In her book "Calls from the Message of Fatima", published in English in 2000 (originally published in Portuguese in 1997), Sister Lucia of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart, the last seer of Fatima who died January 13, 2005, at the age of 97, explains the meaning of the Message given by the Virgin Mary at Fatima in its various aspects. Here is Chapter 9 of this book, "The Call to Sacrifice" which, in today's troubles times, is relevant more than ever: Unless we make penance, we will all perish.
This call to sacrifice, which God now addresses to us, is something which we find in many pages of Sacred Scripture. It may seem superfluous to repeat it again here; but it will not be in vain, because we are all so forgetful and lackadaisical about fulfilling this great duty.
In the Old Testament, the priests used to offer sacrifices of animals, which they presented as propitiatory victims for themselves and for the people. But these victims were but fore-runners, images, of the sacrifice of Christ who was to be the one true victim offered to God for the sins of all human beings. This sacrifice of Christ, who came to put an end to the images, was to be perpetuated in place of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. And we have it renewed on the altar every day in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is an unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of the Cross.
But this is not enough because, as St. Paul tells us (Col. 1:24), we must complete in ourselves what is lacking in the Passion of Christ, because we are members of his Mystical Body. Now, when one member of the body is suffering, all the other members suffer with it, and when one member has to be removed, all the other members of the body are affected by this'sacrifice'; if one member is seriously diseased, even though the disease is restricted to one part of the body, the whole body suffers and dies. The same happens in the spiritual life. We are all ill, we all have many defects and sins; hence we all have a duty to make sacrifices, in union with Christ, the innocent victim, in reparation for our own sins and for those of our brothers and sisters, because we are all members of the one and the same Mystical Body of the Lord.
The Message calls on us to "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." (Words of the Angel.) They may be sacrifices of spiritual, intellectual, moral, physical or material things; depending on the particular moment, we shall have the opportunity of offering first one and then another. What is important is that we should be ready to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself; in particular, that we should be ready to make sacrifices when this is required of us in order to fulfil our duty to God, to our neighbour and to ourselves. All the more so if such a sacrifice is necessary in order to avoid transgressing one of the commandments of God's Law; in these circumstances, the sacrifice we must impose on ourselves is obligatory; because we have an obligation to offer up whatever is necessary in order to avoid committing sin. Our eternal salvation depends on it, as Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk 9:23-25.) From what Our Lord says to us here, we see that we must be prepared to die rather than commit a grave sin which might cause us to lose eternal life. Now the same is true, and all the more so, if obeying God's law demands of us sacrifices of something of less value than our own lives.
Renouncing anything which might cause us to sin is the way to salvation. It is for this reason that the Lord warns is that "whoever would save his life, will lose it; in other words, anyone who wishes to satisfy their disordered appetites, live a sinful life, tread the broad path of sin, without repenting or making amends, will lose eternal life. How can we not ask ourselves, with Jesus, "What does it profit us if we gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit ourselves?"
In the same way, Jesus warns us: "He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Mt 10:38). Yes! How can anyone be a friend of God and worthy of eternal life if they do not deny themselves whatever is necessary in order to walk in the way of his commandments, renouncing illicit pleasures, the whims of pride, vanity, covetousness, avarice, excessive self-indulgence, failure to practice charity and justice towards others, shrugging off the yoke of the daily cross or carrying it reluctantly without bringing it into line and uniting it with the Cross of Christ?
At times it will be the cross of our daily work: "You will eat your bread in the sweat of your brow" was the burden God imposed on Adam as a penance for his sin. At other times, it will be the difficulties of life which occur at every step we take, and which we must accept with serenity, patience and resignation. At yet other times, it will be the humiliations which happen all of a sudden and which we must accept, acknowledging whatever is imperfect within us and resolving to amend ourselves with confidence in God, who always helps souls who mean well to raise themselves up to a better and more perfect life. "Make of everything you can a sacrifice — the Message tells us — 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".
God here gives us yet another reason for making sacrifices: To make reparation for the sins by which He is offended, your own sins and those of others. Whenever we offend a person, we must make reparation to them, insofar as we can, for whatever upset or damage we may have caused them; that is why we are accustomed to say sorry, to apologize, and so on. Now, it is all the more necessary for us to do this in relation to God. It was for this reason that Jesus Christ taught us in the Lord's Prayer to ask for forgiveness: "Our Father who art in heaven, (...) forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt 6:9; 12) and immediately afterwards we say: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Mt 6:13). The fact is that the best reparation we can offer to God is to combine with our petition for forgiveness a firm resolution not to offend Him again. That is why we ask for forgiveness, help and protection.
Notice that Jesus taught us to use the plural in asking for forgiveness; in other words to ask it for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters: forgive us; deliver us; lead us not into temptation! This is the Call of the Message: To make sacrifices as an act of reparation and in supplication for the conversion of our brothers and sisters who have wandered off on false and erroneous paths. Yes, to pray and make sacrifices so that our whole life may be a holocaust offered to God on the arms of our day-to-day cross, in union with the Cross of Christ, for the salvation of souls, co-operating with Him in his redemptive work as members of his Mystical Body, the Church, which works, prays and suffers in intimate union with its Head for the redemption of humanity.
As we live our daily lives, we come across all sorts of sacrifices which we can and must offer to God. The sacrifice of gluttony, which in many cases is obligatory. To abstain from alcoholic drinks taken in excess, as these darken our judgement, interfere with our reason and degrade our dignity, leaving whoever overindulges in them prostrate on the ground before God and honest men. How many families are made unhappy on account of this sin. Why not offer to God the sacrifice of not drinking, sharing, instead, with the poor whatever might otherwise have been wasted in sinful excess and have caused so much suffering, when so many of our brothers and sisters have not enough to buy clothes for themselves.
Such a sacrifice, which is demanded by the moderation with which we must serve ourselves from the table of creation, was one that God required, at the very beginning, from the first two human beings. Sacred Scripture tells us: "And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, (..) And the Lord commanded the man saying,'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden but the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die'." (Gn 2:8-9. 16-17). Adam and Eve were free to eat the fruit of so many trees that they did not need the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; moreover, it was seriously harmful to them, which is why God forestalled it and forbade them to eat from it. The best thing they could have done would have been to obey God's command and offer Him the sacrifice of not touching that fruit.
In this, as in so many other circumstances in life, we have to practise the virtue of temperance, which requires us to mortify the appetite of gluttony. God, like the good Father that He is, has placed such a wide variety of good and delightful things in the world which his children may, and must, use as their food and even take delight in, but always in accordance with the Law of God and without forgetting to practice the self-denial of moderation which we must offer to God in thanksgiving for so many benefits, and also for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
I am not saying that God asks of all of us, as He asks of some of His elect, to strip ourselves of everything, give it to the poor and then follow Him in a complete abandonment of the goods of the earth; what He does ask is that we should all strip ourselves of any excessive love for such goods. Let us recall the conversation between Jesus Christ and the young man who had sought Him out in order to ask Him: "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself."
The young man said to him, All these have observed; what do I still lack? Jesus said to him, If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me. When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again! tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mt 19:16-24).
According to what I have heard from a number of commentators Jesus Christ was referring in this statement to rich people who are avaricious and whose only concern is to amass more riches, and who, in order to do so, avoid spending money and refuse to share their surplus with those in need. The Lord teaches us the same lesson when, in connection with the Last Judgement, He describes the reasons for the terrible condemnation meted out to those standing on his heft hand: "Depart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for 1 was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me sick and in prison and you did not visit me." (...) "Truly I say to you, as yo, did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me". And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mt 25:4143, 45-46).
We are reminded of all this when God asks us in the Message of Fatima Make sacrifices; and make use of whatever you have that you do not need o cannot use to help your brothers and sisters who have not enough and are dying of hunger or cold. This is the renunciation and the sacrifice that God asks of us: if we do not sacrifice ourselves in this life, we shall fin ourselves being sacrificed in eternal life and not only because we did wrong but also because we failed to do good: "For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was naked and you did not clothe me. (...) as you did it not to one the least of these, you did it not to me. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
In order to attain salvation, it is not enough to do no wrong; we a also have a duty to practice virtue in doing good.
Then there is another series of little sacrifices that we can and, to certain extent must, offer to God. The fact that they are small in them selves does not make them any less pleasing to God, and also very meritorious and advantageous to ourselves, because by means of them we prove the delicacy of our fidelity, and our love for God and for our neighbour. Making such little sacrifices enriches us with grace, strengthens us in faith and charity, ennobles us before God and our neighbour, and frees us from the temptation to egoism, covetousness, envy and self-indulgence.
It is generosity in ordinary little things that are constantly happening; it is making perfect 1 the present moment. Hence:
1) To make our prayer with faith and attention, avoiding distractions as far as possible; praying respectfully, remembering that we are speaking to God; praying with confidence and love, because we are in the presence of Someone who we know loves us and wants to help us, like a father who takes his small son's hand in order to help him to walk: in God's eyes we are always small fragile children who are weak in the practice of virtue, who are constantly tripping and falling, which is why we need our Father to give us his hand to help keep us on our feet and walking in the ways of holiness.
Whether we make our prayer in church, at home, during a journey, out in the fields or walking along the street, God is everywhere and is listening to our petitions, our praise and thanksgiving. This is what Jesus Christ has taught us in his reply to the Samaritan woman who put this question to Him: "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship:.. Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know... But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (Jn 4:19-24).
God wants us to pray with truth, recognising what we are, our poverty, our nothingness before God; realizing what it is we are asking for and promising with sincerity, ready to keep our promises. Let our praise and thanksgiving to God express the truth that is in our heart, in a spirit of faith, love and confidence; God is not content with fine words that are foolish and meaningless, or with formulas designed to win applause from creatures. No, our prayer must be humble and accompanied by a spirit of sacrifice.
Many times, it will be necessary to sacrifice a little of our time for relaxation; perhaps getting up a little earlier in order to go to church and attend Mass; or at night, before going to bed, to set aside some time in which to recite the Rosary, making the sacrifice of turning off the radio or television in order to do so. It is the renunciation of our own likes and fancies that God requires of us; and, as has already been said, if we do not want to deny ourselves in this life, we shall find ourselves being sacrificed in the life to come, because if we cannot hope for salvation through our innocence, only by prayer and penance shall we be saved.
2) To offer to God the sacrifice of some little act of self-denial in the matter of food, but not to the extent of impairing the physical strength we need in order to do our work. Thus, for example, to choose a fruit, a dessert, a drink that we don't particularly like rather than one that we do; to endure thirst for a while and then slake it, but with a drink that we don't particularly like; to abstain from alcohol, or at least avoid drinking it to excess.
When we are serving ourselves at table, not to take the best bit. But if we cannot avoid doing so without drawing attention to ourselves, to take it with simplicity and without scruple, thanking God for spoiling us, because we must not think that God, good Father that He is, is only pleased with us when He sees us practising self-denial. God created good things for his children, and likes to see us making use of them, without abusing them, and then fulfilling our duty of working to deserve them, and making use of them with gratitude and love for the One who heaps his gifts upon us.
3) The sacrifice that we can and must make in the matter of clothing: putting up with a little cold or heat without complaining; if we are in a room with other people, let them close or open the doors and windows as they wish. Dress decently and modestly, without becoming enslaved to the latest fashion, and refrain from adopting it whenever it is not in accordance with those two virtues, so that we ourselves may not be, by our way of dressing, a cause of sin for others, bearing in mind that we are responsible for the sins that others commit because of us.
Hence, we must dress in accordance with Christian morals, personal dignity and solidarity with others, offering to God the sacrifice of exaggerated vanity. As regards the question of vanity, to know how to offer to God the sacrifice of dispensing with exaggerated external adornment with jewels, which we can well do without, and the money from the sale of which we can use to help our brothers and sisters in need. Instead of wearing clothes made of a rich and expensive material, let us be content with something much simpler and less costly, thus economising in order to be able to help our brothers and sisters who have nothing to cover themselves with.
4) To endure uncomplainingly whatever little annoyances we may encounter on our path: sometimes, it may be a disagreeable, irritating or unpleasant word; at others, it may be an ironic smile, a look of disdain, a contradiction; or we are passed over or set aside as of no account; yet again, it may be a misunderstanding, a reproof, a rejection, when we are passed over, forgotten, an act of ingratitude, etc.
Thus, it is necessary to know how to endure all things, offering our sacrifice to God and letting things drop: to let all these things pass as if we were blind, deaf and dumb, so that we may in fact see better, speak with greater certainty and hear the voice of God. Let others seem to have their way; I say "seem" because in reality the one who prevails is the one who knows how to keep silent for the love of God. Cheerfully to allow others to occupy the first places, whatever is best for them, let them enjoy and take credit for the fruit of our labours, of our sacrifices, of our activities, of our ability, of things that have been taken from us, I would even say of our virtue, as if it belonged to them, and let us content ourselves with being humble and self-sacrificing for the love of God and of our neighbour.
To endure with a good grace the company of those we do not like or whom we find disagreeable, of those who go against us, upset us and torment us with indiscreet or even unkind questions; let us repay them with a smile, a little kind deed done for them, a favour, forgiving and loving, with our eyes fixed on God.
This denial of ourselves is often the most difficult for our human nature, but it is also the one most pleasing to God and meritorious for ourselves.
5) Then there are exterior penances and sacrifices, some obligatory, the others voluntary.
Obligatory penances are, for example, the fast and abstinence imposed by the Church. But we can and we must go beyond this limit, which is in fact very little as compared with the need we all have to do penance for our own sins and for those of others.
There are certain instruments of penance which have been used by many Saints, such as disciplines, hair shirts, etc. Such penances are undertaken in union with Christ scourged at the pillar, bound with cords, crowned with thorns. If Christ suffered thus for us, it is more than just that we should do something for Him and for his redemptive work.
Another practice is to pray, in a spirit of penance, with one's arms outstretched in the form of a cross, in union with Christ crucified, or to pray prostrate with one's forehead touching the ground, thus abasing ourselves before God Whom we have dared to offend, we who are nothing in his presence.
Although such penances are not obligatory, they are necessary in many cases; for example, to help overcome fiery natures which cause people to sin, or the violent temptations of the world, the devil, pride and the flesh.
Jesus Christ, who was divine, could not sin, yet He gave us a splendid example of a life of penance. Before beginning his public life, He spent forty days in the desert, praying and fasting. The Gospels tell us that throughout his public life, Jesus frequently withdrew from the crowd in order to pray to the Father in a place apart. And before delivering Himself to death, He spent a long time in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And do we, poor weak creatures that we are, not need to pray? We do indeed. It is in prayer that we meet God; it is in this meeting with God that He gives us the grace and strength we need in order to deny ourselves by offering up whatever it is that is required of us: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Mt 7: 13-14). Here Jesus Christ points out to us our great need for self-denial because, without a spirit of renunciation, we shall not enter into eternal life.
"Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High". Ave Maria!
Sister Lucia of Fatima