We almost never post this lengthy of a piece, but we also rarely find such a profoud homily. Also, since the text is not available online we cannot link to it. If you read one reflection on 9/11 as a Catholic, read this one. It's the text of the homily delivered by the Fr. Peter Stravinskas yesterday at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.
Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the memorial of the Holy Name of Mary. Unusual for me, I am going to forego preaching on the Scripture readings for today’s Mass and hope that the rationale for that decision will be clear shortly.
Blessed John Henry Newman, in one of his sermons on the titles of Our Lady in the Litany of Loreto, notes that “Help of Christians” is given the Blessed Mother in connection with five critical historical events:
The first was on the first institution of the devotion of the Rosary by St. Dominic, when, with the aid of the Blessed Virgin, he succeeded in arresting and overthrowing the formidable heresy of the Albigenses in the South of France.
The second was the great victory gained by the Christian fleet over the powerful Turkish Sultan, in answer to the intercession of Pope St. Pius V, and the prayers of the associations of the Rosary all over the Christian world. . . .
The third was, in the words of the Divine Office, “the glorious victory won at Vienna, under the guardianship of the Blessed Virgin, over the most savage Sultan of the Turks, who was trampling on the necks of the Christians; in perpetual memory of which benefit Pope Innocent XI. . . . dedicated the Sunday in the Octave of her Nativity as the feast of her august Name.”
The fourth instance of her aid was the victory over the innumerable force of the same Turks in Hungary on the Feast of St. Mary ad Nives, in answer to the solemn supplication of the confraternities of the Rosary.
And the fifth was her restoration of the Pope's temporal power, at the beginning of this century [19th], after Napoleon the First, Emperor of the French, had taken it from the Holy See; on which occasion Pope Pius VII. set apart May 24, the day of this mercy, as the Feast of the Help of Christians, for a perpetual thanksgiving.
If you paid close attention to this list of Marian victories, you should have noticed that three of the five have to do with Islam.
In fact, a little bit more background on the third “victory” of Our Lady noted might prove very interesting. There Cardinal Newman is alluding to the liturgical commemoration of the Holy Name of Mary, which had been dropped from the universal calendar after Vatican II but was reinserted by Pope John Paul II into the Missale Romanum of 2000. The feast was established by Pope Innocent XI in 1683 in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Vienna, obtained through the intercession of Our Lady, when the city was besieged by the Turks in 1683. An army of 550,000 invaders had reached the city walls and was threatening all of Europe. Jan Sobieski, King of Poland, came with a much smaller army to assist the besieged city during the Octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and made preparations for a great battle – the first part of which was engaging in a vigil of prayer and fasting on the night of September 11. Yes, you heard right, September 11. After receiving Holy Communion with his troops on the morning of the 12th, he cried out: “Let us march with confidence under the protection of Heaven and with the aid of the Most Holy Virgin!” Inexplicably, the Muslim Turks were struck with a sudden panic and fled in chaos.
My friends, an old adage teaches us that “history repeats itself.” And the ancient Roman statesman and orator Cicero is often credited with warning us that “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” Once again, we are facing a crisis with the Islamic world, but this time around what is regrettably the former Christian West is weak, a largely dissipated anti-culture, barely able to reproduce itself. Will peace between Islam and the West be achieved only because it is the peace of the grave, so that we or our grandchildren will simply wake up some day living under sharia? Is this inevitable? Is there any possible solution? I believe there is a solution, and it will come through taking seriously some insights of Archbishop Fulton Sheen – amazingly prescient since written in his 1952 book, The World’s First Love, wherein we discover a chapter, entitled, “Mary and the Moslems” (pp. 204-209).
Very objectively, the Archbishop presents the historical record:
The Christian European West barely escaped destruction at the hands of the Muslims. At one point they were stopped near Tours and at another point, later on in time, outside the gates of Vienna. The Church throughout northern Africa was practically destroyed by Muslim power, and at the present hour, the Moslems are beginning to rise again.
He goes on, and don’t forget he is writing in 1952:
At the present time, the hatred of the Muslim countries against the West is becoming a hatred against Christianity itself. Although the statesmen have not yet taken it into account, there is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return, and with it, the menace that it may shake off a West which has ceased to be Christian, and affirm itself as a great anti-Christian world power. Muslim writers say, “When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these Arabic words: We are God's host, each of us has ninety-nine eggs, and if we had a hundred, we should lay waste the world, with all that is in it.”
He then asks: “How shall we prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg?” Through the conversion of Muslims to Christianity – not through the direct teachings of Christianity, but through a summoning of the Muslims to a veneration of the Mother of God.
Finally, the Archbishop launches into a detailed analysis of Islamic respect, even devotion, for the Mother of Jesus, highlighting the fact that the Koran teaches the doctrines of her Immaculate Conception and perpetual virginity. Most surprising to most non-Muslims is that the Koran actually has more verses about Our Lady than the New Testament! We even possess a writing of Mohammed, addressed to his daughter Fatima, in which he says to her after her death: “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all women in Paradise, after Mary.” And Fatima herself says, “I surpass all women, except Mary.” Which leads us to Archbishop Sheen’s connecting of the dots between Islam and Our Lady of Fatima:
. . . the Muslims occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Muslim chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Muslims left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus, the very place where Our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.
The final evidence of the relationship of Fatima to the Muslims is the enthusiastic reception which the Muslims in Africa, India, and elsewhere gave to the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Muslims attended the church services in honor of Our Lady, they allowed religious processions and even prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique, the Muslims who were unconverted, began to be Christian as soon as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.
It seems that Sheen’s analysis may have been on-target for, most interestingly, as recently as 2007, Australian Muslims built a mosque and dedicated it to Our Lady!
Archbishop Sheen concludes by noting that missionaries to the Muslims will see more successes when they preach Our Lady of Fatima, for Mary brings Christ to people before Christ Himself is born. In this endeavor, it is best to start with what the Muslims already accept. Because there is an existing devotion to Mary, missionaries need to build upon this devotion, with the understanding that Our Lady will carry the Muslims to her divine Son. She never accepts devotion merely for herself, but always leads her devotees to her Son. Just as those who lose Marian devotion lose belief in Christ’s divinity, so also those who strengthen their devotion to her, in time acquire the correct belief concerning her Son.
I would add one more element to the goal of Muslim conversions: We Christians – and the nations we inhabit – must be vibrant witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the United States is perceived – and often is – the international promoter and purveyor of abortion, pornography, illicit sexual lifestyles, family disintegration and conspicuous consumption, it is no wonder that honest and dishonest Muslims alike can point an accusing finger at us as “The Great Satan.” If we hope for peace and reconciliation, let alone conversions, we Christians must live and look like true disciples of Jesus Christ. And the best way we can do that is by being true children of Mary – the perfect disciple.
On this tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks on our country and city, inspired by Islamic ideology, let us ask Our Lady for the grace whereby our nation – and all of the former Christian West – will reflect a faithful Christian witness so powerful that it will not only ensure peaceful coexistence but even the conversion of the children of Islam to the Church of which Mary – whom Muslims so venerate – is the Mother.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.