It’s not a laundry detergent or a soft drink. It’s not a new brand of jeans, either.
Lepanto is a famous naval battle fought in 1571, during which Christian Europe was saved from submission to sharia law by the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottoman Empire, the seat of Islam, threatened control of the Mediterranean. Corsairs (not Tolkien’s Middle-Earth bunch, the barbary ones) raided from North Africa. The Sultan’s huge fleet anchored the eastern Mediterranean. Islamic armies ranged along the coasts of Africa, theMiddle and Near East, and pressed against the Adriatic, and Muslim armies threatened the Habsburg Empire through the Balkans.
A Divided House
But the Hapsburg house was a divided one. In 1568, the emperor Maximilian, of the Austrian half of the Habsburg Empire, struck a peace treaty with the Turks. Phillip II, on the other hand, had no affinity for the Muslims and was not about to give in to them and called upon his renowned Spanish infantry.
By the same token, St. Pope Pius V was not interested in Muslim dominance and so he rounded up the Holy League – a fighting force of Catholic knights not only from the papal states and the Knights of Malta, but from Italy, Germany, Spain, England, Scotland, and Scandinavia, Catholics and freebooters, gentleman adventurers and convicts condemned to row the galleys. Intriguing lot of military personnel, don’t you think?
This all was complicated by Charles IX, the French king. He was no friend of either Philip I or Pius V, and was more than willing to cut sneaky deals with the Mohammedans. Add to that the dear Elizabeth I, Queen of England, who was bent on a Protestant England by less than noble methods.
Tough situation, you say? Oh, yes.
Well, there were even more players in this complex game of war, but my goal isn’t a history lesson per se, but rather to make you aware of the direness of the whole mess and the importance of the Battle of Lepanto for the survival of Christianity in Europe (and beyond).
Here’s the most important point: On October 7, 1571, the conflict converged with a sea battle, known as the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Turks with 328 ships and nearly 77,000 men were pitted against the Christians with a mere 206 ships and about 40,000 men. Seemingly unbeatable odds.
The Power of the Beads
Ah, but the Christians, more specifically, Pius V, had a force more powerful than anything the Turks could levy. He had…..drumroll……the ROSARY!
Knowing the disadvantage of the Christian fleet and the expected consequences of their defeat, he grabbed his beads and encouraged all of Europe to do the same. The Holy Father, along with Catholics throughout Europe prayed the Rosary for a Christian victory. The end of the story (sorry to spoil it) was that the Christians were victorious and Europe was saved from Mohammedanism and the imposition of sharia law. Hence, today’s feast – Our Lady of the Rosary – was established in remembrance and thanksgiving for the Lepanto victory.
Seriously, if praying the Rosary can win a seemingly hopeless battle, do you not think that it could do the same for the battles you face in your own life?
So, dear readers, I propose the Lepanto Challenge. Dare to place your confidence in the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dare to take up those beads, humble yourself before the Triune God, and plead with your Mother Mary to achieve the victory you so desire. Dare to stop trying to configure your life according to human means and allow the Divine to take hold. Dare it, I challenge you.
Make time to stop the busy-ness for just fifteen minutes today and say the Rosary with reverence and purpose. As Tinker Bell said to Peter Pan, “Say it and mean it.” Petition our Lady of Lepanto for victory in your life. Perhaps you’re battling family discord. Perhaps it’s unemployment or financial distress. Perhaps it’s confusion over vocation or weighty decisions. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps… Whatever you’re battling right now, give it to the Blessed Virgin Mary and ask her with all your heart to be victorious.
That’s the Lepanto Challenge.