Today is the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Auxilium Christianorum. This feast has a long and rich history. It is linked to the 1571 European naval Battle of Lepanto, and the victory there of the Catholic army over the invading Turks. The battle, if one looked at it with a rational eye, should have been lost by the Christian forces. In brief: they were outnumbered, and well into the battle, were at the point of defeat, and all seemed lost. At that near- breaking point, Our Lady intervened, the tide turned, and the Christian forces were victorious. Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira writes, and relates the battle, and its outcome, to our own struggles:
The good cause throughout History often finds itself in a situation similar to the Catholics at Lepanto. Everything seems lost humanly speaking, but Our Lady puts in our souls a hope that she will win the battle for the greater glory of God. Then we need to trust this voice against all probabilities and appearances to the contrary.
Many times, defeat seems inevitable, and the temptation is to say: “She promised, but it has not happened. To the contrary, everything became worse.” Real heroism is to trust even in the worst of conditions. It is to refuse to cede to the temptation, and to reply: “The worse it becomes, the closer we are to her intervention, because Our Lady does not lie, and I know that this voice that speaks within myself is hers.”
Is there any criterion to know when an interior voice comes from Our Lady or not? Yes, there is.
When the perspective of some future thing leaves us depressed, discouraged, and with the desire to give up, then this outlook normally comes from the Devil.
On the contrary, if the perspective of doing a very difficult thing that would normally cause fear, nonetheless produces enthusiasm, gives us strength to practice virtue and inspires us with the hope of victory in an almost impossible situation, then probably it is the voice of the grace speaking in our souls.
Does grace act only this way? No. Often grace inspires resignation. Our Lady can ask us to be conformed to a defeat. Then she gives us strength to endure the suffering of the defeat. St. Therese of Lisieux, for example, received such a grace to prepare herself for death, and afterward, she went to Heaven.
The two perspectives are different. When Our Lady wants to give a victory, she prepares us for that, and not for death.
This is confirmed by the reaction of St. Pius V after he knew the victory of Lepanto. He turned to God and repeated the prayer of the Prophet Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant in peace, O Lord, according to thy word, because my eyes have seen my salvation.” That is, “That special thing for which I was born, the victory I had expected for Thy glory, has taken place. With this, my mission is fulfilled. Now Thou can take my soul for I have nothing else to do on this earth.”
The great St. Pius V had heard the same interior voice as the knights of Lepanto. In this case, the words of Our Lord apply: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
The voice of Our Lady speaks to our souls and tells us firmly: “Catholic Civilization will be restored, the Reign of Mary will be established on earth.” This is the voice that gives us courage to fight against all the enemies, in the worst of conditions, and all alone. There is no doubt that this voice is authentic.
What happened in Lepanto with those knights and soldiers will also happen with us. We will have the victory of Our Lady.
This is, in my opinion, the interior message Our Lady Help of Christians gave in that battle, and gives us today. Let us ask her to give us the necessary graces to be faithful to it. (source)
Our Lady is the Help of Christians as willed by Our Lord from His Holy Cross.
The Knights of Lepanto, who fought even when all was bleak, remind me that Our Lady is, as G.K. Chesterton wrote:
…she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.**
Yes, she is a queen most womanly, but she was, and is, a queen of men.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us, the Church Militant!
Brief historical summation of the Battle of Lepanto: here.