Originally posted as three seperate blogs in 2010, this year's version of "God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima" is combined into one post with additional subtitles.
"It was a lady dressed all in white more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water pierced by the burning rays of the sun."
-Lucia, Oldest seer of Marian apparitions
"Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies."
-Jacinta, Youngest seer of Marian apparitions
A World Turned Away from God:
In 1917, when our Lady paid three children a visit in Fatima, Portugal, she brought eternity with her. Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to experience, in a profound way, heaven and hell. The children’s foretaste of heaven and the glimpse of hell has a great deal of historical significance, considering that Western Civilization had already begun to close in on itself. Indeed, modern man had ceased to see his life within the backdrop of eternity. In part, this was due to great technological achievements and its consequent prosperity. Of course, when conditions are comfortable it is harder to see life as a pilgrimage to heaven.
The Encyclical of 1917:
Just one month after Our Lady appeared in Fatima on May 13th, 1917 Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical entitled, On the Preaching the Word. In this encyclical he made the following observation: If people honestly considered “the state of public and private morals, the constitutions and laws of nations, we shall find that there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back more and more into the shameful practices of paganism.” Indeed, in 1917 there was a lot of soul searching among Christians and Westerners. After all, World War I was still raging and the Russian Revolution was just getting underway.
What led up to this new chapter in world history? For one, Christian civilization had gradually been chipped away over four centuries. The Protestant Reformation in 1517, the French Revolution in 1789, and the revolt of many European States against the Catholic Church, i.e. the annexation of the Papal States (territory belonging to the Holy See) by Italian nationalism, were just a few historic turning points in which the Western world declared its independence from God. This movement away from the Christian religion then culminated in the twentieth-century with World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the Holocaust, and the Sexual Revolution.
Pope to Catholics: Do Examination of Conscience
At the onset of these unfortunate events in the twentieth-century, we find Pope Benedict XV, in so many words, asking Catholics to do an examination of conscience. He proposed the following question to them in his encyclical: “Has the Word of God then ceased to be what it was described by the Apostle, living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword? Has long-continued use blunted the edge of that sword?” He then answers his own question: “If that weapon does not everywhere produce its effect, the blame certainly must be laid on those ministers of the Gospel who do not handle it as they should. For no one can maintain that the Apostles were living in better times than ours, that they found minds more readily disposed towards the Gospel or that they met with less opposition to the law of God.”
Therefore, with regard to the ever increasing movement of mankind away from God and the world revolutions which followed, the blame- at least in part -must be attributed to the dereliction of Catholics. What were twentieth-century Catholics lacking as compared to their spiritual ancestors of the early Church? Why did they not, up to this point, enjoy the same success of converting the world to Christ like the early Fathers of the Church? This is where Our Lady of Fatima comes in. Her appearance to three Portuguese children in Fatima gives a profound and yet subtle answer to these questions.
Revolution of 1910: Years Leading Up to Apparitions
In 1910, Portugal had undergone its own revolution which resulted in the persecution of the Catholic Church. Churches, convents and monasteries were shut down; priests and the religious were arrested. The following year, the persecutions came to a peak with the law of Separation of Church and State. The author of these anti-religious laws, Alfonso Costa, said: "Thanks to this law of separation, in two generations Catholicism will be completely eliminated in Portugal." By 1917 the Portuguese people were well acquainted with a government unfriendly to religious freedom. It was within this local milieu, not unrelated to the international crisis -that Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the three Portuguese children.
Fatima Message: Atheism and Materialism:
In visiting Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, the Mother of God impressed upon these three souls that the world was closing itself off to eternity! The message that the Blessed Virgin had come to deliver was one which linked the breakdown of faith and prayer with the two World Wars, the spread of Communism and the afflictions the popes would have to endure. Indeed, the widespread failure of people to aspire towards heaven as their permanent home, the most noble incentive to live a holy life, gave rise to wars, genocides and dictatorships of the twentieth century. In a word, without the daily meditation and the anticipation of eternity, the proper perspective of life is lost and the material things of this world become the reality people live for. Pope Pius XI would go on to say five years after the apparitions that "...worldly possessions can never satisfy all in equal manner nor give rise to a spirit of universal contentment, but must become perforce a source of division among men and of vexation of spirit."
The Letter of Lucia:
It is important to keep in mind that the decline of prayer and neglecting "to seek what is above" would later be the plague of religious orders. Indeed, spiritual apathy would not only be a problem exclusively attributed to the world, but it also found its way in the Church. Lucia would later write a letter to her nephew, Fr. Valinhoin in 1971. In the letter she said, "I am convinced 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." "It is indeed sad," she continued, "that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is sweeping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error. But their principal error is that they have abandoned prayer."
Lack of prayer enfeebles the soul and weakens life's foundation. As such, when the cultural revolution of the 1960's rocked the Catholic Church, the vocation of many priests and consecrated men and women in religious orders simply collapsed.
More Important Than the Sun:
Our Lady of Fatima, in her series of six apparitions from May 13th through October 13th of 1917, spoke to this plight the world found itself in. To be sure, in profound and yet subtle ways, she used the three poor children of Fatima to teach a world-gone-wrong that life takes on the greatest value when seen in light of eternity.
When considering the series of events at Fatima, there can be a temptation to focus on October 13th, the day 75,000 plus people witnessed the sun spin and dance. There is a lot to be said for that supernatural phenomenon. However, what is even more worthy of our attention, and more relevant to Catholics in the twenty-first century, is what happened to the souls of Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco during that six month period.
The spiritual direction Our Lady of Fatima gave to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco and the affect it had on their souls speaks to the heart of the Gospel. It also explains why the Church of the early centuries were able to set the world a blaze and why today's world had grown cold to God. Indeed, just when Pope Benedict XV was asking his questions about why the world had fallen away from the Catholic Faith, Our Lady was answering them.
If Catholics of this century can take in and grasp what the Mother of Jesus Christ communicated to three children in the last century, then the Church can have the life-giving influence she once enjoyed over civilizations.
Heaven Accompanies the Blessed Virgin:
Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, the three young seers of the Marian apparitions at Fatima in 1917, were introduced to the very depths of Christianity and to the heart of the Gospel. The Mother of God, who spent countless hours on earth in conversation with her divine Son, and who continues to commune with her Son in eternity, formed these three young souls with the most favorable spiritual direction any Christian could receive. The love of God and the expectancy of heaven was so deeply impressed upon their souls that all three children lost their natural fear of death.
In coming in contact with the Blessed Virgin, the children encountered the very presence of God in a profound way. And during their experience of the Divine Presence, they were able to see themselves in a new light. Lucia, the oldest of the children, reported that in one appearance the Lady opened her hands and shed upon the children a highly intense light. “This light penetrated us to the heart and its very recesses, and allowed us to see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in a mirror…” Just as Mary mediated the Holy Spirit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth upon her greeting at Zacharias’ house, in Fatima, she similarly mediated the presence of God, as in a ray of light, through her hands. Lucia would go on to describe, as best she could, the utter beauty of this Visitor from heaven: “It was a lady dressed all in white more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”
It is important to note that with our Lady’s appearance, the three children experienced heaven. Jacinta, the youngest of the three, excitedly told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” It is under reported, to be sure, that after each visit with the Madonna they were supremely happy. This explains why Lucia asked Mary to take them to heaven; not later, but immediately. It also explains why, for them, a short life on earth was a blessing. Their detachment from earthly things was complete. Their thoughts were no longer preoccupied with what was below but instead they sought what was above. No sacrifice was too much, no suffering too unbearable, knowing that heaven awaited them.
Sacrifice, Reparation and Death in a New Light:
In 1916, an Angel of Lord appeared to the three children to prepare them for what would ensue the following year. He asked them to “Offer up everything within your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended; and of the supplication for the conversion of sinners…Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings that the Lord may send you.” The Blessed Virgin repeated this request several months later when she asked, “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?” Lucia answered for the other two by saying, “Yes, we want to.” After which, Our Lady said, “Then you are going to suffer a great deal but the grace of God will be your comfort.” Soon after, in the month of July in 1917, Our Lady of Fatima showed them the fires of hell where countless souls descend. According to Lucia, demons and reprobate souls were engulfed in the torment of despair. They were deeply moved by this vision; it gave them a fresh determination to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord.
The three children would have to bear a heavy cross in the months that followed. Francisco and Jacinta, just two to three years after the apparitions, died at a young age. Poor little Jacinta even died alone in the hospital; this, she did for the conversion of sinners. Indeed, the heavenly-mindedness of all three children and their memory of hell inspired a great love for people and their willingness to suffer for them. They valued inconveniences, sufferings and contradictions as opportunities to make reparation for sinners. As St. Peter wrote, “whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin” and then adding, “love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:1,8) Their early death, as sad it was for loved ones and unfortunate as it appeared to the world, speaks volumes about what God wants us to know about this life and the life to come. Indeed, the passing nature of this earthly life of ours and the enduring reality of heaven and hell is at the heart of the Fatima message.
Our Lady's message to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco was God's answer to the question Pope Benedict XV asked in 1917 regarding the effectiveness of Catholic witness. To be sure, the eager anticipation of heaven, making reparation for sinners and seeking the Blessed Virgin's spiritual guidance is God's answer to the "diabolical wave" (as Sr.Lucia would write in 1971) of world revolution, atheism and war.