Circular Letter: March 2017
Living Out the Message of Fatima
“My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” At Fatima, in the midst of the first “Great War”, Our Lady manifested anew her singular closeness and concern for suffering humanity, for a humanity that had turned from God and was bringing down upon itself His just wrath, the just retribution for their sins. Mary came to lead mankind back to God, to find mercy and forgiveness from Him, through devotion to her Immaculate Heart. As the Church celebrates the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady, we want to reflect again on the importance of her message for us today.
Call to Prayer and Penance
In our last circular, we reflected on the “three secrets” as interpreted by Cardinal Angelo Sodano and the then Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). But these prophetic accounts do not comprise the heart of the moral message of Our Lady. Sister Lucia herself, frustrated over the continued insistence that the third secret was not fully revealed, discloses for us Our Lady’s urgent call for penance: “If only they would live the most important thing, which has already been said… They only concern themselves with what is left to be said, instead of complying with request that was prayer and penance!” (Coimbra, Pathways under the Gaze of Mary, p. 245). And further she writes,
This is the penance and prayer that the Lord now asks and demands: prayer and penance, public and collective, together with abstaining from sins…. “Pray the Rosary every day to achieve peace for the world and the end of war,” said Our Lady on May 13, 1917. This insistent recommendation was not only for the three poor and humble children; it is a call to the whole world, to all souls, to all humanity, believers and unbelievers. (Ibid., p. 247)
To those who were far from God, Our Lady calls them to faith, penance, prayer and a change of life. She performed miracles and prophetic visions were fulfilled, to strengthen the faith of unbelievers. Yet, it seems that Our Lady’s message was directed even more to those who already did believe, to those who were living good lives—to these, the message was a call to do more. She came to teach us a way of reparation and expiation, of sacrifice, penance and prayer for so many souls being lost. “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them” (Memoirs, p. 76). This message was to simple children, good children from faithful Christian families. But precisely from these souls, Our Lady sought instruments of God’s mercy for souls blinded by sin; she chose souls who would be generous towards God and neighbor, souls with a heart of compassion. We want to reflect, therefore, on how these three children, each one living the message in his or her personal way, grew under Mary and the Angel’s tutelage to become mature and saintly instruments of salvation. Our hope is, that this will open for us the true message of Fatima.
The Three Apparitions of the Angel of Portugal
Before the apparitions of Our Lady, Lucia and her two cousins were prepared for their great mission in the Church by an angel. Though they do not appear visibly to all of us, nevertheless, the angels, particularly our own Guardian Angel, are intimately involved in our spiritual growth. (cf. CCC 336) In 1916, the Angel of Portugal spoke to the seers for the first time, as Sr. Lucia tells us:
“Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground, and made us repeat these words three times: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.”
In this initial lesson from the Angel, the children learn both a prayer and how to pray. First, the posture of the Angel, which the children are to imitate as he bows his forehead to the ground, speaks of God’s majesty in relation to the lowliness of man. It is a lesson in the reverent fear of the Lord, a gesture of humble submission and respectful supplication at the same time. This attitude is essential for spiritual growth, as the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
The prayer itself of the Angel is an act of faith, hope and charity, as well as an act of reparation for those who fail to serve God in faith, hope and charity. From the very beginning, we see that the message of Fatima is a call to reparation and intercession for souls. After teaching them the prayer, the Angel tells them, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” In this way, they are made aware that prayer is heard, it has a real and effective value.
The impression of this apparition is very strong. “From then on, we used to spend long periods of time, prostrate like the Angel, repeating his words, until sometimes we fell, exhausted.” They also began to pray the full Rosary every day. (Before, in a modified obedience to their mothers but wanting more time for play, they only prayed 50 times, “Hail Mary”, “Holy Mary” in place of the whole prayer, and were done in a jiffy!) But children being as they are, they soon returned to their principle occupation: play! One day while they were playing, the Angel again appeared and almost reprimanded them, “What are you doing?!” he asked. “Pray, pray very much! The most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” This scene is also a wakeup call for us. We are occupied with our work and recreation and family; we lead a normal life, even a good life, but do we realize the urgency of our calling to save souls? Do we pray and sacrifice as much as we should, as much as we can?
Lucia, very practical, asks, “How are we to make sacrifices?” The Angel responds, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal.” This teaching is key to living a life of sacrificial readiness for God and souls. We are called to make of everything an offering to God, those things we enjoy, self-imposed penances and things we must endure: all these things we can transform through love into a gift to God.
These young children became very generous and persevering in their self-imposed penances. They gave away their lunch and went full days under the hot sun without taking a drink, for months on end! They found a rope and wore it tightly around their waists. (Our Lady later told them to loosen it at night so that they could sleep.) The Angel, however, added, “Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.” It is these latter penances which are the hardest to offer as a gift, but which also have the most value. In offering to God the sufferings that He sends, those things which are so contrary to our own personal taste, we also avoid the trap of self-complacency, self-will or pride in doing penance. Sr. Lucia writes,
These words made a deep impression on our minds, like a light making us understand Who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, as well as the value of sacrifice, how pleasing it is to Him, and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners. For this reason, from that moment we began to offer up all that mortified us…and to remain for hours with our forehead touching the ground, repeating the prayer the Angel had taught us.
At the third apparition, the Angel teaches them another prayer, again a prayer of reparation, this time as they are prostrate before Our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist:
[The Angel] was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of blood fell into the chalice. Leaving the chalice suspended in the air, the Angel knelt down beside us and made us repeat three times:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.”
This prayer, prayed before the Eucharist, teaches them to offer their own sacrifices in union with the infinite merits of the Cross of Jesus, made present in the Most Holy Eucharist. It is the highest reparation that can be offered, the sacrifice of God Himself, and gives merit to our own sacrifices. Further, through the merits of Jesus and Mary, the children are taught again to intercede for sinners.
Then, rising, he took the chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to me, and shared the Blood from the chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
This intention, “console your God” in the Eucharist seemed to be the distinct vocation of Francisco. He saw in the light of the angel and Our Lady how “sad” Our Lord was because of sin. After the apparitions, knowing he would soon die, he would skip school and spend many hours alone in prayer with the “hidden Jesus”.
Through these first visions of the angel, the children entered upon an intense course in the spiritual life. They were introduced into the realm of the supernatural, which led them to practice prayer and penance already to a heroic degree, and they persevered in their efforts. They grew in maturity beyond their years.
The Apparitions of Our Lady
On May 13, 1917, the children received their first vision of Mary in the Cova d’Iria. She asked them to return there every month for six months. Lucia asked if she, Jacinta and Francisco would go to heaven, and Our Lady gave them the assurance that they would, but Francisco still had “many Rosaries” to pray. This news brought them joy and encouragement in the life of sacrifice on which they had embarked.
Then Our Lady asked them, in a way almost resembling the formula of a religious vow, “Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?” They eagerly responded, “Oh, we will, we will!” Our Lady then continued, “Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.” Throughout her life Sr. Lucia regarded this moment as a sacred promise, a key moment, which would only be further developed in later apparitions. Just as with the vows of a religious, the initiative stems from God (through Our Lady, in this case) but requires the generous “yes” on the part of the soul invited. Once this “yes” is given, then God assures them that they will be sustained and strengthened by His grace in every Cross and trial, so long as they are faithful to their promise.
As they pronounced their “vow”, almost as if to show God’s acceptance of it, Our Lady opened her hands and we were bathed in a heavenly light that appeared to come directly from her hands. The light’s reality cut into our hearts and our souls, and we knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it. By an interior impulse of grace we fell to our knees, repeating in our hearts: “Oh, Holy Trinity, we adore You. My God, my God, I love You in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Our Lady then told them, “Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”
On the very night of this apparition, little Jacinta—only 7 years old!—was so filled with joy that she could not contain herself, although Lucia had warned her not to say anything. She squealed the whole story to her family. Although her father and eventually her mother, too, believed the story, it was not so in the family of Lucia. She began to suffer the distrust and contempt of her mother and sisters, along with that of many other persons in the village. Her mother often beat her to force her “to admit she had lied.”
Nevertheless, many people did believe the children and came from far and wide to hear their story. And this became another source of suffering for the children, who spoke with strangers until they dropped from exhaustion. These many people over the months also trampled the fields and cultivated lands of Lucia’s family, causing more tensions and financial setbacks in the family so that her sisters were sent out to work, and the blame was placed entirely on Lucia. Before dinner in the evening, her mother would often say,
“My God, where has all the joy of our home gone?” Then, resting her head on a little table beside her, she would burst into bitter tears. My brother and I wept with her. It was one of the saddest scenes I have ever witnessed. What with longing for my sisters, and seeing my mother so miserable, I felt my heart was just breaking. Although I was only a child, I understood perfectly the situation we were in.
But in all this suffering which came upon her and the other children, they remained faithful to their promise to accept the sufferings God would send:
Then I remembered the Angel’s words: “Above all, accept submissively the sacrifices that the Lord will send you.” At such times, I used to withdraw to… our well. There…my tears mingled with the waters below and I offered my suffering to God. Sometimes, Jacinta and Francisco would come and find me like this, in bitter grief. As my voice was choked with sobs and I couldn’t say a word, they shared my suffering to such a degree that they also wept copious tears. Then Jacinta made our offering aloud: “My God, it is as an act of reparation, and for the conversion of sinners, that we offer You all these sufferings and sacrifices.”
We see here the importance of making the conscious offering, the “gift” of our sufferings to God for the conversion of sinners, for priests, for our families, etc. This gives our sufferings, which we will have to bear on any account, value and purpose, and brings us the strength and consolation to bear them more resolutely for God’s sake! We also see the spiritual bond forming between the three young cousins, as they encourage one another in the life of virtue. This is true spiritual friendship!
In June, Mary teaches the children another prayer of reparation and intercession for sinners to be prayed between each decade of the Rosary: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need. Again and again, we see in the message of Fatima the call to intercede and sacrifice for sinners! The needs of our time are great! Entire cultures have distanced themselves from God. The call of Our Lady is a call also to each of us!
Again Our Lady promises to take them to heaven, but Lucia will have to wait a little longer, “since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart.” Lucia is dismayed that she will be left “alone”—her spiritual bond with her cousins is now even greater than the natural bond to her parents!—but Our Lady assures her, “Not alone, my child, and you must not be sad. I will be with you always, and my Immaculate Heart will be your comfort and the way which will lead you to God.” This is the great promise of Mary’s consoling presence which, as Sr. Lucia later recounts, was addressed not only to herself, but to all who enter the service of Our Lady.
The devotion to the Immaculate Heart is essential to Our Lady’s message. Cardinal Ratzinger comments, “To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat—‘Your will be done’—the defining center of one’s whole life.” In other words, to be devoted to the Heart of Mary is to strive to imitate her yes in all the trials and sufferings of this life. Mary for her part will be our protection, strength and consolation, our “way” leading us to God. If we are to embark on a way of personal conversion and expiation for sinners, we positively need this closeness and support from Our Lady! She is our Mother, not sparing us suffering and the Cross, but helping us through and teaching us how to offer this gift to God generously
In July, Mary renews her request for reparation, this time referring specifically to the offenses against her Immaculate Heart:
Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
To impress them with the urgency of this request, for one short moment she shows these small children a terrifying vision of hell. Lucia later recounts that if they had not been assured of heaven in the former months, they would have died of fright. Jacinta was particularly affected by this vision, and always had the personal preference to offer her sacrifices for the conversion of sinners so that they would not go to hell. Lucia describes her fixation on this topic:
What made the biggest impression on Jacinta was the idea of eternity. Even in the middle of a game, she would stop and ask: “But listen! Doesn’t hell end after many, many years, then?” Or again: “Those people burning in hell, don’t they ever die? And don’t they turn into ashes? And if people pray very much for sinners, won’t Our Lord get them out of there? …Poor sinners! We have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!”
Both in July and August, Our Lady repeats, “Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.” Does the thought of hell impress us still today? Do we realize the urgency of so many souls running recklessly towards this eternal destiny? Like the children, these thoughts are meant to move us out of our state of inertia, to give us hearts of compassion for so many souls being lost and inspire us to take up in earnest the call to sacrifice for souls! To work on ourselves until we are capable of saying yes to all God is asking of us. The holy angels are waiting for our firm will to get involved in the battle for souls—now more than ever!
Lastly, in every month Our Lady repeated to the children, “Pray the Rosary every day!” until she finally revealed her name in October, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Prayer and sacrifice. Only through prayer will we find the strength to live a life of generous sacrifice. This is the way to peace: “the peace of the Church, the peace of the nations, the peace of the families in the homes, the peace of the conscience in the souls. People lack peace because they lack faith, lack penance, and lack public and collective prayer” (Sr. Lucia, My Pathway, p. 247). Do we already pray one Rosary every day? Why not pray two? Do we have a long drive? Instead of listening to the radio or a music CD, how about praying a Rosary? We see and get upset about so many disorders in the Church, in politics, in the world. But what use is it, getting upset over such things? We are not in a position to influence nations from without. Prayer, on the other hand, can influence and change from within, moving hearts, beginning with our own.
As we continue to celebrate this Jubilee Year of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, we want to renew our commitment and consecration to Our Lady, to join forces with the holy angels “under the banner of Mary” in the battle for souls. When it gets hard, let us always remember the words of our Mother, “Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
Sr. Maria Basilea
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