The month of October is a special time for the Rosary. On the 7th of October in 1571, in the course of the Ottoman-Habsburg Wars, a fleet of the Catholic maritime states organized by Pope St. Pius V defeated the Islamic opposition in the gulfs of Patras and Corinth. Even compared with the 1500 ships in the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. and the 200,000 personnel in the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363, Lepanto may have been the largest naval action before Jutland in the First World War. Had the Pope not invoked the help of Our Lady of Victory by praying the Rosary, we might not be here today. The continents would not have moved, but all that we know of science, human rights, the arts and the meaning of life would be incoherent.
St. Pius’s present successor continued the cause of civilization during his recent state visit to Germany, whose modern history is a template of some of the greatest cultural achievements and worst moral derelictions in human experience. All Europe is as exhausted spiritually as it is financially, and its civilization is under a demographic assault no less perilous than any military invasion. Many in our own country still think of Europe as a model for humane letters and living. In the Bundestag, cathedrals, monasteries and amphitheaters, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the same message in various ways to legislators, clergy, the faithful and non-believers: “It is inconceivable that a society could survive in the long term without consensus on fundamental ethical values.”
While eloquent in his sympathy for those who find it hard to believe in God and who do not understand the depth of our cultural crisis, the Pope makes no excuse for the kind of agnosticism that tries to solve the problem by saying there is no solution, for there is no problem. Before World War II, the English Dominican, Father Vincent McNabb, said: “When agnosticism has done its withering work in the mind of man, the mysteries remain as before; all that has been added to them is a settled form of despair.” Pope Benedict also rejected poor substitutes for apostolic Christianity, be they the vaporous theosophy of “New Age” celebrities or the heated sentimentality of some Christian sects. They have “little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content” and thus they have “little stability.”
Like Pius V, Benedict XVI turns to Our Lady of Victory. At the Marian shrine of Etzelsbach, formerly controlled by the Communists, he told 90,000 pilgrims: “It is not self-fulfillment that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which can easily turn into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving directed towards the heart of Mary and hence also towards the heart of the Redeemer.”
– Father George W. Rutler