Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Lady of Victory

When I was a new graduate student at The Pennsylvania State University (that's Penn State for those with much less pretense), I had the option of joing a local Parish or becoming involved in Campus Ministry.  A number of my cousins had been baptized at a parish called "Our Lady of Victory," so I ended up joining and diving in as a CCD teacher.  It took me two home football games to appreciate the irony of the Catholic Church closest to Beaver Stadium, home of Joe Patterno's Nittany Lions, being called Our Lady of Victory.  It took me a year to appreciate who Our Lady of Victory is.  It happened that, in the fall of my second year of graduate school, I was to teach a CCD lesson at the beginning of what Blessed John Paul II had decreed to be the year of the Rosary.  It would also coincide with our parish feast day.

In preparing my lesson, I found out that Our Lady of Victory is a title of Our Lady given after the victory of European naval forces ("the Holy League") against an advancing Ottoman Empire at Lepanto in 1571.  In a five hour battle at the northern most edge of the Gulf of Patras (off the coast of Greece) Holy League forces had driven back the Ottoman Empire, securing the Mediterranean.  Before the battle, Pope Pius V had encouraged all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory, and upon hearing of the victory at Lepanto credited Our Lady with safely leading the Holy League's forces to victory.  Hence, the title "Our Lady of Victory."  Over time, the title Our Lady of Victory became synomous with Our Lady of the Rosary.  

It seemed odd to me, at the time, that Our Lady of Victory and Our Lady of the Rosary were the same.  Honestly, I had a difficult time reconciling my mental image of 16th Century artillery fire with the quiet times I had spent saying the Rosary. Certainly, as a student at a secular university, I could identify with the Holy League, tossed about on an uncertain sea in a world that is full of traps.  I was, however, uncertain as to where the Rosary fit in until I found the writings of St. Louis de Montfort.  St. Louis said, amongst other things, that "The rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who so loves His Mother."   

The "how" became clearer when I read Blessed John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.
No one had ever explained to me that the Rosary was a meditation on the Gospel.  Sure, I knew the mysteries and I could recite a Hail Mary with as much enthusiasm as the next person, but the concept of entering into the Gospel?  Walking through salvation history?  Over time, it became easier to see how one, when daily meditating on the mysteries of salvation, might grow in holiness.  

As our current Pope, Benedict XVI, stated:
When reciting the Rosary, the important and meaningful moments of salvation history are relived. The various steps of Christ's mission are traced. With Mary the heart is oriented toward the mystery of Jesus. Christ is put at the centre of our life, of our time, of our city, through the contemplation and meditation of his holy mysteries of joy, light, sorrow and glory.  [May 13, 2008, Recitation of the Holy Rosary, Address of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, St. Mary Major, Rome, Italy]
Through a daily Rosary, Christ becomes more and more the center of our life.  And if Christ is the center our life, it is much easier to fight against the temptations of the world.  "No one can live continually in sin and continue to say the Rosary: either they will give up sin or they will give up the Rosary" (Bishop Hugh Doyle), or as it says in one of my favorite children's books, "Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow."

And, as we  are transformed by the Rosary, Christ will use us to transform the world.  It might not be as dramatic as an unexpected victory at sea, but it has the potential to be far greater.    

If you have never prayed a Rosary, start today.  If you aren't ready to commit to a daily Rosary, say one once a week.  Can't make it through the whole Rosary?  Start with a decade.  Ask Christ, through His Beloved Mother, to inspire you with a love of the Rosary.  Watch a decade turn into a whole Rosary.  Watch a weekly Rosary become a daily Rosary.  And see how Christ becomes the center of your life.

Click here for more on the history of this Feast.
Click here for more information on how to pray the Rosary.

The author, Laura Itle, is a Blessed Sacrament parishoner. 

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