Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
In 1571 as Christendom was threatened to be overwhelmed, St. Pope Pius V asked for a Holy League to form and meet the threat. With the terrible world threats today, a new Holy League was reborn to meet the menace.
First, the historical background. When St. Pope Pius V saw Christendom not more than a shambles and Moslem Turks getting ready to deal the last blow, he got Don Juan of Austria to head remnant armies from a few nations to join together forming the first Holy League. St. Pius V called on people in Rome and the regions to pray the Rosary and implore Our Lady for her intercession. Don Juan gave every man in the naval armada a rosary, and all prayed it.
They asked for our Blessed Mother’s intercession, priests heard confessions, and against great odds, with heaven’s help the smaller Christian fleet crushed the Turkish Moslem fleet in the Battle of Lepanto.
St. Pius V and all the leaders attributed that David-vs-Goliath victory saving Christianity and western civilization to Our Lady. To commemorate this historic battle he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victories, soon changed to Our Lady of the Rosary which we continue to celebrate every Oct. 7.
“Pius V nicknamed that collection of forces the Holy League,” says Father Richard Heilman. “We’re the new Holy League here and we’re talking about spiritual warfare more than anything else.”
Old Idea Right for Today
On Mar. 7th, 2015, the 444th Anniversary of the St. Pope Pius V's formation of the original Holy League, the new Holy League was launched near the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin. Providentially, at Lepanto, the flagship of one wing of the fleet carried a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was touched to the original tilma and came from King Phillip of Spain.
Indeed, this new Holy League is calling all men to the battle. Not to man ships, but to man churches for a monthly Holy Hour.
“Through prayer and especially through Eucharistic adoration and praying of the Holy Rosary, the great victory was won in the Battle of Lepanto,” says Father Heilman, the founder of today’s Holy League and pastor of St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff Church in Cross Plains, Wisc. In a very simple yet most profound way it’s enlisting and preparing men to be “a source of strength for the Church in these very troubled times.”
How simple? “It is by way of the Holy Hour — a monthly Holy Hour during which the sacrament of Confession is available, a Holy Hour concentrating on our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, growing in our closeness to him so that he can help us to be strong and holy men for our time.”
Father Heilman — who also has the popular RomanCatholicMan.com site — stresses how the Church has always depended on strong Catholic men. He asks men to “be of good courage — making a Holy Hour once a month, with Confession and fraternity…” It’s meant for every Catholic man throughout the world and would be “building on the call of St. John Paul II.”
Father Heilman and helpers presented this idea to Cardinal Raymond Burke who told them, “This is exactly what is needed today.”
The Holy League was then reborn at St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff, near the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, with Cardinal Burke as the spiritual head. It assumed a spirit of Marian chivalry under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Joseph.
Why a New Holy League
“Some are calling this the post-Christian era,” explains Father Heilman. “So what we’re doing is taking that idea trying to rally all these other apostolates, men in general, and Knights of Columbus and saying, this is a spiritual warfare. If we’re going to be warriors in this, that begins with supernatural grace. We need to be gathering the men together on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, at Mass, and Confession to supernaturalize men to be strong Catholic men — strong against the forces coming against God and Christianity.”
Speaking with the enthusiasm of a general calling his men to face the enemy fearlessly, he explains, “We’re not fighting flesh and blood here but forces in the supernatural realm. We need to be in the state of grace. We can’t do anything without that. We need to be superheroes. We need heroic virtues in that state of grace to stand against the supernatural forces of evil that are running unabated in our time.”
He points to St. Paul’s admonitions in Ephesians 6:10-17 about needing strength and power from the Lord to fight this spiritual battle.
“The image I like is putting on the armor of God,” he says. “Without grace we’re naked on the battlefield. One of the devil’s great tactics he’s using today is Internet porn, killing the life of men. The other is secular humanism that’s gotten into our world and our Church. So there’s not as much belief in the power of grace. We’re saying all these other apostolates are great, but let’s make sure we have that divine connection.”
In fact, he invites all other men’s apostolate to also be part of the Holy League in prayer because they are all like the remnant armies that came together in 1571.
Attacks from Many Sides
Today the Church is again being attacked by several enemies, just as in the late 1500s. This time the attacks on several fronts aim at the family too — the domestic Church.
Father Heilman says the devil might seem to be winning because of secular humanism that’s ingrained in not only our world but our Church. Paul said the battle “is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in the heavens.”
But, the founder says if we don’t reclaim and use the supernatural weapons that win the battles, “We’re going to lose spiritual warfare every time if we believe the devil is supernatural evil but we’re coming at him with natural means. We’ve got to be supernatural men with heroic virtue — literally superheroes.”
We have the real force — the supernatural power of grace, so he repeats, “We need to be virtuous men in God’s supernatural grace — superheroes.”
Simple Way to Victory
Father Heilman lays out simple ground rules. “We should not doubt that when we pray earnestly and believe that God’s going to answer our prayer, but we need to come to him on his terms. That simply means going to confession and be a praying Catholic man. Now you’re in the family asking your Father for what you want. You’re in league with God. We want to do God’s work, but we have to do that in his way. You have to be in the state of grace,” he stresses.
The Holy League has men tying into the “supernatural grace God desperately wants to give us.”
That’s why the vision and aim of the Holy League is to build an international armada of Holy Hours, Eucharistic Adoration with Confession and Fraternity for men in every parish. Naturally, it promotes the Rosary and consecration. The league is appealing to men even without much publicity as of yet.
Father Heilman says the Holy League has already had a thousand inquiries, and there are already over 100 Holy League sites worldwide that are known with many others in preparation to start soon. The Holy League has even started in other countries too, including Canada, Mexico, Western European countries from England to Poland, Columbia, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines.
Answering the Call to Arms
One of the earliest to answer the call to form a Holy League was St. Timothy Church in Union, Ky. At the helm of this “ship” is Deacon Dave Profitt, the director of the diaconate for the Cincinnati archdiocese which is just a bit north of Union.
Looking to restart men’s conferences in the archdiocese knowing many men are missing in today’s Church, he came across Father Heilman’s website.
“I loved the concept,” Deacon Profitt says. “Men respond to tradition — whether sports, military, business. The other thing — they’re not comfortable expressing their emotions when it comes to faith. They’ll yell for sports but won’t express emotions when it comes to how we feel about Christ. I felt we need to reintroduce men to two sacraments: Eucharist and Reconciliation.” Holy League was the answer.
When he invited men to the first monthly Holy Hour, amazingly, 50 showed up. A priest heard confessions. Some of the men had never done adoration. Soon he added Gregorian chant in the background and did a “10-minute reflection on Jesus as a man and how it applies to our life.”
His short reflections are about issues that affect men. “Get away from the Pablum driving people away,” he counsels.
The Holy League at St. Timothy’s grew. Fathers began bringing their sons. They help as altar servers for exposition and Benediction. The hour concludes with the Prayer to St. Michael.
“It’s changed lives,” stresses Deacon Profitt. He pointed out how one man even brought along a Protestant friend going through martial difficulties and not practicing his faith. But after that hour of adoration he went home, talked to his wife and got involved in his church.
Even during the every-other-month fraternal get-togethers after adoration, the initial sports talk always come back to spirituality. From this Holy League encounter with Christ, men “are opening up about their faith.”
Deacon Profitt accentuates the Holy League is “simple, not complicated. Nothing gives that experience of encounter with Christ like adoration. That’s the key to it…Make it simple and let the Holy Spirit do his job.”
It’s also “putting a little more tradition back into our worship, and the guys respond to that,” he says. “The evidence is there. What guys miss is tradition, the sacred.”
Deacon Profitt sees men enlisting in numbers. “Men say, I need this hour so badly, I look forward to it every month.”
Both the Covington, Ky., diocese where he lives and the Cincinnati archdiocese where he works want this Holy League spread.
Church Militant Must Prepare
The Church Militant must be ready for spiritual combat.
With what’s going on in the world, Deacon Profitt stresses that it’s “blatantly obvious we’re in spiritual warfare. We have to be prepared. The guys understand that. I would call that an underlying current in the whole Holy League movement. We are preparing men for battle. Jesus was a warrior.”
Deacon Profitt tells men that in this battle they need to be the ones protecting their family. “That appeals strongly to the men. Our job is to make sure our families get to heaven. If we don’t do that, we’re shirking our responsibility — we’re failing as a father and a husband.”
Another Major Endorsement
“We need something like this today because once again we’ve got whole groups who are attacking us,” he explains. “We need to do what the saints and the popes did of old. We need to man up, take up the Rosary, and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. Joining the Holy League is a great way to do this — take a spiritual weapon in our hands, confess our sins and protect that which is precious to us.”
The Holy League proved a success at Lepanto. It can win again.