Circular Letter: September 1996

The Angel of Fatima (2 of 3): A Tutor in Love

The Second Apparition of the Angel

During his first visit to Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco the Angel of Portugal had taught the children how to adore God in holy reverence and to make intercession for sinners. They proved themselves to be faithful disciples of prayer, for they persevered and grew in holiness without further tangible contact with the Angel over a protracted period of time. Spiritually we may say that all saintly souls must pass through deserts of darkness and aridity in order to come to the oases of Divine grace. Resolutions that scarcely last from morning till afternoon are not the stuff saints are made of. By their fidelity the little shepherds showed themselves worthy of further help from the Angel.

This took place several months later in the height of summer. As temperatures could easily rise to the 90’s, it was customary for the shepherds to take the sheep out and graze them in the morning, returning them to their pens during the hot midday hours. So it happened that after their midday meal the children were able to retire to the well (actually a cistern) out behind Lucy’s house, where they played different games. “Suddenly, we saw the same Angel right beside us!” How different our comportment might be if we could see our Guardian Angel standing constantly at our side! How weak the eyes of our Faith are, for in truth, he is constantly at our side. And this knowledge should make a difference. Walking in the presence of God, affirms St. Alphonsus, is the foundation of the spiritual life. Now, God is present in the Angel in a special way, “My Name is in him!” The Angel’s mission is to guide us to the place God has prepared for us (Cf. Ex 23,20); to do this he must lead us into His presence.

Using Our Time Well

The Angel exclaims, “What are you doing?” not because he is unaware, but to help them realize the gulf between the spirit of the world and the spirit of faith, and how easily we squander our time (life) on frivolous things. Innocent were the children’s games; scarcely so is the TV diet with which the children of the modern world pollute their souls. If the Angel could only wake them from their TV trance with his word: “What are you doing?” The Angel not only sees what they (we) are doing, but also sees the dreadful state of the whole world, that several hundred thousands die each day. The world, at least a tragic part, is quite literally going to hell. Later the Blessed Virgin would offer the children a vision of hell, and explain: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace” (July 1917).

A Matter of Heaven and Hell

How the thought of the pains of hell and their eternity moved Jacinta’s heart to great compassion. Lucy was her ‘catechist’. Jacinta: “The Lady also said that many souls go to hell! What is hell, then?”

Little Lucy explained, “It’s like a big deep pit of wild beasts, with an enormous fire in it — that’s how my mother used to explain it to me — and that’s where people go who commit sins and don’t confess them. They stay there and burn forever!”

Jacinta: And they never get out of there again? … Not even after many years?”

Lucy: “No, hell never ends!”

Jacinta: “And heaven never ends either?”

Lucy: “Whoever goes to heaven never leaves it again.”

Jacinta: “And whoever goes to hell, never leaves it either?”

Lucy: “They’re e t e r n a l , don’t you see? They never end!”

What impressed Jacinta the most was the eternity of hell. Each soul merits an eternity of happiness and love or an eternity of pain and hatred for itself. This truth scarcely seems to impress anyone, the world is so much caught up in time. Hence, the cry of the Angel, “What are you doing?”

In the School of Prayer and Sacrifice

“What are you doing? Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High!” The Angel exhorts them to “very much prayer”. This is pedagogically important! Recall, that prayer is an expression of our love for God and neighbor. It should be our delight. We should love as much as we can, with our whole heart, with our whole mind and strength. “Very much prayer” is relative to the measure of charity in each heart. But if each prayed (loved) ‘very much’ their measure of love (prayer) would surely grow. As love (prayer) grows, so too do peace and happiness. Contrarily, given the paltry pittance of prayers so many say with no heart, it is not surprising that “the charity of many will grow cold” (Mt 24,12), nor that peace disappear from the world.

How to pray ‘Constantly’?

Similarly, he calls them to make constant offerings of prayer and sacrifice. The only way in which we can make such a constant offering is by giving this intention to our works. We can and should intend to offer everything to this end. The best form of habitual intention, of course, is a consecration. The consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had just recently been made in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII, and soon our Lord would request special devotion and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. All spiritual perfection is seminally contained in our baptismal consecration. This great potential is especially brought to fruition by the various consecrations and vows which the Church proposes to the faithful. They raise our life up to the level of a constant prayer and sacrifice.

That Jesus and Mary are solicitous of our prayers is a most consoling truth. It warms our heart when we recall that our Lord endured His passion and death for love of us. But it practically makes our heart stand still, when we comprehend that our Lord’s Passion is somehow not yet completed, … and that He calls us, in His extraordinary predilection for us, to help Him. His Cross is His glory, and He wants to share it with us. Paul understood this: “I fill up in my own flesh the sufferings that are still wanting to Christ’s Passion for His Body the Church” (Col 1,24). “Far be it from me to glory in anything save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6,14).

“How are we to make sacrifices?”

Since the Angel of Peace had already taught them how to pray, Lucy merely asks, “How are we to make sacrifices? The Angel’s response is concise and profound. “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. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.”

Here there is a triple order or priority to our actions. The first purpose of reparation is to satisfy the offense committed against God. Sin truly offends God. In the final analysis every grievous sin denies God and divinizes self. Need we say this really stinks. Pain, wrote Chesterton, is God’s gift to idealists (who philosophically think that they themselves are god, constantly creating the world in their own minds), for not even a fool would create pain for himself. Pain brings the sinner back to the recognition of God. Every lasting good depends upon the recognition that God is God and that we are His creatures. This good is achieved, at latest, in judgment after death. The pain of the damned consists essentially in this knowledge that they freely lost God forever. Reparation is an excess of love where by sacrifice and the acceptance of suffering a soul heroically acknowledges the sovereignty of God and implores the grace to move the hearts of hardened sinners.

Since sin is enmity with God, sin is clearly the cause of wars. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and Cain slew his brother Abel. The conversion of sinners, their reconciliation with God, therefore, is the first step to the reconciliation of brothers. From the words of the Angel, we can understand, that prayer alone will not bring about peace! Sacrifice and reparation are also the necessary and sufficient means for drawing peace down upon their country. Without sacrifice, prayer remains a lip service. The gift of being (existence) and our daily bread from God demands that we make a return to God from our substance. This returning to God with love is the essence of sacrifice. The failure to make returns to God is rooted in self-love and avarice, the root of all evil.

Two Kinds of Sacrifice

The Angel speaks of two kinds of sacrifice: those which we choose and those sufferings which God chooses or sends. Everything we have and do can and should be offered to God in sacrifice. Here we can develop a veritable ‘golden touch’; everything can be eternalized and put into our heavenly bank account. But what is not offered for the glory of God is lost for eternity, however much it may glisten and glow. By encouraging the children to make of everything a sacrifice, the Angel proclaims some ‘good news’, namely, sacrifices need not be painful in themselves. In heaven, three sacrifices shall continue through an eternity of happiness: the sacrifice of praise (the beginning and end of love), the sacrifice of our consecration to God (the commitment and permanence of love) and the sacrifice of thanksgiving (for the gifts and union in love). Love begins and flames up in these sacrifices; love grows strong in holocaust, in the sacrifices that cost us. Still, we should never neglect the 1000 little things that we can offer to God out of love throughout the day. We can always add the intention of reparation to these little sacrifices. It was to such sacrifices as these that the Angel promised peace for their country.

The Angel also makes it clear, that greater than any sacrifice that we can think up on our own is the sacrifice (holocaust) of our will by which we patiently submit to whatever suffering God should send us. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus explained to her sister that peace consists precisely in this, that we truly will what God wants.

Vocation: The Will of God and His Peace

I have often taught children the simple prayer, “Oh Jesus, I want what You want for me!” How quick they are to understand that Jesus loves them and has the best plan of love for their life and happiness. Thus they are eager to recognize and embrace their vocation. This readiness opens their minds and hearts to the light of their vocation. Moreover, this desire for their God-given vocation brings them interior peace. It is in submitting to the divine will that we find interior peace and the strength to bear the crosses that the Lord may send us in our life’s mission.

The Angel distinguished two important moments: first, to consciously accept the suffering from God (many souls leap over this step and fall), and secondly, to bear it with patience. Practically speaking, our patience will be in proportion to our conscious awareness and acceptance that this suffering is sent to us by our God who loves us. The moment the devil succeeds in plunging a soul into the tunnel vision of seeing its own sufferings as the ‘fault’ of others, its loving patience begins to vanish like the morning mist.

Love is Inseparable from Sacrifice

The spiritual fecundity of this lesson about the importance of sacrifice is unsealed for us is Lucy’s reflection: “These words [of the Angel] were indelibly impressed upon our minds. They were like a light which made us understand who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, the value of sacrifice, how pleasing it is to Him and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners. It was for this reason that we began, from then on, to offer to the Lord all that mortified us, without, however, seeking out other forms of mortification, except that we remained for hours on end with our foreheads touching the ground, repeating the prayer the Angel had taught us.”

Seven Fruits from Sacrifice

The Angel’s words about sacrifice were a light that helped produce seven holy effects in the shepherd children. The doctrine about sacrifice, when it is received deeply in the soul with love, helps the soul understand, first, who God is, because “God is love”. Without experiencing the goodness and effusiveness of love by actually giving ourselves in sacrifice, we could never really understand love. The whole selfish world wants to receive love, but does not understand love, because love can only be understood in giving, in sacrifice!

God’s grace secretly solicits and enables us to love and give ourselves to him. According to the measure of our heart’s response, we can receive God into our souls. Hence, only those who begin to ardently love God experience and understand, secondly, how ardently God loves us and, thirdly, how much He wants to be loved by us in return. A saintly soul, quite overwhelmed by the love of God, asked her spiritual director, “How can God love me so much?” He could only reply, that God’s love is infinite because God is infinite love. And beyond all other lovers He is utterly free in the choice of His love, for He loves to give, He loves in order to give. To those whom He loves, He gives as much as He can, so that He can love them more and more. “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they pour into your lap. For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you” (Lk 6,38).

The soul then understands that growth in love is a spiritual pilgrimage that demands both the left foot of prayer and the right foot of sacrifice. How many souls try to comply with the Blessed Mother’s request for prayer, but they grow very little. Their knowledge of God is scarcely a dim light, to say nothing of being a flaming column of love. This comes from the fact that they almost only pray without putting in a comparable measure of sacrifice. It is as if they have their right foot of sacrifice nailed to the floor, and so they spend their whole life walking around in circles and do not advance as they ought in the love of God and neighbor. But the soul who has begun to march forward, even with little steps, upon the path of prayer and sacrifice up to the heart of God quickly discovers the great value of sacrifice. And this is the fourth light.

Through their subsequent experiences of intercession and sacrifice the children had many occasions to see the fruits in the conversion of sinners, but this is the beauty of the light which the Angel communicates in the power of the Holy Spirit, that this knowledge is immediately infused — Lucy said ‘indelibly impressed’ — into the mind with such clarity that they see their truth, in God as it were. They saw, in the fifth and sixth place, how pleasing sacrifice is to GOD, and they saw clearly that sacrifice would bring about the conversion of sinners. Although, we ought to ‘know’ this from the redemptive death of Christ — “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it up again” (Jn 10,17) — such speculative knowledge also needs to penetrate to the heart in order to form our deepest convictions.

Only when the ‘truth’ of our mind becomes the ‘good’ of our will does our faith issue forth in great acts of love. The Angel communicated that loving light and grace to the children, and they responded in the seventh place with an indefatigable zeal for prayers and sacrifice: “we began, from then on, to offer to the Lord all that mortified us,… we remained for hours on end with our foreheads touching the ground, repeating the prayer the Angel had taught us.”

Lucy describes many of the sacrifices that they undertook for the sake of the conversion of sinners. They habitually gave their lunch away to some poor children in the neighborhood. In lieu of their normal meal they gathered and ate acorns and wild onions. Often, even in the terrible heat of summer, they would go throughout the day without taking a drink of water. On their own they ‘invented’ the penitential belt to cause them pain and discomfort so that they might have something to offer to God and the Blessed Mother for the sake of sinners.

They had become truly insatiable in their thirst to satiate our Lord’s thirst for the salvation of sinners. In this we see the true heroism of Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco, against which our modest mortifications pale. In all their undertakings, the Angel invisibly stood by and helped them. What Lucy said of a specific period we may understand in a general sense of the angelic help in our lives: “During those days, we performed all our exterior actions as though guided by that same supernatural being [Angel] who was impelling us thereto.”

The Angel’s help is always offered, but we must show ourselves worthy of it by a holy zeal in the things of God. Then the words of St. Ignatius will be realized in our interior life: “In the case of those individuals who go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise in the service of God to greater perfection,… it is characteristic of the good spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and peace. He gives ease of action and removes all obstacles, so that the soul advances in doing good” (Spiritual Exercises, § 315). To be continued.

–Fr. William Wagner


The Guardian Angel: A Friend in Deed!

Fr. Karl had been a missionary in China in the old days before the communist regime, indeed, at the transition. Initially, in order not to provoke world opinion the Red Guard left foreign missionaries relatively in peace. So it was that Fr. Karl could make his Sunday rounds as usual. He had a motor cycle, and so together with his sacristan they went from one mission station to another celebrating mass.

On one occasion, while he was folding vestments after mass, a voice addressed him in his native German, “Habe keine Sorge, alles wird gut gehen!” (“Have no fear, all will go well!”). More astonished at the language than over the message, Fr. Karl asked the group of Chinese peasants standing nearby, which of them knew how to speak German so well. No one knew anything of German, nor had any of them spoken to him.

Fr. Karl let the matter pass, but the Red Guard did not. The hour had come to execute the foreign missionary. Lest it cause an uproar in the village, the death squad of about a dozen men positioned themselves about a mile beyond the village, where the road made a hairpin turn, and where accordingly Fr. Karl would have to slow down as he passed by, on his way to the next village.

The rendezvous with death was set, the hour came. As Fr. Karl slowed down entering the curve, the riflemen rose and fired at 75 feet. The first volley blew the motor cycle from beneath them. Miraculously neither Fr. Karl nor his sacristan were wounded. By chance there was a boulder beside the road where they could shelter themselves. Convinced that it was all a big mistake, Fr. Karl rose three times to explain; an answering volley of rifle fire overruled him.

Seeing how brave Fr. Karl was, and thinking he could never show his face again if he didn’t show equal valor, the sacristan then made a similar three efforts at explanatory speech. The crack of the rifles was more eloquent, but certainly not more to the point. For finally, when the death squad approached and captured the two, they were utterly overwhelmed to verify that after 7 volleys they had scored a hit on neither of the two missionaries. So evident was the divine intervention, that they bade the two to continue on their way, which they did on foot, for the motorcycle was indeed a fatality that could not be revived.

Ever since, Fr. Karl has fostered an even deeper friendship with his Guardian Angel, whose voice it was, he then recognized, that had assured him, “Have no fear, all will go well!”

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