From one remarkable Dominican to another: today's saint - Pope St Pius V. What a pope! Like his spiritual mother St Catherine of Siena, Pius was not afraid of a challenge, but surged forward in his mission to lead the Church in a difficult time.
Now Pius is a controversial figure. I guarantee that if you go into a liturgy centre and begin to wax lyrical about him you'll find the temperature will plummet and you'll get very curt responses. Historians will warn you that his excommunication of Elizabeth I of England was a bad idea because it made things worse for those she was persecuting (ironically some of these same historians may also lament Pius XII's "silence" disregarding that Pontiff's belief that a papal attack would have made things worse for those the Nazis were persecuting). And then you'll get those who will say, "Don't mention Lepanto whatever you do!"
Well, I'm going to mention Lepanto! Indeed I think we should all mention it and reflect on it. We should all read Chesterton on it and praise it, not for its bloodshed of course, but for the outcome and the miracle God worked during that naval battle.
For one thing, Lepanto was the first call to ecumenical partnership between Catholics and Protestants made by a pope. Realising the threat posed to Christianity by an Muslim invasion, Pius called on all Christian princes to put their differences aside and come together to meet the threat head on. Few listened to him, and only a handful committed themselves to the Holy League. In the end that small fleet of Christian ships led by Don Juan of Austria had to face a much larger fleet in the Gulf of Corinth and try and save Europe from invasion.
Pius, as a good Dominican, knew what he had to do: get the beads out and say his rosary! And he asked all Catholics in Europe to join him in praying the rosary to save Europe. We all know what happened - Our Lady of the Rosary in partnership with Don Juan and his crew overcame the threat. It is said that Pope Pius had a vision of the moment of victory. In thanksgiving, he designated the day of the victory, the 7th October, as the feast of Our Lady of Victories, later becoming the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
So the moral of the story is simple: when in battle, get the beads out. A timely piece of advice as we struggle to keep abortion out of Ireland. In that campaign the Muslims are not our enemies but our allies, and with them other Christians and men and women of good will. We can all learn from Pius's example: we must turn to prayer in all our difficulties and ask for victory from our God, and people of all religious faiths can do that.
Let us note that on the morning after his election, after spending time with Our Lady, Pope Francis made his way over to St Pius's tomb to spend some time in prayer. Was there a reason to do so? Perhaps, or perhaps, being the pious man that he is, the Holy Father wanted to greet one of the his saintly predecessors. Whatever the reason, I am sure Pope St Pius looked down on the Pope and assured him of his prayers and presence as the new pontificate began - these popes stick together!