“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: