Nevertheless, it’s important to remember the battle of the siege of Malta 450 years ago because they were greatly outnumbered—something like 10 to 1. If the Turks had been able to conquer Malta they would have used that as a base to attack Italy and other Christian countries. The Sultan said he would water his horses in the fountains of St. Peter’s, which is like a threat that ISIS recently made.
There is, of course, this militaristic aspect to Islamic history, and the Christians on Malta fought gallantly, though they were heavily bombarded day after day for almost three months. The courage and the valor of Captain Lavallette and his knights won the day.
So it seemed appropriate to invite Cardinal Burke to be our keynote speaker, to discuss not only personal conversion and the conversion of our brothers and sisters but also the notion of coexistence. How does one get along with the unconverted? Hopefully that’s peaceful, but there are occasions when one must defend one’s culture or society, sometimes, as a last resort, by force of arms, if one is attacked unjustly.
And you’re also commemorating the 500th anniversary of St. Philip Neri.
We try to pack as much as we could in this window. He is a wonderful saint from the counter-reformation of the 1500s, who established oratories, and later Blessed John Henry Newman was associated with establishing oratories. It so happens that May 26 is the feastday of St. Philip Neri, so pilgrims will be able to visit the Chiesa Nuova, where he worked and where they have his mortal remains.
What would you say Dante has to offer society today? Why should people read him?
I think it was T.S. Eliot who said “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them.” It’s kind of like asking "Why is Shakespeare relevant today?" Even more than Shakespeare, I think, Dante is relevant, not only because he wrote a masterpiece, but Dante reminds us of the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. These are realities that have not been preached about much over the last 50 years. Most people walking around consider this life the only life there is. I posed a question to my college students, “What are children for? Why have children?” And I got many valid answers, such as someone to share one’s life with, populate the earth. But we often forget, we want to populate heaven. We want souls to be forever happy with God. And the same thing is true in looking at life and pilgrimage. Dante begins the Divine Comedy by saying he found himself lost in a dark wood. He said, “I lost the straight and narrow. I lost the true path.” It means, clearly, that he lost his way, but it could also mean that he lost the right way of living and had stumbled in darkness. He encounters three beasts that block his path: a she-wolf, a lion and a leopard. Some commentators consider these the images or symbols of our passions, of our lower instincts, which continue to persuade us but which, because of original sin, are no longer subject to the control of reason. Many of us find ourselves in that situation.
We’re also in a dark wood. Perhaps we’re having a midlife crisis. Dante is trying to rediscover what it means to be a human being. We might say that in our own society we tend to neglect that. If you compare the average person: if you woke up one morning and found yourself on an airplane, not sure how you got there, and you turn to the person next to you and ask him, “Where are we going?” and nobody seems to think it’s important, it might seem odd to you. But that’s a little bit like contemporary society. We have 101 things, from doing the laundry to being hooked on the internet, and nobody is talking about where the thing is going and how we got on the plane in the first place.