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Our Lady of Victory and the power of prayer

Regardless of our political opinions, we need to pray for our nation, our leaders, and our government, at every level.

Detail from "Madonna del Rosario" by Simone Cantarini (1612-48) [Wikipedia]

“A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern,” declared Pope Francis in 2013. This participation “in the common life of a people,” he said, is true for the government “especially” with prayer. Though many frustrated and discouraged Catholics will “hold their noses” as they vote for the “lesser of two evils” this 2020 election, Pope Francis reminds us that even more important than our vote is our prayer. This too is the lesson of the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, which we celebrate today in honor of the Holy League’s defeat of the Ottomon navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The threat posed by the Ottomon Empire to the survival of sixteenth-century Christendom was real and immediate. A century earlier, the Ottomans had captured the greatest Christian city (and fortress) on earth, Constantinople, thus destroying the final remnants of the once mighty Byzantine Empire. Ottomon armies moved deep into Europe, conquering the entire Balkans and most of Hungary, and were within striking distance of Vienna. Combined with their control of the Levant and most of North Africa, they were the dominant naval power of the Mediterranean.

This wasn’t simply a matter of trading one political regime for another. Though Christians in Ottomona lands were permitted to practice their faith, they were of a lower social status, called dhimmis, who were forced to pay the jizya tax. The Ottomans also levied a tax of male children on their Christian subjects — called devşirme — to populate the army and government bureaucracy. Thousands of boys were forcibly converted to Islam. Even more pernicious, Ottoman slave traders in North Africa captured and enslaved thousands of Christians from seaside towns in Italy, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and even Iceland, according to historian Robert Davis, author of Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800. Even Miguel Cervantes was for a time enslaved!

The Ottoman Sultan Selim II, who declared himself the new Roman Emperor because of his capture of Constantinople (the Second Rome), was eager to capture the original Rome. Pope Pius V, fearing the Ottoman’s naval dominance, called for a Holy League of Catholic states to curb Muslim aggression. This was already a time of great political and religious chaos in Europe, as the Reformation had torn apart Christendom — England, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian states in the decades leading up to Lepanto had all severed themselves from Catholic authority and embraced Protestantism.

“The cold queen of England,” notes Chesterton in his poem Lepanto, was standing afar off, “looking in the glass.” Pius V was only able to gather forces from the Papal States, Venice, Spain, and some smaller Italian states and military orders.

This is where the power of prayer comes in. The Holy League was considerably outnumbered, both in ships and in men. To make up for this disadvantage, Pius V called on all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. The pontiff himself led a rosary procession in Rome. Fasts, Masses and prayers were also offered on board the Holy League’s ships, commanded by the Habsburg John of Austria, as battle approached on October 7, 1571. “The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke, (Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke),” Chesterton writes.

The prayers paid off. The Holy League smashed the Ottomans at Lepanto. Ottoman casualties were 40,000 dead, wounded, or captured. The Holy League captured 137 ships and sank or destroyed another 50. John of Austria’s fleet lost less than 10,000 men and 13 galleys. About 12,000 Christian slaves who worked the Turkish ships were freed. Says Chesterton:

White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Though the Ottomans continued to threaten Europe — a valiant Polish army defeated the Turks a century later at the gates of Vienna — their dominance of the Mediterranean was checked. Pius V declared the day the Feast of Our Lady of Victory in honor of Mary’s intercession.

Prayers affect politics. In 2 Kings 18-19, we read that Judah’s King Hezekiah begged the LORD in sackcloth and ashes to save Jerusalem from a massive invading Assyrian army: “So now, O Lord our God, save us, I beseech thee, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O Lord, art God alone.” God heard Hezekeiah’s prayer: “And that night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies” (2 Kngs 19:35). Prayers offered by Moses, Joshua, and Esther also saved God’s people.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, when thousands of Allied forces crossed the English Channel to penetrate Hitler’s “Fortress Europa,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked his fellow Americans to prayer for the success of the Allies and beseech God “to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.” During the Battle of the Bulge, when a December 1944 German counter-assault threatened Allied gains in France and Belgium, Commanding General of the U.S. Third Army George S. Patton asked his troops to join him in prayer to “restrain these immoderate rains” and grant “fair weather for battle,” that the Allies might “establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

American politics in 2020 might not be as dire as what Christendom faced in 1571, or what the Allies encountered in World War II. But nor are things particularly good. Abortion, which has resulted in the murder of more than 60 million American children, remains legal. The day you read this, more than 2,000 children will be aborted in the United States. Quarantines and restrictions imposed upon Americans because of the coronavirus have hurt our parishes and Catholic schools. Social strife, depression, anxiety, and addictions ravage our nation.

This is all the more reason to direct our prayers to Christ and our Blessed Mother to protect, preserve, and heal our land. Whoever wins the presidency, and whichever party wins the Senate and/or the House, none of them are capable on their own of defeating the myriad evils of our day. Only God can bring the justice and healing America so desperately needs.

Regardless of our political opinions, we need to pray for our nation, our leaders, and our government, at every level. For politicians, judges, and bureaucrats who are pro-life, pro-religious liberty, and pro-Catholic, we must pray for their success and protection. For those who are not, we should pray that God would convert their hearts and direct them, as much as possible, to pursue policies that honor the truths of natural law and divine revelation. St. Paul himself urges us to do the same when he writes:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)

Yes, of course, we are also called to other forms of public civic action: voting, canvassing for elected leaders, debating our fellow citizens in the public square, writing letters to our local newspapers. Yet all of that may be for loss if we forget that our supplications must saturate all of this. Indeed, it’s not for “want of a nail” that the kingdom will be lost, but for want of prayer.

“Madonna del Rosario” by Simone Cantarini (1612-48) [Wikipedia]

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About Casey Chalk 9 Articles
Casey Chalk is a contributor for Crisis Magazine, The American Conservative, and New Oxford Review. He has degrees in history and teaching from the University of Virginia and a master's in theology from Christendom College.

13 Comments

  1. This is so important. Will add that Blessed Mother at Fatima urged us to say the Rosary, as a very important prayer. It is especially needed at this time. Today we are facing our version of the Battle of Lepanto. The faithful are vastly outnumbered by a combination of a secularized public, a vast media complex, and the ultra moneyed high tech titans who don’t care about the unborn and see observant Catholics as enemies. As beseeched by Pius V and most recently by St John Paul II we must say the rosary; especially today, tomorrow and until election day and then beyond for our Church and country. The Cathoic Relevant radio has started a 54 Day rosary campaign, suggest all Catholics join in this daily praying of the Rosary

  2. Good to see the Holy Father mentioned with affection and reverence , in the right context too – 🙂

    Another gem of good meditation , in the gentleness and wisdom that characterizes his actions and words , from the heart that has taken in the Miracle of The Eucharist , in Argentina and other places as well ..

    https://www.ncregister.com/news/pope-francis-rediscover-the-beauty-of-the-rosary

    ‘ Carrying others ‘ in prayer , the kind of being ‘handmaids ‘ of The Lord ,
    ‘ submitting ‘ to the Divine Will , for His Will to flow through and through ..

    Thank God that in our blessed times , that does not have to involve blood and gore , when enough grace in The Divine Will is called forth ..

    As desired by our caring Spiritual Fathers , who too trust the power in Oneness with our own heart beats , from our early , very early days , with that of our parents and generations , and with that of the Holy Family , to say –

    ‘ Love You , adore You , thank You , praise You O Most Holy Trinity ‘ …

    https://www.usccb.org/rosary-america

    Thank God that hearts and heads all over are seeking the crown of holiness ..

    negating the needs for massive wastes and destructions , as blessed by the Holy Father , in Oneness with The Father .

    Glory be !

  3. The ‘surprise letter ‘ of the Holy Father , with a compassionate heart , about the difficulty in reading the Scriptures also very apt , since misreading of same a pervasive issue in our times as well .

    Holy Father having been well prepared in being misread , misquoted , often by the ‘wise and learned ‘ as well , thus he likely have forgiven and blessed all who have been making fruit jams lately . 🙂

    The wisdom in invoking The Mother ,thus asking The Spirit , to help discern The Divine Will operating through The Word , that made pertinent rules and road posts , esp. in preparing a holy line , for the Immaculate Conception to take place , the related lifestyles that were imposed on the people chosen for same ..

    to thus help discern the holiness of God .. that He , in His infinite Mercy , desires to share with us , in our ‘nothingness ‘ of self will and darkness ..

    that with Job , we too can say – ‘ covering our mouths ..’ , that our hearts may open . : )

    https://thesacredpage.com/2020/09/30/pope-francis-releases-surprise-letter-on-jerome-and-scripture-study-on-the-16th-centennial-of-his-death/

    Glory be !

  4. Where’s the power of prayer visible today as in the stories in the article? Prayers don’t appear to be working today. Things just keep getting worse. What will you say if Trump loses the election and both the Presidency and Congress are controlled by Democrats? And things get even worse for Catholics and for pro-life? What then? More prayers? What about the prayers before the election, what were they for and what did they do? It’s like they don’t work. And I’m not looking for magic. But I’m looking for something, anything, that shows prayer has a beneficial effect and makes a positive difference. Asking for more prayers, more rosaries, more adoration, more processions, more reparations when none of that seems to do any good doesn’t seem quite rational.

    • Part of the answer, I think, is found in recognizing that prayer is, first, a recognition of who we are before God and then, secondly, a desire to be what God has created us to be. And that, in the end, means being completely conformed to his Trinitarian love. Jesus himself prayed that he be spared the cup of suffering: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39). From the perspective of worldly affairs, political power, and social standing, it makes no sense. Then again, those things–as important as they are in their proper place–do not last and cannot bring us into eternal beatitude. This is why the witness of the martyrs is so important, as they are windows into the telos we are all invited to know–that is, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

    • Perhaps you should realize prayers are being answered….Trump seems to be losing support. There is much more to being pro-life than his words. Care for all aspects of life,the environment,the poor,the refugee, the abused if those aspects are not included there is no pro-life.

      • Thank you, Robert. You are NOT near-sighted on this issue. Giving lip service is not the same as committal to believing in pro-life “from birth until natural death.”

  5. We should also note that God uses whom he will to answer our prayers. David and Solomon, sinners both, were definitely not men of piety. Cyrus of Persia was not even a believer but freed the Jewish people. Andrew Jackson, a man of many shortcomings, defeated the British at the Battle of new Orleans, helped by the prayers of the nuns at St. Louis Cathedral during the battle. We now have a Presbyterian in the White House who speaks out for the unborn while “catholic” politicians consign them to be flushed down the sink as medical waste. Prayers will be answered, the scales will be balanced and eventually the price will be paid as set by He who reckons to the smallest coin.

    • “David and Solomon, sinners both, were definitely not men of piety.”

      If piety means “the quality of being religious or reverent,” then David and Solomon (yes, both sinners, of course) were giants of authentic piety. David wrote many of the Psalms; he is described as a “man after God’s own heart.” Notably, while he committed grave sins of murder and adultery, he not only repented, he never once flirted with idolatry. His greatest desire was to build the Temple. Solomon, of course, did build the Temple. And so forth.

  6. If I can ask my Catholic brothers and sisters to again plead our Blessed Mother for Armenia and Artsskh today. The Azeris with their Turkish allies seek again to destroy my Christian homeland. Armenians have suffered much for our faith over the centuries and face new threats. We are vastly outnumbered and need another Lepanto miracle today. Thank you and God bless

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