The Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary is a celebration of prayer and in particular for thanksgiving of the naval victory over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. According to catholicculture.org, “The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted to honor Mary for the Christian victory over the Turks at Lepanto on October 7, 1571. Pope St. Pius V and all Christians had prayed the Rosary for victory.” This raises significant questions, at least for a Catholic Mennonite, about the nature of prayer and the things for which we pray. About 50 years earlier, for instance, Michael Sattler, the soon to be Anabaptist martyr, was charged with stating that “if the Turks should invade the country, no resistance ought to be offered them; and if it were right to wage war, he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the Turks; and it is certainly a great matter, to set the greatest enemies of our holy faith against us.” Indeed, Sattler reiterated this position in his response to the charges, “If the Turks should come, we ought not to resist them; for it is written: Thou shalt not kill. We must not defend ourselves against the Turks and others of our persecutors, but are to beseech God with earnest prayer to repel and resist them. But that I said, that if warring were right, I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians, who persecute, apprehend and kill pious Christians, than against the Turks, was for this reason: The Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith; and is a Turk after the flesh; but you, who would be Christians, and who make your boast of Christ, persecute the pious witnesses of Christ, and are Turks after the spirit” (Martyr's Mirror, pp. 416-418.) So while victory over the Turks was attributed to prayer, Sattler argued that prayer ought to be our method of defense (“to beseech God with earnest prayer to repel and resist them”).
The Gospel chosen for this Memorial, Luke 11:5-13, brings out the complex nature of prayer. It was a passage that alerted me as a boy to the strange nature of God and God’s ways. I had always thought of God as the most upright of beings, associating God with people who were socially upright, fastidious and proper. God would always choose the “right way,” not just in terms of morality, but in terms of etiquette. This Gospel expanded my notion of God and of prayer.
In this passage Jesus compares insistence in prayer to a rather rude and unruly friend, who at midnight goes to his friend’s home to ask for food. The groggy friend complains that the house is locked and the family is in bed: “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.” Frankly, I have some sympathy for the sleepy friend, but Jesus suggests you keep on knocking and that “ if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Jesus does not side with decorum, but the friend who comes at all hours of the night to insist on the food he needs for his guests and, as we know, sides with those who will persistently ask of God for the things they need. Persistence not etiquette pays off. Jesus states quite clearly, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Finally, with the use of sharp examples of how earthly fathers function – “what father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” – Jesus states that if “wicked” people give good gifts to their children, “how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” God desires to answer our prayers, to give us good gifts, and our persistence in prayer plays a mighty role in this. At the very end of the passage, Jesus identifies, it seems to me, the best gift as the Holy Spirit, which could be made manifest in any number of ways: victory in military battles or in the turning of the hearts of our enemies to peace. God is a God of persistent surprises, but we will never go wrong to pray the Rosary expecting answers to our prayers. On this there must be agreement and that is to pray!
John W. Martens