There is a scene in the film Michael Collins where the eponymous hero leads a group of Irish rebels in an attack against a police barracks during the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence. The rebels, woefully short of weapons, chose that target because of its cache of rifles.
Part of a largely unarmed band, a would-be attacker asks Collins, “How are we to do that, we don’t even have bullets.” Undaunted, Collins reaches down, picks up something from the ground and asks:
“What is that?”
“A sod of turf.” comes the reply.
Lighting the turf on fire with the intention of using it to burn down the station, Collins hands it to the man and responds, “No, it’s a weapon.”
Weapons can be the most unlikely thing.
This week, we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, commemorating the victory of a combined European navy over an invading Turkish fleet at the battle of Lepanto in 1517. Outgunned and outnumbered by forces of an objectively more advanced culture and military, the European Christians were exhorted to pray the Rosary, asking Mary to intercede on their behalf. After all, Mary had promised St. Dominic, “One day, through the rosary and the scapular, I will save the world.” Their faith--and thus their “world”--was in serious jeopardy. And they were saved.
Today, while our situation differs from our Renaissance forebears, we continue to face serious challenges. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds us that “...our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12). Evil is real: we are daily plagued by problems of hatred, prejudice, and violence--just to name a few. This has always been the case. In the middle of the last century, St Padre Pio offered the solution: “Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.”
Those evils abound. As I write this, Israel has just declared war on Hamas, and the United States is sending a strike force to the region. The Russo-Ukraine war grinds on with no end in sight. Closer to home, our nation seems more divided than we have been in over 150 years, with the search for common ground impeded by the fact that we can’t seem to agree on what that common ground might be...or whether we should even try looking for it in the first place. Closest of all to home, many of us worry about holding our families together as distance and distractions take their toll.
In the mid-twentieth century, Catholics banded together in the “Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima,” wielding the unlikely weapon of the Rosary in the spiritual fight against the totalitarian communism of the Soviet Union. Irish-born priest Fr Patrick Peyton promoted the recitation of the Rosary, noting that “the family that prays together, stays together,” whether that be the family that shares our name or the larger one that shares our planet.
My experience verifies his claim. Whether it was our family praying the Rosary together when the kids were little, at the start of a long trip, or at a wake, this prayer has brought my family together--and it keeps them there--even if we are separated by miles and even if their politics are…well… “suspect.” ;-)
Because at the end of the day, it’s not distance or differences that divide us; it’s sin. Here, too, “telling our beads” proves a formidable force for good. As Pope Pius XI famously remarked:
The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.
As Christians, we are people of hope. We know that amid the despair and hatred around us, hearts can be healed, peace can be won, and community can be restored. While it won’t just happen and won’t be easy, it can be done with God’s help.
But only if we each do our part. Only if we join in the fight.
And we have the arms with which to do it, probably given to us at our First Communions or Confirmations. Like the turf used by Irish patriots, our rosaries seem like unlikely weapons, but they can be amazingly powerful, not for burning down, but for building up.
In this month of the Holy Rosary, let us break out our weapons and, through our prayer and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, bring our families, our neighbors, and our world community to the Lord.
Some things are worth fighting for.