St. Francis' Day
Wednesday (October 4) was St. Francis' Day. St. Francis is the one post-Biblical saint that everybody knows and likes, whether they're Catholic or not. Everybody has at least a vague idea of who the brown-robed figure preaching to the birds is. Something a lot of people don't know, however, is that Francis once set out--probably foolishly; certainly in the sense of "being a fool for Christ"--to convert Muslims. Unsurprisingly to a cynical person such as myself, he didn't have much success with that. Still, I've wondered for several years now why we don't ask him to pray for the conversion of Muslims today; I know some contemporary American Catholics now consider it taboo to suggest that Christianity is something non-Christians might want to convert to, but personally I'd think Francis might like having a crack at it from Heaven. I mean, I don't want to interfere with the custom of taking animals to church to be blessed on St. Francis' Day, but if all the non-pet-owner Catholics, Anglicans, and others who recognize St. Francis were to pray for conversions to Christ on that day, it could only work to the good, right?
(Re praying to saints, for any non-Catholics reading this: Catholics believe that it is beneficial for people to pray for one another. We also believe that the pool of people we can ask to pray for us is not limited to those currently alive on Earth, but that people who are alive in heaven can also pray for us. When we pray to a saint we are asking that person to pray to God for us. A saint is anyone in heaven, not just famous ones like Francis whom the Church officially recognizes as such. You can ask anyone you believe to be in heaven to pray for you; for example, the priest who baptized me said he frequently asks one of his aunts, who was a very holy woman, to pray for him.)
The day before yesterday (October 7) was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Why it is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary may be unexpected to some--it commemorates a coalition of Christian forces, gathered at the Pope's request, turning back the further incursion of Turkish forces into Italy. The Pope attributed the victory to the rosaries prayed for the Christian forces--although I'm sure the soldiers and their weaponry had something to do with it; "trust God, but keep your powder dry", as the saying goes--and instituted this annual feast to celebrate. This was the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, and you can read more about it here and here.
Why I think we should remember Lepanto is that it shows that people in those parts of the world formerly known as Christendom--we'll just call it the West now--can band together to defeat an enemy who does not share our values and who would enslave us.
If you'd like a literary remembrance, you can read The Battle of Lepanto at G. K. Chesterton's Works on the Web here or at Bartelby here. (Although I must admit that, much as I like Chesterton, I have trouble reading this poem's lines about "Don John of Austria" without thinking of Don John from Much Ado About Nothing--another bastard--which rather spoils the effect.)
Of course, it's probably un-PC of me to suggest that we should remember Lepanto, that Western civilization might be worth fighting for, that Christianity might have anything worth converting for, etc. A nice, tolerant person would remind you that all cultures are equally worthwhile--except for ours, which is tyrannical and fascist; that all religions are equally wonderful--except for Christianity, which is always and in every way oppressive, and Judaism, which unforgiveably contributed to the creation of Israel; that only poor, ignorant people would join the military; and that only "prey-ers" would pray for victory or even for the safety of our troops. What can I say--I'm not a nice person.