Dies mali sunt: “these days are evil,” St. Paul tells us in the Epistle. “Watch carefully how you live, or, literally in the Latin, “where you are walking.” Don’t walk “stupidly” (insipientes)… be intelligentes, Paul says. I once spent two weeks in Vladivostok, at our Russian sister parish. The city was so poor at the time that thieves would often steal manhole covers to sell them for scrap. At night, especially after drinking, people would often walk right into them, and fall into the sewer. Some would get terribly scraped up and get all kinds of infections. “watch where you are walking,” St. Paul says. In our godless society, there are many open cesspools and it’s not hard to trip right into a hole of filth. We have to be careful where we walk and use our intelligence.
St. Paul instructs us today in gratitude. “Give thanks always and for everything in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father,” he writes. These next three weeks we are focusing on the spirituality of stewardship, which is essentially Christian gratitude. Is there any thing for which we should withhold thanks to God? Is there any time during which we should not bless and thank the Almighty Hand of Providence? When are we justified in grumbling? In fact, it is never right to gripe over anything. If we grumble, we effectively throw God’s gifts back in his face. Do you have a good job, or a good marriage, or obedient children? Give thanks to God! Do you have a poor job, or a difficult marriage, or children who don’t go to Mass? Give thanks to God! It’s all good, because it is all from God, or at least nothing happens without his permission. The only important thing in life is to become a saint, not whether we enjoy any particular thing in life or not. The Gospel is a story of gratitude too: a royal official who did not complain about Jesus’ apparent rebuke, but persisted, like Jacob: “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And Jesus blessed him, healing his son, and bringing faith to his entire household.
Lepanto and the Rosary
I want to tell you a story of gratitude, the gratitude of a Pope, in the story of the epic sea battle at Lepanto, which decided modern European history. The Ottoman Turks had attacked Cyprus and positioned themselves to strike deep into Christian Europe. The Christian nations assembled an allied navy to defend themselves, but with fewer ships and soldiers, the Christians had little hope of defeating the up-to-then invincible Ottoman navy. Pope Pius V ordered all of Europe to pray the rosary on that desperate day, October 7, 1571. He himself went to St. Mary Major in Rome to pray. Back off the coast of Lepanto, the morning wind blew from the east, driving the Turkish fleet full into the Christian ships. But as the day wore on, and the sailors themselves kept the rosary in one hand, the wind shifted to the west, giving the Christian ships the advantage. It is said that, about that time in Rome, Pope Pius interrupted a meeting with these words: "Let us interrupt this business! Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given…." And indeed, after 5 hours of engagement, the Christian fleet had overcome the Muslim navy, and Islam was prevented from enslaving Christian Europe.
Prayer works. The rosary works. It draws us into the mystery of God’s inner life, and replaces dissatisfaction and fear with loving trust and grateful praise. Prayer doesn’t so much change our circumstances as it changes us. It leads us to loving trust of our beneficent Father. Our Christian culture is all but dead, extinguished by militant secularism; the Muslims who were stopped at Lepanto in 1571 are now taking over Europe by default, for any faith is better than no faith. But we can still pray to Our Lady, the Blessed Mother given us by God himself. Neglecting to turn to her would be ingratitude to God who gave us his Mother as our gift from the Cross: “Behold your mother.” Let us pray the rosary as Americans, lest our own nation be overcome by the forces of evil. Can you afford 20 a day to pray the rosary? The rosary saved Europe in 1571; it might save America today.
In six days several thousand faithful San Franciscans will pray the rosary at the Civic center after having processed with the Blessed Sacrament, carried by their archbishop, down Van Ness Avenue. I want everyone to join me at this annual rosary rally. Most of you do not attend anything beyond Sunday Mass, and I am telling you that is not enough. I am calling you, the way Pope Pius V called all of Europe in 1571, as Islam was poised to take over their country. I am calling you to stop what you are doing and take up the rosary. A secular, atheist culture is poised to take over our land. If God-fearing people are not elected in five weeks, we may not have a church to attend in the near future. Our schools will lose their accreditation and our churches their tax-exempt status. If you do not see this pray for the grace to see the big picture. We need everyone to pray, publicly. I invite you to take a bus down to the cathedral next Saturday and pray with our Archbishop to Jesus our only Savior. Only God and Our Lady can help us at this time. I beg you to turn to them in prayer, both public and private.