The Letter of ’71: Abridged and revised (For new Sky View readers)
According to Archbishop Charles Chaput in Render Unto Caesar, in 1970 Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, asserted that the fallout of the Sexual Revolution was nothing that we have seen before. And in response to the precipitous decline in priestly and religious vocations he said that “the city of man is beginning to strike terror in our heart…the Church is becoming extinguished in men’s souls and Christian communities are crumbling.”
Approximately a year later, in 1971, Sister Lucia, one of three seers of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, wrote a letter to her nephew, Valinho, who was a Catholic priest. It could be argued that this letter was one of the most important letters written in the twentieth century. Contained in this letter was her diagnosis as to why “the Church is becoming extinguished in men’s souls.”
To begin with, Father Valinho was equally distressed over the turmoil and the disorientation of the late sixties and early seventies. His concern was validated by Sister Lucia when she wrote, “It is indeed sad that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is enveloping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error.” To be sure, this “diabolical wave” had been boiling underneath the surface for several decades
Leading up to the early 1960’s, the Catholic Church had every reason to be optimistic about her future. Indeed, during the forties and fifties vocations and church attendance were on the rise. In addition, Church membership in America had nearly doubled in size. However, what Catholics did not see coming- including many of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council when it opened in 1962 -was that the Culture of Death would overflow from the concentration camps of the Third Reich and the gulags of the Soviet Union to the youth, entertainment industry and universities in the West. The spirit of anti-Catholicism was far from dead.
It would seem that this came as no surprise to Sister Lucia. With regard to the abrupt surge of secularism in the world she said, “…the principal error is that they have abandoned prayer.” But it is not only the world that had abandoned prayer. She indicated that the trend was also in the Church. “I am convinced,” Lucia said, “that the principal cause of evil in the world and the falling away of so many consecrated souls is the lack of union with God in prayer. The devil is very smart and watches for our weak points so he can attack us. If we are not careful and attentive in obtaining the strength from God we will fall, because our times are very bad and we are weak.” Quite often we forget that the Church is the Mother of humanity; and what a mother does, children also do. With this, the devil exploited the spiritual neglect of Catholics to great effect.
Sister Lucia reminds Fr. Valinho that when people turn away from God in prayer “everything is lacking to them.” Christ reminds us that we can do nothing without him. This is why, according to the Fatima seer, we must draw close to the Tabernacle and pray fervently.
She said there are two practical advantages of prayer: First, we receive “more light, more strength, more grace and virtue than you could ever achieve by reading many books, or by great studies.” And second, Sr. Lucia told her nephew that “you will accomplish a lot in a short period of time.” The lesson she learned from Our Lady of Fatima was that we should “let time be lacking for everything else but never for prayer!” Psalm 127 says it best: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build."
Sr. Lucia said that especially for those in spiritual authority they need “to keep close to God and to tell Him about all their affairs and all their problems before they discuss them with human beings.” That’s right! Treat God as a best friend- the most important person in your life –by consulting with Him before seeking the counsel of anyone else.
Perhaps in colleges and seminaries too much emphasis was placed on scholarly books rather than holiness as a source of knowledge; or in parishes, perhaps too much was made of meetings and planning and not enough on spiritual exercises; or among the clergy, maybe their administrative function was given more importance than preaching the Gospel and forming souls. This could be why Sr. Lucia cautioned Fr. Valinho that a Christian without prayer is like a “hollow and split reed.” Indeed, in the absence of robust spiritual activity ministry is just another process and mission gets bogged down with planning.
With that said the letter does conclude with a positive and affirming note: “See that you take everything with calmness and with great confidence in God. He will do for us what we cannot do ourselves. He will supply for our insufficiencies.”
What can be said for the individual can also be said for the Church. Whatever insufficiencies we have as a collective body of believers, God can make up the difference. But he can only do what we cannot do for ourselves if we regularly turn to him in prayer. As such, in a short time, the Lord is sure to compensate for what has been lost in the last fifty years.