Circular Letter: Spring 1996
The Angel of Fatima (1 of 3): 80 years ago!
The Angel’s First Visit and Lesson
80 years have passed since the Angel of Fatima instructed and prepared the three little shepherds of Fatima, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, for the visit and messages of Our Lady of Fatima. The ‘success’ of Fatima has depended in a very large part upon the early intuition of the Portuguese episcopate that the story of Fatima presents us with the truths of the gospel in a simple straight-forward fashion, applying them prophetically to the present hour. Both the events and messages of Fatima are, therefore, a popular catechism of the faith. This applies in a special way to the Angel of Fatima, who may well be called the ‘first secret’ of Fatima, for Sr. Lucy kept the very knowledge of his visits a secret for some 20 years. 1
Like the Blessed Mother, the Angel appeared six times at Fatima,… the first three times when he appeared to Lucy and two other girls in 1915 he said nothing. In the course of 1916 he gave spiritual lessons to Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco. We want to reflect upon these latter, for in his three lessons the Angel offered the children a simple but remarkably profound synthesis of spiritual theology, as can be gleaned from Holy Scripture and the writings of the saints. It is of interest to us not simply for historical reason, but even more because that which the angel did in their behalf is essentially what and how the Guardian Angel seeks to influence and guide us to sanctity.
First Visit: Spring, 1916: Loca do Cabeço
Lucy and her two companions had sought shelter from the weather in the hollow of the rock on the eastern slope of the Loca do Cabeço. After lunch and their prayers — a rosary, which they sometimes ingeniously abbreviated down to the double ejaculations, “Hail, Mary”, “Holy Mary” in place of the whole prayers, in order to more quickly get down to the business of play! — they saw approaching them from the east over the little dale “a light, whiter than snow, in the form of a young man, transparent, and brighter than crystal pierced by the rays of the sun. As he drew nearer, we could distinguish his features more and more clearly. We were surprised, absorbed, and struck dumb with amazement.”
How biblical is Lucy’s description both of the angel and their own reaction. Consider the angel of the Resurrection: “an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and drawing near rolled back the stone,… His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment like snow. And for fear of him the guards were terrified” (Mt 28,2b-3). Similarly, St. John speaks of an angel whose face was bright like the sun (cf. Apoc 10,1). When the women came to the tomb and entered it, “they saw a young man sitting at the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were amazed. He said to them, ‘do not be terrified'” (Mk 16,5-6).
St. Mark tells us that they fled in trembling, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16,8). Just as the Resurrection Angel assured the women, and St. Gabriel had before reassured the prophet Daniel (cf. Dan 9,21f) and the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation, the Angel of Fatima reassured the children, “Fear Not! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” Here are three points for reflection.
1. ‘Fear not!’
Those who fear God have nothing to fear from God’s angel, although his apparition is awesome, for he is literally filled with the holiness of God, whom he reveals. So it is that Daniel the prophet “fell upon his face trembling” at the presence of St. Gabriel (Dan 8,17); but not only Daniel but many others of the prophets and saints of Scripture. For brevity’s sake be mentioned only St. John who twice fell down in worship at the foot of an angel, the latter being so bright and glorious, his words so divine, that John thought himself in the presence of our Lord Himself (Apoc 19,10; 22,9). John presents his ‘error’ precisely as a proof that guarantees the truth of his Revelations, since only the holy angel could be so one in union with our Lord! Here is a grace of divine presence and union that the devil cannot effectively reproduce, even when he comes tarnished as an “angel of light” (2 Cor 11,14). 2
The children also felt this overwhelming presence of the Divine in and through this angel: “The supernatural atmosphere which enveloped us was so intense, that we were for a long time scarcely aware of our own existence … The presence of God made itself felt so intimately and so intensely that we did not even venture to speak to one another. Next day, we were still immersed in this spiritual atmosphere.” This grace was repeated anew after the final vision of the angel with an even greater ecstasy of grace and love. She recalls: The force of the presence of God was so intense that it absorbed and almost completely annihilated us. It seemed to deprive us even of the use of our bodily senses for a considerable length of time. During those days, we performed all our exterior actions as though guided by that same supernatural being who was impelling us thereto. The peace and happiness which we felt were great, but wholly interior, for our souls were completely immersed in God.”3
Lucy also observed after the first encounter with the angel, “It did not occur to us to speak about this Apparition, nor did we think of recommending that it be kept secret, the very Apparition itself imposed secrecy. It was so intimate, that it was not easy to speak of it at all.” The reason for this is that the most proper form of angelic communication is through the light of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such that the soul receives the divine knowledge directly in the innermost part of the soul beyond the realm of words. The soul has understood things and has no words to express them; it is laborious to speak. Even though the angel did speak to the children, he additionally communicated these greater spiritual graces to them in the intimate depths of the soul.
2. ‘I am the Angel of Peace’
Pope St. Gregory taught that the names of the angels do not refer to their essence but rather to their mission and ministry which they exercise on behalf of mankind. ‘Michael’ means “Who is like GOD!?” for his mission is to teach us the humility of faith. ‘Raphael’ means the ‘medicine of God’ for he was sent to heal Tobit’s blindness and ‘cure’ Sarah of the harassment of the evil spirit. Now here we have the Angel of Peace! His mission, accordingly is to lead men to peace! It is a bit of holy irony that Fatima has brought forth the Blue Army, but insofar as its weapons are prayer and sacrifice, these souls stand right in the ranks behind this holy angel. For the peace of nations is a gift from God; peace of heart come from loving submission to God; and peace in God comes from loving union with Him.
3. ‘Pray with me!’
It is not difficult for us to see the advantages of an angel assisting us in prayer. Raphael informed Tobit, “When you prayed,… I offered your prayer to God” (Tob 12,12). When the Angel prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, the Lord answered with “good comforting words” (Zach 1,13). We can scarcely comprehend the intercessory prayer of an angel. Commenting on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the priest prays: “Command, O Lord, that this sacrifice [of the Body and Blood of Christ] be brought by the hands of Your holy angel to Your altar in heaven…”, St. Thomas attributes to the angel a singular intercessory power beyond the priest, saying, “the angel assisting at the divine mysteries presents the prayers of the priest and the people to God according to Apoc 8,4: ‘The smoke of the incense of the oblations of the saints ascends from the hand of the angel'” (Summa III.83,4,9m). And again in the same place, “the Mass (‘missa’ from the verb ‘mittere’ meaning ‘to send’) may well be so-called because the priest sends his prayers to God through the angel, even as the people send theirs through the priest.”
Still with all their power and purity, the prayers of the holy angels, considered only from the intrinsic nature of grace and nature, are evidently infinitely less than God. The angelic hymns of praise, to say nothing of man’s could never have been truly worthy of God. And then, the unthinkable happened: GOD became man, the SON became the High Priest of the good things to come. God Himself entered the lists of prayer on the side of creatures, He joined us all to Himself in His own infinitely pleasing sacrifice of praise and offered it to the Father. God chose man first, but for the sake of man, He also chose the Angels, so that He might recapitulate all things in heaven and earth in Christ (cf. Eph 1,10). It is for their love of Christ and His members in the Mystical Body, that the angels long to join us in prayer and adoration. In the Byzantine Mass they sing: “Master, Lord our God, Who have established in heaven orders and armies of angels and archangels for the liturgy of your glory, bring it about that together with our entrance, the entrance of the holy angels may be made, who celebrate the liturgy together with us and together with us sing glory to Your goodness.” And again later, “Now the heavenly powers join invisibly with us in adoration.” While in the Roman Rite, we celebrate and implore: “Through Christ the angels of heaven offer their prayer of adoration as they rejoice in your presence for ever. May our voices be one with theirs as we join in their triumphant hymn of praise, Holy, holy holy…” The prayer of the Church is only complete, when men and angels are united with Christ in the praise of the Blessed Trinity.
Prayer and the Great Commandments
What prayer does the angel teach the children at Fatima? A simple prayer of adoration and intercession: “O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You, and I beg pardon for all who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” 4 The efficacy of this prayer can be appreciated when we perceive that this prayer exercises us in the fulfillment of the two greatest commandments, in the love of God and in the love of neighbor. “Upon these two commandments depend the whole of the Law and the prophets” (Mt 22,39). As St. Paul also teaches: “The whole Law if fulfilled in one word, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as they self.” (Gal 5,14; cf. Rom 13,8. 10). Once we advert to this truth and recall that the children would pray this prayer for hours and hours, we are no longer surprised, that they made such rapid progress in virtue and holiness.
We may not all be Olympic athletes, we may not all be intellectual geniuses, but the grace of God is offered to all that they become heroic in sanctity. And all we have to do is seriously will to love. One of its easiest exercises is this prayer! “This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee. Nor is it in heaven, that thou shouldst say: ‘Which of us can go up to heaven to bring it unto us, and we may hear and fulfill it in work’. Nor is it beyond the sea [at some far away shrine] that thou mayest excuse thyself, and say: ‘Which of us can cross the sea, and bring it unto us, that we may hear, and do that which is commanded?’ But the word is very near unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it!” (Deut 30,11-14).
Now, it is not simply that the angel offers us the knowledge of a simple prayer formula for the fulfillment of these two greatest commandments, so that we can do it on our own. The angel ardently wants us to pray with him. Each of our Guardian Angels wants us to get down on our knees and pray with him. In doing so, the Lord will be able to fulfill one of His finest promises, “Wherever two or more are gathered together in My Name, I am present among them” (Mt 18,20). This prayer is so short that we could repeat it frequently like an ejaculation throughout the day, and so remain united with our angel, and walk in the presence of God.
Reverence at Prayer
That the Angel of Fatima not only knelt down, but prostrated till His forehead touched the ground is a lesson with what great reverence we ought to present our prayer, lest through rote, they be a mere lip service. The Angel instructed the child to “Pray thus. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” These words, “pray thus” practically reiterate the words Jesus used when he taught the disciples how to pray; on that occasion he gave them the “Our Father” (Mt 6,9ff). St. Augustine explained that the “Our Father” is not simply the best prayer, but it is the model of all prayers. Similarly, the angel did not intend to tie the children down to a limited formula, but taught that the love of God and neighbor must be at the heart of all prayer.
Since many are discouraged at prayer, feeling themselves so alone and abandoned, they need to hear this truth of faith, that Jesus and Mary love them, and that all goods come to us through prayer. As St. Alphonsus affirmed, the only grace that is always and everywhere offered to us is the gift of prayer, for through it we can obtain every good thing from God.
Then the angel disappeared and left the children for several months to see whether they would be faithful to the grace received and their resolution. With no one to talk to beyond themselves, with no further consoling visits of the angel, the children remained true to their purpose. As Lucy stated: The Angel’s “words engraved themselves so deeply on our minds, that we could never forget them. From then on, we used to spend long periods of time, prostrate like the Angel, repeating his words, until we fell exhausted.” They practiced heroic generosity.
The Heavenly Ascent
The following text is an extract from the life of St. Gertrude the Great, a mystic from the Middle Ages and the Abbess of an important Benedictine Monastery:
“Our Lord showed her the path by which souls ascend to heaven. It resembled a straight plank, a little inclined, so that those who ascended did so with difficulty. They were assisted and supported by hands on either side, which indicated the prayers offered for them. Those who were assisted by the angels had a great advantage, as they repelled the dragons who flew round it, endeavoring to prevent their prayers. The religious who have lived under obedience were assisted by a kind of railing, placed at each side of this plank, so that they were both supported and protected from falling. In some places these railings were removed, as a punishment to those superiors who had failed to govern their subjects by the rules of obedience. But all the souls who had been truly obedient were assisted and supported by the angels, who removed every impediment form their path.” (Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude. Rockford, Tan. 1983. p. 540-41).
Laugh or Cry
On a radio talk show one evening the topic of the angels came up for discussion. Things proceeded reasonably until an agnostic, would-be-wit heckled his problem: “You know, I just can’t get anywhere with all this talk about angels and heaven. I would just never know how to get my shirt on over my wings!”
Without the least hesitation, the host responded, “Buddy, you needn’t worry about getting a shirt on over your wings, you ought to start figuring out how you are going to get your pants on over your tail”.
St. Eugene Mazenod & the Holy Angels
Pope John Paul II recently canonized St. Eugene von Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). His life was marked by many remarkable interventions by his Guardian Angel. “This happens,” he explained, because I pray to my Guardian Angel every morning, that he protect me from all harm.”
He also attributed his success in personal relationships to his friendship with the Holy Angels. Before every undertaking, meeting, before every sermon and the hearing of confessions, you have to ask your Guardian Angel to go ahead of you. At the same time you need to call on the Guardian Angel of the other party, so that the two angels can work things out in advance for you. They smooth the way, and help resolve some of the most difficult problems.
1 How different from the host of would-be mystics that can’t tell their story quick enough.
2 Unfortunately, there are apparently 100 gullible souls who are happy to get tricked, for every one with the Divine wisdom to discern the distinction between spiritual union and phenomenological light.
3 For purposes of discernment, it is extremely important to note that their peace and happiness were ‘wholly interior’. In false visions, the enemy tries to give his saccharine version of spiritual peace and joy, but these are more superficial and are mostly linked to the soul’s own self esteem. They are not a matter of being ‘completely immersed in God.’ When on occasion the enemy tries to trick advanced souls by capitalizing on the soul’s love for God, four things do not fall together. First, there will be some disquiet or agitation in the soul. Second, the soul will find that it is being carried outside the divine will somehow with respect to time, place or circumstances. Third, rather than being immersed in God (God’s gift to the soul) the soul may perceive that its own love for God has been vehemently stimulated and is impelling the soul towards God. And fourth the customary accompanying increase in humility will be wanting, though the soul may persevere in its actual state of humility. To illustrate, the enemy once communicated wonderful insights about God to St. Ignatius of Loyola. His love, thus stimulated, he lost himself in prayer and praising. But later he reflected that this took him away from his duties and was costing him much needed sleep. Thus, he concluded that the devil was behind those insights. In a similar way the devil often tries to destroy the health of God’s friends with intemperately long night vigils.
4 One of the popular versions of this prayer uses ‘trust’ instead of ‘hope’. They are not the same. Hope is the whole; trust is a part. The theological virtue of hope and the verb ‘hope’ have God as their formal object, the infinite goodness of God which we desire as our beatitude. Trust is only a part of hope and is not directed towards the proper object of hope itself, but refers to the means. We trust in God because of His omnipotence and his bounty that He will afford us every means to achieve the object and goal of Hope. Trust is wonderful, but it is less than hope, for it is only one part of hope.
–Fr. William Wagner
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