Catholicism–indeed even of the Christian religions separated from Rome-- hung in the balance.
The pope begged all Christians to pray for victory, and especially to use the Rosary as a kind of spiritual weapon of defense. Prayers went up from thousands of lips, both on shore and on sea. Don Juan of Austria, commander of the Christian fleet of galleys, encouraged prayer among his captains and sailors. Although outnumbered, the Catholic fleet defeated the Turk, and Europe was spared the inhuman treatment that had befallen, most recently, the Christians of Cyprus. In thanksgiving, the Pope gave the Church this festival of the Holy Rosary. In this time of peril, when the Catholic faith is assaulted on the left by the forces of secularization, and a renewed and utterly illogical band of atheist, and on the right by Islamic terrorist, how can we turn up our noses at this same defensive weapon. How can we not enlist the Blessed Virgin in our cause by praying this special devotion each day?
Let’s talk for a moment, then, about prayer, and especially about the Rosary. Remember that we pray to communicate with God. We don’t pray to change God’s mind. As the liturgy of the Sacred Heart says, “the thoughts of God’s hearts are, for all generations, deliverance from death and preservation from want.” God doesn’t change His mind. Prayer changes us, not God. Prayer makes us more receptive to the gifts we need, and more aware that God was the ultimate source of everything good we get.
Is prayer effective? How can one recitation of the Hail Mary have an effect? We have a clue from the physical realm. Edward Lorenz coined the phrase “butterfly effect” to mean that a very small change in the state of a system can have a huge impact on a later state. It’s like the flutter of a butterfly in March affecting the timing and intensity of a hurricane in July. Something like that goes on in the spiritual realm. One little prayer today can have a major impact months or years later, either on me or on someone I may not even be praying for. I teach in public school. I may not overtly try to change a student’s mind about faith, but every day, when we have a moment of silence during first period, I make the sign of the cross and pray for my students. Who knows what that might do in later years, if a student remembers seeing that little sign?
The Rosary is a very special prayer, given to us by the Virgin herself through the ministry of the Dominican friars. I look at it as a daily reboot for my faith. The Apostles Creed is a brief summary of the foundation of our faith. The twenty mysteries of the Rosary, which I pray about twice a week, are a summation of the life of Jesus and Mary, and a summons to me to respond to the Holy Spirit given in Pentecost. I pray the Rosary while exercising on a stationary bike. It certainly beats watching CNN. Miracles have been effected by praying the Rosary, both big ones like the victory at Lepanto, and little ones like spiritual or physical healing.