“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.”
There is something strangely comforting about the message that the Angel of Peace and Our Lady brought to us from Heaven even though it is full of paradoxes.
The year 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children and because of that, on social media, there was a lot of attention drawn to the content of these saving messages. For me, personally, it was a wonderful reminder of how life-changing living these messages in our everyday lives can be! It confirmed so much of what I know in my heart and that God has taught me over the years but as I studied the visions and words of Our Lady and the Angel of Peace, and the Church’s official interpretation of them, my missionary zeal was renewed and increased profoundly. The main resource for this was the book “Fatima for Today – The Urgent Message of Marian Hope” by the late Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR (God rest his soul!). I had purchased it several years ago but I did not read it and it ended up sitting on my shelf collecting dust. In March of 2017, two friends of mine purchased the book for themselves and began to read it and were getting so much out of it that I decided to pick mine up and read it too. What a great decision that was!
God is so good to send Our Lady to draw us back to the truth of the saving Gospel that Jesus came to bring. We have been so “Protestant-ized” in the Church; so many life-saving and important truths have been watered down or virtually extinguished to the point that we are literally stunned when we hear the angel and Our Lady’s words calling us to personal conversion and to make reparation for sinners; to penance through redemptive suffering, prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. We have bought into a presumptuous version of “Jesus did it all” so I don’t have to do anything mentality (in actuality, Jesus did it all so that what we do does matter and has eternal value). We somehow think that all we have to do is say we are sorry and nothing else is needed; that somehow our actions don’t really matter or have any consequences because Jesus took on all of the punishment so I don’t have to.
As far as other people’s eternal salvation, “universalism” has infected all of us. “The effects of universalism on the church are catastrophic. It's not real hard to understand. People aren't dumb. If everyone is going to be saved, then why bother to go to church? If everyone is going to be saved there is no such thing as mortal sin. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need for evangelism. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need to feed the hungry, become a priest, build the church and become a saint” (Fr. Dwight Longenecker). We may not think this directly but if we were truly concerned for the eternal salvation of everyone, especially or family and friends, we would live our lives in a very different way! We would take nothing for granted. We would have a healthy “fear of the Lord.” We would gladly welcome the message of Fatima and it would make total sense to us and not be quite so shocking.
Below is a summary of the message of Fatima and how it can specifically apply to us in our bereavement:
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 continues to draw our attention to these events, we want to reflect again on the importance of her message for us today and for the purposes of this blog, especially how it relates to us in our bereavement.
Call to Prayer and Penance
Sister Lucia discloses for us Our Lady’s urgent call for penance: “If only they would live the most important thing,..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, to go deeper.
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.
I hope that this will open for us the true message of Fatima and that in our grief we will see in Our Lord's call to us, through Our Lady and the Angel, to a very important mission for the sake of others.
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:
"From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. 'Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.' Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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" (Proverbs 9:10).
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 was 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 wake-up 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 unite with Christ in His mission to save souls? Do we pray and sacrifice as much as we should, as much as we can? But most of all, as, do we realize that the offering of our suffering can be used to save souls?
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.”
What does it mean to “make of everything a sacrifice”?
Our days our filled with potential sacrifices. To start with, think of how many things happen each day that are not as we would like them to be. All of these things are an opportunity for us to make reparation for the sins that offend God and as supplication for sinners. We can offer them for our loved ones who have died in reparation for their sins that they did not have time to make amends for. Concretely, we can offer what we:
Do not like
Did not choose
As things happen throughout the day, that fall into any of these categories, we can accept them with trust in God (Divine Providence) and offer them with love. We can “offer them up.”
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. This is especially where our grief can be offered to God as a gift (sacrifice).
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 (our broken hearts & grief) 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” making reparation for those who disregarded Jesus' love in the Most Blessed Sacrament and left him alone in the tabernacle.
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 as they persevered in their efforts, they grew in maturity beyond their years.
We, too, can offer our suffering, our grief, "in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended" in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This is the way we can become Living Lamps!
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 (he was eight years old at the time). 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.
[We should see in our grief, a call - an invitation - from Our Lord to "offer ourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He has allowed in our lives in atonement for all the sins that offend Him and for the conversion of sinners beginning with ourselves." Will you give Him your "Yes"? If you do, you will begin to experience a paradoxical peace that will continue to grow and expand in your heart.]
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.”
[This is for us, too, in our grief! 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 - all who entrust or consecrate themselves and their lives to her.
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.
Let us make or renew our commitment and consecration to Our Lady, to join forces with the holy angels and all of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and Heaven (including our loved ones who have passed away) “under the banner of Mary” in the battle for souls. Let us offer the suffering our bereavement has brought upon us to Our Lady. She will bring it to Jesus and He will use it to increase the flow of grace in the world. 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.”