On May 13, 2017, in Fatima, Portugal, 100 years to the day after the first Apparition of the Virgin Mary to three young shepherds, Pope Francis presided a Mass, before some 500,000 faithful for the canonisation of two of the three young seers, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who died at age 9 and 10, thus becoming the youngest non-martyred saints of the Church. They were first beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on May 13, 2000, also at Fatima.
Of all the Marian Apparitions throughout history, Fatima is no doubt the most noteworthy, with its message that remains relevant and needed: As a good Mother who worries about Her children’s salvation, Mary reminds us of the existence of hell, and gives us the means by which to avoid it, and to obtain peace in the world: conversion, penance, the recitation of the daily Rosary, and the consecration to Her Immaculate Heart.
Pope St. John Paul II visited Fatima on three different occasions, in 1982, 1991, and 2000. During his first visit, on May 13, 1982, he explained in his homily why the message of Fatima is so important for the Church and all mankind:
“If the Church has accepted the message of Fatima, it is above all because that message contains a truth and a call whose basic content is the truth and the call of the Gospel itself. ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’ (Mk 1:15): these are the first words that the Messiah addressed to humanity. The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel... Can the Mother, who, with all the force of the love that She fosters in the Holy Spirit, desires everyone’s salvation, keep silence on what undermines the very bases of their salvation ? No, She cannot !”
Following is a biography of these two new saints, taken from the monthly letters of December, 2000 and August, 2006, of the Abbey Saint Joseph of Clairval which, while giving an account of the Apparitions, will show to what heroic degree these two young children lived and practiced the demands of God’s Mother, thus becoming models to be imitated not only by other children, but by people of all ages around the world.
Francisco Marto was born on June 11, 1908; his sister Jacinta on March 10, 1910. Their cousin Lucia, who saw the Blessed Virgin with them, was born on March 22, 1907. All three came from a hamlet named Aljustrel, close to Fatima, in central Portugal. The Marto household exuded a Christian ambiance, founded on a solid, natural integrity. Love of truth — one could not lie—was a fundamental rule carefully respected. Love of purity was another distinctive family trait. Entertainment, words, attitudes — all of them were honest, gentle, and pure. Christian piety and prayer, attendance at Sunday Mass, and the reception of the sacraments were regular.
The peasants in Aljustrel scraped an existence from the resources of their rocky earth and their sheep. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta customarily gathered their herds to graze them together, and they organized games that did not prevent them from keeping watch. One spring day in 1916, an Angel appeared to them. Bending his forehead to the ground, he repeated three times: “O My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon for all those who do not believe, who do not adore, who do not hope, who do not love You!” During a second Apparition that summer, the Angel recommended them to offer to God “prayers and sacrifices.” He returned in September, bearing a chalice over which a Host hovered; from the Host, drops of blood flowed. The Angel kneeled with the children and had them repeat three times: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages by which He is Himself offended. Through the infinite merits of His Sacred Heart and through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”
|The three seers of Fatima: Lucia Dos Santos, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. On June 13, 1917, Lucia had asked the Blessed Virgin to take all three of them to Paradise. “Yes,” Mary replied. “As for Jacinta and Francisco, I will take them shortly. But you will remain here a little while longer...” Lucia will join them in Paradise more than 85 years later, on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97.
On May 13, 1917, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta had led their sheep to a place called Cova da Iria. It was noon, and the sky was clear. Suddenly, a flash of lightning crossed the skies. Believing that a storm was coming, the children pressed the herd towards the base of the narrow valley. Standing before them was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, completely illuminated, wearing a long white robe and a veil which extended to her feet, which were resting on an airy cloud that brushed against a little green oak. She appeared to be about eighteen years old. Lucia asked her, “Where do you come from, Ma’am?” — “I come from Heaven.” — “And what do you want of us?” — “I come to ask you to return here six times in succession, at this same time, the 13th of each month. Afterwards, I will tell you who I am and what I want of you.” — “You come from Heaven!… And will I go to Heaven?” — “Yes, you will.” — “And Jacinta?” — “She will, too.” — “ And Francisco?” — “So will he, but he will first have many Rosaries to say...”
The Blessed Virgin’s first lesson at Fatima was the reminder of the reality of Heaven. God has placed us in the world to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, and thus to attain Paradise. Those who die in the grace and friendship of God, and who are perfectly purified, enter into Heaven, where they are forever like God, for they see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2), face to face (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). This perfect life of communion and love with the Most Blessed Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and the saints, all owing to God’s free gift, is the ultimate end and the realization of man’s most profound aspirations, the supreme and definitive state of happiness. God, in effect, has placed in the heart of man the desire for happiness so as to draw him towards Himself. The hope of Heaven teaches us that true happiness does not reside in riches or well-being, nor in human glory or power, nor in any other human creation, as useful as it might be, such as the sciences, technology, and the arts, nor in any creature whatsoever, but in God alone, source of all good and all love. “God alone satisfies,” said Saint Thomas Aquinas.
After having strengthened the children with this inestimable promise of Heaven, the Lady introduced them to the mystery of the Redemption, which, with exquisite gentleness, She asked them to associate themselves with. “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to make sacrifices and gladly accept all the sufferings that He wishes to send you in reparation for the sins that offend His Divine Majesty? Do you want to suffer to obtain the conversion of sinners, to make reparation for the blasphemies as well as all the offenses made to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?” — “Yes, we want to!” Lucy replied. “You will have much to suffer, but the grace of God will assist you and will sustain you always.” While speaking, the Apparition opened Her hands, and this gesture shed on the visionaries a beam of mysterious light which, penetrating their souls, made them see themselves in God.
This grace, by which God joined the three children in the deepest depths of their beings, filled Francisco with wonder. By an astonishing mystery, God had revealed that He was “sad” as a result of the sins of men. A radical transformation then took place in this boy barely nine years old. At first sight, he appeared to be less favored than his companions — Lucia saw Our Lady and spoke with her; Jacinta saw her and heard her, but did not speak; Francisco only saw her, but did not hear her and did not speak with her. Nevertheless, he entered into an intense spiritual life. Knowing that his going to Heaven was determined by the recitation of many Rosaries, he nevertheless remained in a marvelous state of tranquillity and confidence. He began to recite up to two fifteen-decade Rosaries and more, and would do so every day.
His piety, far from being a mechanical repetition of the prayers of the Rosary, plunged him into a habitual state of prayer. His preoccupation was to keep Our Lord company and to console Him. One night, his father heard him sobbing. “I think of Jesus who is so sad because of the sins that are committed against Him,” Francisco confided to him. To Lucia’s question, “What do you like the most: consoling Our Lord or converting sinners so that souls don’t go to Hell?”, he replied, “I would prefer to console Our Lord, but then to convert sinners so that they don’t offend Him any more.”
The parable of the prodigal son reveals to us that the drama of sin is not only that of a son who wanders from the paternal home, but also the tragedy of the father who suffers from this estrangement. God mysteriously finds Himself in this situation when we commit sin. In our human language, we say then that God “suffers” from our estrangement. Souls inhabited by a very intense love of God preoccupy themselves with the repercussions of sin on the Heart of God, which they wish to “console.” This seems to have been Francisco’s case. This little visionary, who seemed less favored on the level of Apparitions, attained the highest summits of Christian spirituality.
The effect of the Apparitions on Jacinta was made manifest especially after July 13. That day, Our Lady showed the three children Hell. The Blessed Virgin told them to keep this vision secret. She did not permit Lucia to reveal it until 1941. Here is what Lucia wrote about that vision:
“Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror. We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and so sadly:
“You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
Jacinta retained an impression of it which left a profound mark on her. From this day on, she was very preoccupied with the fate of poor souls who went to Hell. She often sat on the ground or on a rock, and, deep in thought, she would say, “Oh! Hell! How sorrowful I am for the souls who are going to Hell!” Yet she did not confine herself to futile pain but, under the motion of a most elevated charity, she prayed and sacrificed heroically for those who were in danger of being lost.
|Often, Jacinta would kneel down and recite the prayer Our Lady taught them: “Oh My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Your Mercy.” She would remain for a long time in prayer, and invite the two other seers to do the same. “Francisco, Lucia, are you praying with me? We must pray a lot to prevent souls from going to Hell! So many go there!” At other times Jacinta would ask Lucia: “Why does Our Lady not show Hell to sinners? If they saw it they would sin no more so as not to fall into it! You must tell Our Lady to show hell to all those people (those present during the Apparition). You’ll see how they’ll convert.”
The vision of Hell which the three children were favored with is not an exaggeration of the reality it represented. It is a presentation of it within the grasp of the human mind. Pope Paul VI, in his Credo of the People of God, begins by placing things in the perspective of God’s love and mercy, which lead us to eternal life. But he adds that “those who have refused God’s love and mercy to the end will go to the fire that is not extinguished.”
In 1992, Lucia, who has been a Carmelite in Coïmbra, Portugal since 1948, told a Cardinal who had come to visit her, “Hell is a reality… Continue to preach about Hell, for Our Lord Himself spoke of Hell and it is in the Holy Scriptures. God condemns no one to Hell. People condemn themselves to Hell. God has given mankind the freedom of choice, and He respects this human freedom.”
Sister Lucia wrote, a few years before her death on February 13, 2005: “There is no shortage of unbelievers in the world who deny these truths, but they are no less true for being denied. Their disbelief does not save unbelievers from the horrors of Hell, should a life of sin lead them there... At Fatima, (God) sent us His Message as one more proof of these truths. This Message recalls them to us, so that we do not let ourselves be fooled by the false doctrines of unbelievers who deny them, or of deceivers who distort them. To this end, the Message assures us that Hell is a fact, and that the souls of poor sinners end up there” (Calls from the Message of Fatima, 2003, Chapter 14).
In the book Crossing the Treshold of Hope, Italian journalist Vittorio Messori asked St. John Paul II why so many churchmen dared not talk about Hell. Here is what the Holy Father replied:
“Let’s remember that not so long ago, in sermons during retreats or misions, the Last Things – death, judgment, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory – were always a standard part of the program of meditation, and preachers knew how to speak of them in an effective and evocative way. How many people were drawn to conversion and confession by these sermons and reflections on the Last Things! (...)
“It is necessary to respond honestly by saying yes: To a certain degree man does get lost; so too do preachers, catechists, teachers; and as a result, they no longer have the courage to preach the threat of Hell.... And yet, the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel He speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Mt 25:46)...”
Describing the Last Judgment in advance, Jesus affirms: Then the Son of Man will say to those on his left: “Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”… These will go off to eternal punishment and the just to eternal life (Mt 25:41 and 46). During His public life, our Savior Jesus often returned to the subject of Hell, of Gehenna, of the unquenchable fire (cf. Mk. 9:43-48) reserved for those who until the end of their lives refuse to believe and convert, and where both body and soul can be lost (cf. Mt. 10:28). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 395) reminds us: “Mortal sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of Hell.”
The Magisterium of the Church has often spoken on this topic. Pope Pius XII emphasized, on March 23, 1949: “Preaching on the first truths of the faith and the final ends has not only lost nothing of its opportuneness in our time, but has become more necessary and urgent than ever, including preaching about Hell. Of course this subject must be treated with dignity and wisdom. But, as for the substance of this truth, the Church has the sacred duty before God and before men to announce and teach it without watering it down in any way, just as Christ revealed it, and there is no circumstance of time that could ever lessen the force of this obligation. It binds in conscience every priest entrusted, in ordinary or extraordinary ministry, with the task of instructing, warning, and guiding the faithful. It is true that the desire for Heaven is in itself a more perfect motivation than the fear of eternal punishment, but that does not mean that for all men it is the most effective motivation to keep them from sin and convert them to God.”
|The official portraits of the canonization, by painter Silvia Patricio
In the face of the events of Aljustrel, the supporters of anticlerical politics in Portugal were growing restless. The administrator of the Vila Nova de Ourem district, to which the hamlet belonged, was a sectarian. On August 13, he went to Fatima, and took the three children to Ourem by trickery. The little visionaries were dismayed at missing the meeting with the Blessed Virgin. They offered this sacrifice to Our Lord. Interrogated about the Apparitions, they related what they had seen, but remained faithful to the secret. They were promised pieces of gold — nothing could shake them. As a last resort, the administrator led them to the prison and told them, “If you delay too long in talking, you’ll be fried in oil.” That evening, having found them unshakable, he commanded a cauldron full of oil to be prepared. Then, turning to Jacinta: “Tell the secret that you claim to have received.” — “I can’t.” — “You can’t? Well, I’m going to see to it that you can!” A gendarme took Jacinta away. After several minutes, the administrator addressed Francisco: “See, your sister has been fried!… Now it’s your turn!… Tell me your secret.” — “I can’t tell anyone.” And he was likewise taken away. Then came Lucia’s turn. In reality, it was a show; yet Lucia would later avow, “I believed that it was for good and that I was going to die. But I wasn’t afraid and I recommended myself to the Blessed Virgin.” Such courage among children manifests a supernatural intervention from God, granting them the gift of fortitude.
On September 13, the Blessed Virgin confirmed Her promise of a great miracle for the 13th of October. That day, the Lady gave Her name: “I am Our Lady of the Rosary. I desire that a chapel be built here in My honor, and that the Rosary continue to be said every day.” The crowd was estimated at least at 70,000 people. At the end of the Apparition, the sun began to dance, and to give off all sorts of colors. Then it seemed to rush by zigzag ricochets on the crowd, and finally took its place again, a miracle which substantiated the Apparitions. In the days that followed, the children were plagued with interminable interrogations by all sorts of individuals. Following the Blessed Virgin’s recommendations, they offered their sufferings to God. Their desire for sacrifices in order to save sinners had become insatiable.
Our Lady of Fatima’s Pope
On May 13, 1981, in Saint Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, exactly 64 years after the first Apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three Fatima children, in Portugal, the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca fired at Pope John Paul II. (See circle in the above photograph.) The Pope was struck by four bullets, two of which reached his bowel, the others touched his left hand and his right arm. One of the bullets had missed the main aorta by a few millimeters only.
St. John Paul II was convinced from the start that Our Lady of Fatima had saved his life. Later, in 1981, he had a mosaic of Mary, Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae) installed in Saint Peter’s Square. He visited the shrine at Fatima on three different occasions (1982, 1991 and 2000) to thank the Virgin Mary. In March 1984, to fulfill Our Lady of Fatima’s request, St. John Paul II consecrated the whole world, including Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Communism collapsed a few years later.
On December 27, 1983, when St. John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca in prison, the latter asked him: “Why are you still alive?” The Holy Father answered him: “One hand shot the bullet, and another (that of the Virgin Mary) guided it.”
As a sign of thanksgiving, St. John Paul II gave the bullet that struck him in the abdomen to the shrine of Fatima; this bullet is now part of the crown of Our Lady of Fatima’s statue.
In the autumn of 1918, Francisco became seriously ill with the “Spanish flu,” and awaited death with equal portions of certitude and patience. Even at the moments his fever was highest, he did not forget his Rosary. One day, Lucia asked him, “Are you suffering very much?” — “My head hurts so much!” he replied, “but I want to endure it to console Our Lord.” On April 2, 1919, he confessed and, the following day, made his First Communion, which was also his Last Rites. From the time he received Communion, he felt not the slightest pain. Around ten o’clock in the evening, he told his mother, “Look, Mama, what a beautiful light, there, close to the door.” After a moment: “I don’t see it anymore.” His face lit up with an angelic brightness, and without agony, with a faint smile on his lips, his soul broke free from his body and went to return to the Lady whose beauty he had caught a glimpse of on earth. The last at la Cova, Francisco was the first to enter into Paradise.
Jacinta was likewise struck by the epidemic. From a little girl who was sullen, frail, and who used to love games and dancing, she had become patient, strong, and even tough in the face of suffering. Yet she was not gloomy. While leading the sheep or picking flowers, she would sing improvised airs. “Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation! Immaculate Heart of Mary, convert the sinners, save their souls from Hell.” She had a singular love for the Pope. During the Apparition of July 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin had said, “The Holy Father will have much to suffer.” A little later, Jacinta received two private revelations. One day, she told Lucia, “I saw the Holy Father in a very big house on his knees in front of a table with his head between his hands, and crying. Outside, there was a big crowd. Some were throwing stones at him, others were shouting insults at him and were saying bad words to him. Poor Holy Father! We have to pray a lot for him!” Another time, she saw the Pope praying with a crowd before the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These revelations inspired Jacinta with a love-filled fervor in her prayers for the Holy Father. Pope John Paul II, aware of having himself been the beneficiary of these prayers, expressed his thanks to Jacinta in the homily of the Beatification Mass: “And once again I would like to celebrate the Lord’s goodness to me when I was saved from death after being gravely wounded on May 13, 1981. I also express my gratitude to Blessed Jacinta for the sacrifices and prayers offered for the Holy Father, whom she saw suffering greatly.”
One day, Jacinta confided to Lucia, “Our Lady came to see me. She wants me to go to two hospitals. But it isn’t to be cured — it’s to suffer more in love for Our Lord and for sinners.” While waiting, she prayed a great deal and missed no opportunity to make sacrifices. She got up at night to recite the Angelus, agreed to drink cups of milk that made her sick, and made the sacrifice of not turning over in bed in spite of the suffering. When Lucia returned from Mass, she told her, “Come very close to me since you carry Jesus hidden in your heart… I don’t know how, I feel Our Lord inside me and, without seeing Him or hearing Him, I understand what He tells me. It’s so good to be with Him!…”
She was taken to the hospital in Vila Nova de Ourem. The separation from Lucia cost her more than everything else, for only her cousin was in a position to understand her. A fistula had opened on her left side. “Don’t tell anyone that the wound hurts me,” she confided to Lucia who had come to visit her. “Tell Jesus in the Tabernacle that I love Him very much.” One day, she related to Lucia, “The Blessed Virgin foretold to me that I will go to Lisbon, to another hospital. I will not see you again, nor my parents. After suffering a lot, I will die alone.” The prospect of this made her suffer much. “What does it matter,” Lucia was prompted to remark, “as long as the Blessed Virgin comes to get you!” — “Yes, that’s true. But there are moments when I forget that She will come to take me with Her.”
Jacinta was transferred to Lisbon for a surgical intervention especially painful since the sick girl’s weakness did not permit a total anesthesia. Once the operation was over, the dressings made the child suffer horribly.
The Most Blessed Virgin came to visit her and took away all her pain. Mary’s face appeared quite sad. “The sins that lead the greatest number of souls to perdition are the sins of the flesh,” she confided to her privileged one. “People must renounce sin and not persist in it, as has been done until now. It is essential to make great penance.”
A few days after the operation, complications arose. The evening of February 20, 1920, she made her confession. The priest thought he could wait until the next day to bring her Holy Communion. However, that same night, around ten-thirty, she died peacefully. (The liturgical feast day of the two new saints is February 20.)
On June 13, 1917, Lucia had asked the Blessed Virgin to take all three of them to Paradise. “Yes,” Mary replied. “As for Jacinta and Francisco, I will take them shortly. But you will remain here a little while longer. Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wants to establish on earth devotion to My Immaculate Heart… I will never abandon you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way which will lead you to God.” While saying these words, Lucia relates, “The Blessed Virgin spread her hands, and for the second time, gave to us the reflection of the intense light which enveloped Her, in which we saw ourselves as if immersed in God. Jacinta and Francisco appeared to be in a part which was raised towards Heaven, and I was in that which spread on the earth. Above the palm of Our Lady’s left hand, there was a Heart surrounded by thorns that pierced it. We understood that it was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity which demanded reparation.”
During her illness, Jacinta had told Lucia, “Soon I shall go to Heaven. You are to stay here to reveal that the Lord wants to establish throughout the world the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you start to reveal this, don’t hesitate. Tell everyone that Our Lord grants us all graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that all must make their petitions to Her; that the Sacred Heart of Jesus desires that the Immaculate Heart of Mary be venerated at the same time. Tell them that they should all ask for peace from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as God has placed it in Her hands. Oh, if I could only put in the heart of everyone in the world the fire that is burning in me and makes me love so much the Heart of Mary!”
|Postage stamp issued by the Vatican for the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima
Like a good Mother who is concerned, She warns us for the sake of our conversion and eternal salvation. On October 13, 1917, She told the little young seers: “Men must mend their ways and ask forgiveness for their sins. They must stop offending God Our Lord Who has already been offended too much.” From then on, the children could not hold back their tears when they recalled the sadness on the face of the Apparition. About these words of Our Lady, Lucia would say: “What a loving complaint they contain, and what a plea! Oh, I wish they could echo throughout the whole world, and all the children of the heavenly Mother could hear Her voice!”
To convert, to change one’s life, means to return to God showing our regret for having offended Him. Especially struck by Our Lady’s sadness when She asked that Her Son be offended no longer, Francisco wanted to console Her, beginning with abstaining from all sin. “I love Our Lord so much! But He is so sad because of all our sins. No! We will not sin again.” Consequently, the three children were ready to face persecutions and death rather than lie to free themselves. But to change one’s life means, in addition to sacramental confession to receive forgiveness of sins, mortifying the heart and the senses to make reparation for past sins, and uniting oneself to Christ in His Passion.
Remarkably, the Apparitions ignited in the three seers’ hearts an ardent zeal to share in the sufferings of Christ. For example, they decided to give their daily lunch to poor children, and to make do with what they could find in the countryside. One day, the mother of one of the children offered them some juicy figs to eat. Jacinta sat down beside the basket and already was taking delight in the thought of eating such beautiful fruit. She took one, but then suddenly changed her mind: “We haven’t made any sacrifices yet for sinners. Let’s make this one.” And she returned the fig to the basket.
What sacrifices are most pleasing to God? A few months before Our Lady’s first Apparition, the children received a visit from an Angel, who told them, “Above all, accept and endure the sufferings the Lord will send you.” Many years later, on April 20, 1943, Sister Lucia wrote to the Bishop of Leiria, “God greatly desires the return of peace, but He is saddened to see so few souls in a state of grace and prepared to practice the renunciations that He asks of them to follow His Law. And this is precisely the penance God is asking for right now, the sacrifice that each must impose on himself so as to live a just life in conformity with His Law. For mortification He wants us to simply and honestly perform our daily tasks, and to accept difficulties and cares. And He wants us to make this path clearly known to souls, for many, taking the word penance to mean ‘great austerity,’ for which they feel neither the strength nor the generosity, become discouraged and fall into a life of indifference and sin.” Our Lord later told Lucia, “The sacrifice required of everyone is the proper fulfillment of his duty and the observance of My Law; such is the penance that I now ask for and require.”
The need to say the Rosary is also at the heart of the Fatima Apparitions. The Blessed Virgin Mary spoke of it on several occasions. In 1917, the world was still suffering the horrors of the First World War with no end in sight. During the third Apparition, on July 13, Our Lady insisted, “You must say the Rosary every day in honor of the Blessed Virgin to obtain the end of the war through her intercession, because only She can help.” And on October 13, She called herself the “Lady of the Rosary.” She asked that, during this traditional prayer, the following invocation be added at the end of each decade: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Your Mercy.”
The message of Fatima also includes devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On June 13, 1917, the Virgin showed the children her wounded Heart surrounded by thorns, and told Lucia, “You must remain on earth. Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wants to spread devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to those who take up this devotion. Their souls will be loved by God with a preferential love, like flowers placed by Me before His Throne.”
Several years later, on December 10, 1925, Our Lady, holding the Child Jesus close, appeared to Sister Lucia at her convent in Pontevedra, Spain, and showed her her Heart. The Child said, “Have pity on the heart of your Blessed Mother which is covered with thorns that ungrateful men push in at every moment, with no one making an act of reparation to pull them out.”
Mary added, “Look, My daughter, at My Heart surrounded by thorns that ungrateful men are continually pushing in with their blasphemies and their ingratitude. You, at least, must take care to console Me. Tell everyone for Me that if they, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, make a good confession, receive Holy Communion, say a Rosary, and keep Me company for a quarter of an hour by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary in reparation to Me, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls.”
One may ask what are these outrages that inflict such pain on the Heart of Our Lady. In general, they are all the sins that offend God. Among them, some especially offend the Heart of Our Mother of Heaven: first of all, blasphemies against Her three great privileges — Her Immaculate Conception, Her perpetual Virginity, and Her Divine Maternity; then, insults against images of Her; and lastly, the offense of those who teach children to scorn, mock, and even hate their Heavenly Mother. No doubt violations of the virtue of purity must also be counted as particularly offending Her Immaculate Heart. On this issue, Jacinta related to Sister Maria of the Purification what Our Lady told her: “The sins that cast the most souls into Hell are sins of impurity. Certain fashions will arise that will greatly offend Our Lord. People who serve God must not follow these fashions.”
May we contribute to the establishment of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary throughout the world, in order to lead many souls to conversion and to an ardent love for Jesus and Mary.
Dom Antoine Marie, OSB
This article is reprinted with permission from the Abbey of Clairval, France, which every month publishes a spiritual newsletter on the life of a saint in English, French, Italian, or Dutch. Their postal address: Dom Antoine Marie, Abbe, Abbaye Saint-Joseph de Clairval 21150 Flavigny sur Ozerain, France. Their website: http://www.clairval.com.