The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
The almost imperceptible lapping of the tide against the hull of the flagship, the stillness of the night, the breathing of the slaves slumped over their oars, and the spirited but hushed murmurs of the small assembly betrayed the fury of the battle that was just hours away. Tension and quiet. The young captain general, Don John of Austria, had mustered his admirals to his stateroom to review once more the order of battle. To the man each one had greater seafaring and war-fighting experience than he.
Among them was Spain’s greatest sea captain, Don Alvaro de Bazan, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. Also Venice’s greatest—Sebastian Veniero. At 74, Veniero had three times the years on his back as Don John of Austria.
Also among Don John’s admirals was a Genovese naval commander with an impeccable pedigree. Gianandrea Doria was the nephew of none other than Andrea Doria, who a generation before had served Emperor Charles V as imperial admiral. The elder Doria’s prowess under fire, to say nothing of his guile in politics, had made him one of the most powerful men in Italy. His nephew, heir to the Doria legacy, was, alas, more ship owner than sailor.
Gianandrea opened his palm, raised his eyebrow, and offered, “There is still time, your Grace, to avoid a pitched battle.” In the breast of the natural son of Charles V, however, beat the heart of a lion. He caught and held Doria’s gaze for a moment before looking each of his other admirals in the eye.
“Gentlemen,” said Don John in a low voice. “The time for counsel has passed. Now is the time for war.”
The outcome of the following day’s battle in the Bay of Lepanto we celebrate to this day: October 7, Feast of the Holy Rosary. The fleet of the Holy League sank or captured all but 13 of some 300 Turkish vessels, and Western Europe was saved from Islamic conquest. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but to each of his warriors Don John had issued a weapon more powerful than anything in the Turkish arsenal: a Rosary.
The men of the Holy League prepared for war by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful praying their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother inclined her ear toward her children and then, with her Immaculate Heart aflame brought down the full might of Heaven on the forces of darkness threatening to overshadow Christendom: “They fling great shadows foe-ward making Cross and Castle dark,” as Chesterton put it in his magnificent ballad celebrating the day.
Well known is this story, and many inspirations can we draw from it, among them is the intersection of freedom and joy.