Summary: Like Christians of old, we can pray the Scriptural prayer, the Rosary, to enter more directly into the mysteries of Jesus and His Mother.
28th Sunday in Course
(in the Octave of Holy Rosary)
9 October 2011
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for siblings to live together as one!” The words and chant are the Church’s gift to us on this Sunday. They are prescribed as the Gradual chant sung after the first reading of our Mass. Here, the responsorial psalm takes their place. It, too, is a celebration of God’s gift of unity. The Lord is our shepherd. We, his flock, pasture under His divine care. Though we are rash, weak and ignorant as sheep, we have confidence because His rod and staff protect us. We are strong because He is strong, and we listen to His voice.
History gives us many examples of the strength of God’s people when they act as one, under His guidance. Unfortunately, it also gives us even more examples of how bad things can get when God’s flock is scattered. We celebrated one just this last Friday. On October 7, 1571, the world held its collective breath as a ragtag fleet under the command of an illegitimate Catholic prince faced the mightiest armada the Ottoman Muslim empire could put together. That there even was such a fleet was a miracle of sorts. Only the southern European, Catholic, countries, sent men and ships. The Protestant north sat back, heedless of Pope Pius’s entreaties, glad that the infidel papists were taking the brunt of the Islamic wrath.
But as the world held its breath, the Catholic world breathed a special prayer. Inspired by the Pope, thousands upon thousands of our ancestors prayed the Rosary, asking the Blessed Virgin Mary for protection and victory. Admiral Andrea Doria hung a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe in his cabin. Entreaties rose from the throats of sailor and soldiers on both sides. Although neither side wanted battle in the Gulf of Patras, near Lepanto, they confronted each other and their guns rang out. It was a complete victory for the Christian fleet. Almost all the Turks were sunk or captured, and thousands of Christian galley slaves were freed. All attributed the unexpected triumph to the intercession of the Mother of God. A year later, the Pope ordered an annual celebration that has become, over the years, the Feast of the Holy Rosary. Although Christendom had not acted as one, the Catholic states generally had, and the result was a long period of peace on the waters of the Central Sea.
I tell this story because it is the most famous, and dramatic, example of the power of prayer, particularly the power of the Rosary. But understand that no prayer can “change God’s mind.” God’s will for us is fixed and immutable. He wills our good. What prayer does, in a way, is rip open the hard shell around our hearts so that God’s goodness and grace can flow into us, so that He can be our good shepherd, our strong wall of defense, our Friend. Prayer does not change God; prayer changes us.
“Nice sentiment, deacon. But if this God wants our good so much, why does He allow so much bad?” That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? That’s one of the two big excuses for atheism–if God is good, why is there so much evil? Forget Lepanto–wouldn’t it have been better for everyone, including those thousands in the Twin Towers–for Mohammed to have died in Mecca or Medina before he started the Islamic movement? Wouldn’t it have been better for all if Hitler had died in the trenches of World War I, or if Lenin and Stalin had been stillborn? When will the king get fed up with the mistreatment of his servants, and send his army to destroy the wicked and burn down their city? It doesn’t happen. And so the atheist asks, “which is it: is it that God is not good, or that God is not God?”
I do not have the last word on the problem of evil. But I do believe the Word of God, and the Word of God tells us that it’s not our theology that is crippled. It’s our anthropology. We don’t understand God because we don’t understand ourselves. God, in love, made us in His own image and likeness. That means He gave us intellect like His and free will like His. He wants us to want Him, to find our ultimate Good in God. He will not force us to love Him. He will not drag us kicking and screaming into the banquet of life. That means his forbearance with sinners is almost limitless. He kept giving me chances to repent of my sins, and continues to do so with all of us. So He didn’t kill Diocletian, or Attila, or Frederick, Robespierre, Bismarck, Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin or any of the other murderous persecutors of the Church early in their rampages. God refuses to treat us as slaves, to deny the operation of our free will, to deny our rightful place as images and likenesses of Himself. Indeed, He even willed that His only begotten Son would die a shameful death, so that the veil of the Temple and the very heavens themselves might be ripped open, letting loose an infinite torrent of loving grace.