On May 13, 1917, three children named Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta were grazing their family’s flock of sheep when the Virgin Mary appeared to them atop a small oak tree. She came to them with a message: their prayers and sacrifices could help stop World War I and rescue people who were suffering because of their own sins. What a beautiful and hopeful message!
The apparitions of the Blessed Mother continued for six months, always occurring on the 13th of the month. When Lucia, the oldest of the children, asked Our Lady what she wanted of them, her reply was simple – pray the Rosary every day for peace and an end to the war.
From the very first encounter, Our Lady of Fatima’s words also had an eternal dimension to them. Lucia, speaking for the other children, asked if each of them would go to Heaven. Mary replied that both Jacinta and Lucia would, and that after many saying Rosaries, Francisco would too. When Lucia asked about two of her friends who had died, she learned that one had gone to Heaven but the other was in Purgatory.
It was at this point that the Virgin Mary asked, “Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?” The three shepherd children responded, “Oh, we will, we will!”
Taking up this mission is something every believer should do, especially in the month of November, when the Church dedicates itself with a special intensity to praying for the dead and those in need of conversion. This is one of the spiritual works of mercy every Christian can do.
We should not naively think that this will be easy, however. When Our Lady heard the children’s reply she said, “Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.” At that point, she extended her hands and lights bathed them, flooding the small shepherds with an awareness of God’s presence and calling forth their love for him.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima, there is a final related aspect of her message that I would like to underscore: the revelation that God wants to save people from going to Hell by establishing devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart throughout the world. In her July 13 apparition, Mary showed the three children a vision of Hell and then appeared to them holding “a heart encircled with thorns which appeared to pierce it.” The children understood from that encounter that “it was the Immaculate Heart of Mary offended by the sins of mankind, craving reparation.”
The message is this: that Mary wishes to assist us, through her Immaculate Heart, in bringing the world back to God. Mary’s deepest desire is that the world come to know the mercy and love of her Son. That every human being may encounter him and put their faith in him.
With the attention-grabbing imagery and distractions that can fill our lives, it’s easy to forget this reality. It’s easy to lose track of eternity and the ability we have to make an impact upon it, both for ourselves, for others and the world. One needs to look no further for proof of this than Our Lady of Fatima’s promise that the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart and the offering of Communions received every first Saturday would save the world from Russia spreading her errors and the Church from the ensuing persecution. In 1991, the officially atheistic Soviet Union dissolved.
With the state of our world and the suffering that we see around us, it might be tempting to think our own small sacrifices and prayers won’t make a difference. But we should remember the words that the Angel who visited the shepherd children before Mary appeared. “The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.”
We have been blessed in our Archdiocese to have Our Lady of Fatima parish designated by Pope Francis as a pilgrimage site during this 100th Anniversary of Fatima. Between October 23, 2016 and October 24, 2017, the faithful may visit the parish and receive a plenary indulgence under the conditions explained in this edition of the Denver Catholic. I encourage you, too, sometime during the year to pray with the book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Father Michael Gaitley. Through praying with the book you will come to a deeper relationship with our Blessed Mother.
Let us seek to grow in love and in our relationship with the Trinity and with Mary, and moved by that love offer sacrifices and prayers for our families, friends and enemies, both in this month and throughout the coming anniversary year.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!