Our Lady came to Fatima to begin the formation of her “A Team” – a team of new “missionary disciples” who would be bright lights in a time of darkness, and by living an authentically Catholic life, would mission to people who had received a perverted form of the Catholic Faith through Modernism; disciples who would allow Jesus' victory over the Strongman to be fully effective in their lives. She knew it wouldn’t be easy for them because Hedonism – a direct consequence of Modernism – has infected everyone. The antidote is to respond to her urgent call to prayer, penance and reparation.
There is something strangely comforting about the message that the Angel of Peace and Our Lady brought to us from Heaven even though, at least according to our modern sensibilities, it is full of anomalies; truths of the Faith that seem to be in opposition to what we would like to believe about God and our salvation; truths that even seem to contradict each other. For example, how can God be both just and merciful? Are we saved by God’s action or our action? Is suffering an experience of evil or is it a blessing?
The simple answer to each of these questions is both. Catholic truths are often found in the rather uncomfortable coming together of opposites. They are paradoxes—divine riddles, if you will, that are ultimately shrouded in mystery. Thus a paradox is not illogical or irrational, but rather, a paradox is so “big” that it is hard to wrap one’s mind around it all at once. It is “both/and,” not “either/or.”
“Catholicism consistently celebrates the coming together of contraries, not in the manner of a bland compromise, but rather in such a way that the full energy of the opposing elements remains in place” (Bishop Robert Barron).
Think of it as tension. Normally we consider tension to be a negative thing. We do not like it. We try to avoid tension in our interactions with others but tension often serves very good purposes. For example, tension holds the two poles of a volleyball net in such a way that the net is straight and very tight. If you let go of one of the poles, the net falls down and you don’t have a straight net anymore. So it is with paradox: two seemingly contradictory things tug at one another. In the tension between them lies the truth. The tension makes it work without compromising the integrity of either. If you resolve the tension in favor of one pole or another, you lose the paradox and the truth with it. This results in heresy - a one-sided choice. Heresy chooses one side of the paradox to the neglect of the other. For the paradoxical truth to endure, the tension must remain.
To respect paradox is to respect mystery. The desire to reduce the tension between God’s Justice and His Mercy or between the necessity of God’s action and our action in the work of our salvation has led many people in the Church, unintentionally or intentionally, to promote heresy, favoring one side of the paradox over the other. The frustration with these paradoxes and the attempts to “solve” them characterize the extremes we see in the Church today. Some eliminate God’s Justice in favor of his mercy. Others eliminate mercy in favor of justice. Some favor God’s action to the total neglect of our action and others favor our action to the neglect of God’s. But whichever direction they may have favored, their fundamental error is always the same: eliminating the tension…and losing the truth. Another way to say this is that they have “watered down the truth.” This is the Protestant Revolution in a nutshell.
The orthodox (right thinking) teachers of the faith celebrate the tensions. They don’t try to relax them. They revel in them and reveling in them is what makes them penetrate them more deeply.
Keeping the seemingly opposite truths in dynamic tension is, I believe, the key to understanding what an incredible gift the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima are for us today especially in light of so much doctrinal confusion.
God is so good to send Our Lady and the Angel of Peace to draw us back to the full truth – the orthodox understanding 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 (relaxed on one side of the paradox) 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 hell-bound sinners; to penance through redemptive suffering, prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. We have bought into a wishful thinking and presumptuous version of “Jesus did it all” so I don’t have to do anything mentality (in actuality, one of the reasons that Jesus did what He did is so that what we do does matter and has eternal value). We somehow think that, when we miss the mark, all we have to do is confess our sins and nothing else is needed; that somehow our actions really don’t matter or have any consequences because Jesus took on all of the punishment for us so “producing fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8) is not necessary.
As far as other people’s eternal salvation, “universalism” has infected all of us. “The effects of universalism on the church are catastrophic. It isn’t very hard to understand. People are not stupid. 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). If everyone is saved there is no need to do penance or make reparation for sin. These things might be “nice” to do but they are not necessary. We may not think this directly (because hedonism is influencing all of us subconsciously) but if we were truly concerned for the eternal salvation of everyone, especially our 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” (Proverbs 9:10). We would gladly welcome the message of Fatima and it would make total sense to us and not be quite so shocking.
Mary’s A Team
Although the Angel of Peace and Our Lady’s messages were for everyone, believers and nonbelievers, it seems that her message was primarily intended to reach more deeply into the hearts of those who already believed and were living somewhat virtuous lives. It was a call to advance in sacrificial love through reparation, expiation, prayer and penance. She came to faithful Catholics to increase their capacity to be filled with God’s love in order to cooperate with her to save so many lost souls.
We know this because, Our Lady and the Angel of Peace appeared to three simple children from faithful Catholic families, to invite them to be instruments of God’s mercy for souls blinded by sin. These children were chosen because she knew they had been raised to be generous and had hearts full of compassion, the very foundation needed to grow into mature instruments (reservoirs) of God’s saving grace. Our Lady and the Angel of Fatima met these children in the ordinary circumstances of their everyday lives and helped them to gradually progress in the love of God until they reached the point of heroic virtue and sacrificial love.
Our Lady came to Fatima to begin the formation of her “A Team” – a team of new “missionary disciples” who would be bright lights in a time of darkness, and by living an authentically Catholic life, would mission to people who had received a perverted form of the Catholic Faith through Modernism; disciples who would allow Jesus' victory over the Strongman to be fully effective in their lives.
Urgent Call to Prayer and Penance
She knew it wouldn’t be easy for us because Hedonism – a direct consequence of Modernism – has infected all of us. The antidote is to respond to her urgent call to prayer, penance and reparation.
The invitation to prayer, penance and reparation is at the heart of the message of Fatima and it holds at least three Catholic paradoxes in dynamic tension: 1. God is both just and merciful. 2. Both His action and our action are necessary in the salvation of souls and 3. Suffering can be both, an experience of evil, and a gift.
In Our Lady’s pleas we see this. She is warning us that we will experience God’s Justice if we do not take advantage of this time of Mercy and that, united to Christ, our prayers and acts of penance and reparation, especially our suffering patiently endured can truly bring about the salvation of souls. For example:
“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” (Our Lady of Fatima to the three children, August 1917).
In her last public interview, Sr. Lucia told Fr. Augustin Fuentes, vice-postulator of the cause of beatification for Francisco and Jacinta. “Father, the Most Holy Virgin is very sad because no one has paid any attention to her message, neither the good nor the bad. The good continue on their way but without giving any importance to her message. The bad, not seeing the punishment of God actually falling upon them, continue their life of sin without even caring about the message. But believe me, Father, God will chastise the world and this will be in a terrible manner… It will be very sad for everyone, and far from a happy thing if the world does not pray and do penance before then.”
In her memoirs also, Sr. Lucia lamented those who were neglecting Our Lady’s urgent call for prayer and penance and getting distracted by less important aspects of her message: “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).
Request of Our Lady of Fatima (from the World Apostolate of Fatima): "Daily offer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the sacrifices demanded by the duties required of your state in life, as well as whatever hardships and difficulties God permits in your life, in reparation for sin and for the conversion of sinners." In other words, “offer it up.” Sister Lucia considered the living out of this disposition the most fundamental and important everyday response to Fatima."
This is the way we share in the priesthood of Christ and how we live the Mass in our everyday lives. It is our humble liturgy taken up into the Great Liturgy of Christ. The early Church knew this and they centered their lives around this understanding. Thus, they were able to make their whole lives into a sacrificial offering in, with and through Christ to the glory of the Father for their salvation and the salvation of souls.
Before Our Lady appeared to the children, the Angel of Peace asked them to do this as well. On his second visit the Angel told the children:
“Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.”
Lucia, trying to understand how to obey the angel, 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.”
What does it mean to “make of everything a sacrifice”?
Our days our filled with potential sacrifices. To start with, you can offer your daily duties according to your state in life (e.g. married, single, student, job, family, etc.), especially the ones you do not enjoy. Do them with all the love, devotion, professionalism and diligence that you are capable and offer them to God as a prayer of reparation for sinners.
After that you can add self-imposed penances like getting up early to pray, not eating sweets, or going without cream in your coffee.
This teaching is key to living a life of sacrificial readiness for God and souls. We are called to make everything we experience an offering to God, whether it is something we enjoy, a self-imposed penance or something we must endure: all these things can be transformed through love and elevated into a gift to God for the redemption of souls.
To increase the merit of the children’s offering the Angel added:
“Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
These are the penances that can be the most difficult to offer as a gift, but, for that very reason, have the most value and merit. In offering back to God the sufferings that He sends, those things which are so contrary to our desires, things we could or would never choose for ourselves, we avoid the temptations of self-complacency, self-will or pride in doing self-imposed penance only.
Think of how many things that happen each day that are not as we would like them to be. All of these things are a gift from God, an opportunity for us to make reparation for the sins that offend God and as supplication for sinners. We can also offer them as indulgences for our loved ones who have died in reparation for the sins that they did not have time to make amends for. Concretely, we can offer what we:
• Do not like (sickness, disappointment, loneliness, difficult relationships, etc.)
• Did not choose (busted pipes, traffic, heavy workload, rejection, etc.)
• Cannot change (bad weather, fatigue, lack of appreciation, grief, etc.)
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.”
Sr. Lucia writes,
"These words [of the angel] 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…”
It’s a Win/Win
This is not only good for others. Like a good mother, Our Lady is helping us to be made ready for heaven. By making our lives an offering for others, we are growing in our capacity to love while simultaneously being purified from the temporal effects of our own sins. To top it all off, our potential for glory in heaven is also increasing.
“All of these acts of love not only help others, they purify us from the temporal consequences of our sins and increase our merit and rewards in heaven. This is the teaching of the saints. They were so joyful in the midst of much suffering because they figured out the answer to the riddle (the paradox) of why God allows his children, especially his holy ones, to suffer so much? They learned that every cross that Christ sends us is a kiss from His cross. It doesn’t look like it when it comes; it looks horrible and ugly, like His did; but the mystery behind the visible reality, behind all the suffering, is that He is teaching us to love like He loves” (Dr. Brant Pitre). Through our crosses, he is cutting out all of the garbage that blocks his love from filling us to overflowing and He is perfecting us.
In conclusion, let us celebrate the paradoxes present in the Fatima message, revel in them and by reveling in them, penetrate them in a deeper way for our own good and the good of others.
If we do this it will open for us the true message of Fatima and in our ordinary lives full of difficulties and opportunities for sacrifice, we will see Our Lord's call to us, through Our Lady and the Angel, to a very important mission for the sake of others. We will thus allow Jesus' victory over the "Strongman" to be fully effective in our lives!