Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

So we’ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales . . .

Below you will find the first of what we hope will become a regular feature on this blog. Read the story and enjoy the audio clip.

The Administration

On October 7, 1571 (a Sunday), two massive naval fleets engaged in the Gulf of Lepanto, a body of water on the coast of Greece. The smaller of the two sailed under the command of Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V. The larger, commanded by Muezzinzade Ali Pasha served the government of the Ottoman Emperor Selim II. Don John’s fleet, dubbed The Holy League, was a rough assembly of warships reluctantly volunteered by the powers of Europe and reinforced by the remnants of the once prominent Military Order, the Knights of Malta. At 24, the Austrian had been handpicked by Pope St. Pius V to command this squabbling mix of men sent to oppose the sure assault of the Ottoman forces against Rome and, eventually, the whole of Christendom.

Besides being outnumbered by the Ottoman Fleet in both ships and men, the Christians started the day contending with a difficult headwind that forced them to row rather than sail their 208 ships into the gulf. Every man, whether at the oars or on deck, held in his hand a rosary which he prayed at the request of Pope Pius V. Indeed, the whole of Europe had been asked by the pope to tell their beads that Our Lady might provide a victory. And she did.

Just before the fleets engaged, the wind shifted to fill the Christians’ sails. The Christians, now able to enter the gulf at full speed, charged the Sultan’s ships. Despite the loss of his own flagship, Don John captured Ali Pasha’s, and sank or captured all but 13 of the Ottoman Ships. From those ships he captured, Don John liberated hundreds of Christian slaves chained to the benches belowdecks and forced to pull the oars of the Sultan’s galleys. The near total destruction of the massive fleet signaled the end of the Ottoman Empire’s long efforts to take Christendom.

For his part, the pope did not hesitate to attribute this impossible victory to God, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady. He established the feast on October 7 that would eventually come down to us as the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

On October 7, 1911, G.K. Chesterton, with a mailman (clearly not a Sunday) standing over him somewhat impatiently, scribbled out the lines of a ballad recounting this Don John, Our Lady, and God’s victory. He made the deadline, and the poem appeared the next day in the pages of a paper called The Eye-Witness. Despite the rush, Chesterton manages to capture a clear ballad meter, a steady, militaristic march. Likewise, he includes the details of the strange setting of this amazing event. Just as Christendom finally halted the Ottoman advance, it was itself fracturing. The North pulled away in Protestantism. Spain, supposedly nine yards Catholic, was busy building a colonial empire and an armada. England was trying to avoid taking either side. The poem is worth reading, but, if you're too busy to look it up, I have read it for your edification . . . and my own personal enjoyment.

It gives me confidence. History has played itself out, so it is rather hard to see Europe as anything but a dominant geopolitical force. However, by rights, it ought to fail. Europe was a peninsula, a backwater, covered with disparate tribes, criss-crossed by roving imperial powers. It is a sort of Israel of the West. Fitting, then, that God should pick it to manifest his power. Likewise, my own heart seems more a bundle of competing interests than a well-forged unity – a little Israel here breaking apart into tribes, there being swallowed up by heathen interests and powers. After a few rosaries, it seems, even such unlikely things become His instruments.

1 comment:

Deacon David said...

Matthew ... you're on the web? How ... 21st century of you!

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