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.