Dear Friends in Christ,
My shoulder surgery is on Tuesday of this week, and so I will not be back at the altar of St Mary’s for next few weeks. I am grateful for the assistance of my brother priests and deacons in providing for the sacramental life of the parish and for the promise of your prayers for a speedy recovery. Many of you have graciously offered practical assistance, and I promise to be in touch if I need anything.
My surgery happens to fall on the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, who was ordained to the diaconate but not to the priesthood. When I was a newly ordained deacon, the first place I assisted at the altar was in Assisi at the tomb of Saint Francis. Of all the saints in the two thousand years of our history, Francis may be the one who most fully seizes the Christian imagination, and while that inspires many to follow Christ more faithfully, it can also lead to misconceptions about the life and work of Francis himself. So in the service of dispelling some of those misconceptions, I recommend two books about the Poverello of Assisi, both of which help us understand Francis more clearly. The first biography I recommend is Saint Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton, published in 1923. This slim volume captures the personality of the man and places him firmly in the history of his time and place in the Church, and as with everything written by Chesterton, it is a rollicking good read. The second text I recommend is Francis of Assisi: A New Biography recently written by Augustine Thompson, OP – a Dominican friar and professor of medieval history and philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California. Father Thompson’s biography is a more scholarly work than Chesterton’s but is very accessible to all readers. Both of these books will change the way you understand one of the great Christian witnesses of all time.
Finally, this Friday is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, originally called the Feast of Our Lady of Victory – a devotion introduced after the victory of the Christian fleet over the invading Muslim fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571. The Ottoman fleet of over 250 ships carried more than 80,000 soldiers and sailors, and the Christian fleet – patched together from many European sovereignties with the blessing of Pope St. Pius V – engaged the enemy near the Greek port of Lepanto (from the Latin form of its name), also known as Nafpaktos. The Turkish fleet was destroyed in one of the greatest naval victories of all time, and the victory was attributed by many to the thousands of people praying the Rosary in preparation for the engagement at the request of the pope, hence the twin names of the feast: Our Lady of Victory and Our Lady of the Rosary. Look up the Battle of Lepanto on the internet, and learn about one very dramatic moment in a very old conflict between Islam and the West.