I was going through the pictures I took in Rome earlier in the month and I was inspired to post one last photograph. Click on the picture for a larger version.
This is San Andrea delle Frate (St. Andrew of the Bush). It is just down the street from the Spanish Steps in old Rome. In 1990, I lived for three months very near the church while studying at the Angelicum and had the opportunity to serve the noon Mass almost every day at this altar, which is a side altar originally dedicated to St. Michael, but now is known as the Altar of Our Lady of the Miracle.
The miracle in question was the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a rabid anti-Catholic agnostic and gentleman of influence, who received a vision of our Blessed Lady at this altar after having been given a Miraculous Medal. Those who are familiar with St. Maximilian Kolbe will remember that during his stay in Rome, while he was studying for the priesthood, the rector of the college, Father Stefano Ignudi, told the seminarians the story of Ratisbonne’s conversion. The Pontifical Theological University of the Seraphicum, the theological faculty of the Conventual Franciscans, the order to which St. Maximilian belonged, is about a fifteen minute walk from the Church of San Andrea delle Frate. St. Maximilian used to visit the Church quite often during his free time. I made a very similar walk during my weeks at school from where I lived to the Angelicum.
Father Ignudi, the rector of the college, was a confidant of Pope St. Pius X, and held deep within his heart the concerns of the Holy Father. It was the time of World War I and the Modernist crisis. Father Ignudi also told the friar seminarians about how the Freemasons had demonstrated in St. Peter’s square against the Holy Father, carrying a banner of Satan trampling St. Michael underfoot. St. Maximilian asked permission to go to the Roman headquarters of the Freemasons in order to convert the Grand Master. Father Ignudi refused the request but urged the saint to channel his zeal to a life of prayer and penance. St. Maximilian thought long and hard about the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne and concluded that the Immaculate was the real secret to being victorious in the battle against Satan for souls.
In 1917, three days after the miracle of the sun at Fatima, in the evening of October 16, St. Maximilian founded the Militiae Immaculatae, the Knights of the Immaculate. He gathered a number of his confreres in a little room in the Seraphic College in Rome, where they all signed the original statute for this movement of consecration to Our Lady. The primary condition for membership was the making and living the consecration to the Immaculate; one of the secondary conditions was the wearing of the Miraculous Medal and the daily recitation of the medal prayer, which the Saint adapted to read: “O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to you, and for all who do not have recourse to you, especially for the Freemasons.”
St. Maximilian continued to be a zealous apostle for the faith. With his doctorates in both philosophy and theology and with his practical commons sense and speaking ability, he never neglected to engage unbelievers in apologetics. He crossed swords with socialists, communists, agnostics and atheists, many of whom were converted, but always his efforts bore fruit more through the help of the Immaculate than through his words and actions. This he knew. In fact, he always carried with him a handful of Miraculous Medals and gave them to everyone with whom he spoke.
St. Maximilian’s militant zeal for souls made him a true knight of Our Lady, always eager and ready to engage, and always open to prayer and sacrifice. The same zeal that led to him to beg his superiors to lay siege to the Masonic headquarters in Rome, led him to found the M.I., to hand out Miraculous Medals everywhere and to engage in apologetics. The same zeal led him to work day and night without rest in spite of his tuberculoses and to leave his homeland for the mission in Japan. When he was a novice, he almost left religious life itself in order to join the Polish army so that he could fight for his Queen and Lady, the Immaculate. Indeed, the Immaculate wanted him to fight for Her, and he did upon a spiritual battlefield.
St. Maximilian was a man at war. He wrote: “‘Knights,’ ‘battles’. . . these are all terms that have a warlike connotation. Ours, however, is not a war fought with rifles, machine guns, cannon, airplanes, poison gas . . . but still it is a real war.”
Indeed, the woman on the Miraculous Medal is the one mentioned in Genesis 3:15, that is, the Woman who crushes the head of the serpent and who is at war with the ancient dragon (Apocalypse 12). St. Maximilian called the Miraculous Medal his “silver bullet”:
During the apparition of the Miraculous Medal, She dictated an ejaculatory prayer, so this is our prayer and in it we include all men. She gave us the Miraculous Medal, so this is our weapon with which to strike hearts. In addition, any other means, provided it is licit, can be used, anything that zeal and prudence suggest–in a word, whatever love commands us, a love without limits–whatever this beloved Mother of ours, Mother of the whole world and of each and every souls wishes to do by our instrumentality.
I find it fascinating that St. Maximilian used the term, “silver bullet” in regard to the Miraculous Medal. How much reflection went into its use is by no means clear, but the context suggests that not only does the usage manifest a military bent in the Saint, but also his awareness of the demonic. As already noted, it is pretty clear from the medal itself that Our Lady’s power throws all hell into panic.
Folklore ascribes to the silver bullet the power to eliminate monsters of various sorts, most notably the werewolf. I am sure that European monster mythology is at least partly related to spiritual combat.
For example, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula spiritual combat is pretty explicit. The vampire is of demonic origin and is not only in pursuit of blood, but is also bent upon the destruction of purity and innocence. Literary critics almost universally apply Freudian hermeneutics to Bram’s text, saying that the work is largely about sexual repression and male fear of female sexuality. Whatever one’s attitude toward the Victorian mores out of which Dracula came, it takes a hypersexualized and conscienceless mindset to suggest that feminine purity is nothing but repression, and its ideal the product of chauvinism. Alas, but such is the case today. I mention this not so much out of praise for Bram and his work, but simply to indicate that the ideals of spiritual combat are so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that it quite naturally comes out in these mythologies.
Bram Stoker was not a Catholic, his family of birth belonged to the Church of Ireland. The main hero of his novel, Van Helsing, is a man of science, but also a man who values virtue and believes in the power of the supernatural, even though the novel leaves us guessing as to what the dimensions of the supernatural actually are. Anyway, its a myth. In any case, Van Helsing knows the power of the crucifix (a silver one at that) and of the Eucharist (even though Bram has Van Helsing use the Eucharist against the vampire in a sacrilegious way).
Even if one were to conclude that Bram is subconsciously criticizing Victorian morality, one thing is clear: there is a demon orchestrating our fear and threatening our existence. Science (reason) can go only so far to expel him. In the end only the sacrifice of courageous men under the influence of the supernatural will be able to withstand, protect their purity and defend that which is true good and beautiful. We must face the darkness, but we must also have a silver bullet.
St. Maximilian once, when speaking about spiritual combat, recounted how once Napolean was asked by a journalist what it took to win a war. The great general replied: “It requires three things: money, money and more money.” St. Maximilian then rhetorically asked what it takes to win a spiritual war. His reply: “prayer, prayer and more prayer.”
Our prayer needs to be Marian: “O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to Thee.” She is the Woman Clothed with the Sun with Her immaculate foot on the head of our enemy. She is the Warrior Queen of which Judith and Jahel are merely the types. She is fair as the moon, bright as the sun and terrible as an army set in battle array (Cant. 6:10).
She is as beautiful as the moon. According to the monster myths the virtue of the silver bullet is associated somehow with moonlight (gold = sun, silver = moon). In the Old Testment silver is associated with purity and beauty: And he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice (Mal. 3:3). In the apparition of Our Lady to St. Catherine Labouré in which she revealed the pattern for the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady’s hands radiated silver light that represent the graces that she wishes to bestow upon us.
St. Maximilian spent many hours in the Church of San Andrea delle Frate meditating before the altar of Our Lady of the Miracle. That prayer was fortifying beyond what most of us can appreciate. It led him to hope and conquer even after passing through the gates of hell, that is, those of Auschwitz. After St. Maximilian was ordained a priest, he said his first Mass on the altar of Our Lady of the Miracle. After he entered Auschwitz, he “said mass” at the altar of the death bunker and was victorious. He had his silver bullet, over his heart, and his Lady and Queen within his heart.
Today in San Andrea delle Frate on the left side of the altar you will find a bust of Alphonse Ratisbonne, and on the right one of St. Maximilian (see photo). Between them over the altar is the Virgin of the Miracle in exaclty the same way She appears on the silver bullet.
Never allow the enemy to find you unarmed.