World Apostolate of Fatima Breakfast
Thank you all for being here today. I am grateful to the Board of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima for the invitation to speak to you today. Thank you also to Father Glenn for the beautiful homily at our Mass this morning.
I am happy to speak to you today as we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13th, we will begin the celebrations. It was on May 13, 1917, that Our Lady first appeared to the shepherd children of Fatima. We will celebrate a special Mass that day as our diocesan celebration of the 100th anniversary. Please mark your calendars and invite your families and friends to the Mass I will celebrate at 10:00 AM in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. As you know, May 13th is the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. It will also be the 35th anniversary of the shooting of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Square. I can hardly believe it is 35 years already. I was in Saint Peter’s Square that evening. When I heard of the assassination attempt, I hurried from my room at the North American College to join the thousands of people in Saint Peter’s Square to pray for our beloved Pope and for his survival. Thanks be to God, those prayers were answered. As you know, Saint John Paul II attributed his survival to the hand of our Blessed Mother. He said the following: “it was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the pope halted at the threshold of death” May 13, 1994).
You may recall the third part of the secret of Fatima that Pope John Paul revealed in the Jubilee Year 2000. Sister Lucia described a bishop dressed in white whom, she said, she and the other children believed was the Holy Father. This bishop was followed by other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and men and women of different ranks and social positions. They were walking up a mountain through a city that lay in ruins. On the top of the mountain stood the cross. This all symbolized human history and so much destruction, yet the Church and human history moving toward salvation, moving toward the cross, the goal and guide of history. Amid all the horrors around them, the bishop dressed in white and the others made their way through the ruins of the city, among the corpses of the dead. This is the path of the Church as it journeys through a time of violence, destruction, and persecution. This especially reminds us of the 20th century, the destructive world wars, and the persecutions of the Church. Sadly, these things continue in the 21st century.
Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still a Cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a profound commentary on the third secret. He describes this vision in the third secret as the Via Crucis (the way of the cross) of an entire century. He wrote: “In the Via Crucis of an entire century, the figure of the pope has a special role. In his arduous ascent of the mountain we can undoubtedly see a convergence of different popes. Beginning from Pius X up to the present pope (JP II), they all shared the sufferings of the century and strove to go forward through all the anguish along the path that leads to the cross. In the vision, the pope too is killed with the martyrs. When, after the attempted assassination on May 13, 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the ‘secret’ brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate? He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: ‘it was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the pope halted at the threshold of death’ (May 13, 1994). That here ‘a mother’s hand’ had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces that can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.”
For decades, people wondered about what the content of the third part of the secret might be. When it was finally revealed, some were disappointed and some remained incredulous because they expected some exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history. But the events of the third part of the secret seem part of the past, of the 20th century. Actually, the third part of the secret belongs to the whole of the Fatima message: the importance of prayer as the path of salvation as well as the summons to penance and conversion. This is the essence of Fatima as it is intimately the message of the Gospel that Our Lady guides us to. The message of Fatima is a message of hope, not despair. Our Lady invites us to trust in the promise of her Son who said: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
It is important that we not look at the events of Fatima as some isolated revelation. We must recognize the profound connection between Christ, the Church, the Gospel, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fatima is a private revelation. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained: “Because the single Revelation of God addressed to all peoples comes to completion with Christ and the witness borne to him in the books of the New Testament, the Church is tied to this unique event of sacred history and to the word of the Bible, which guarantees and interprets it. But this does not mean that the Church can now look only to the past and that she is condemned to sterile repetition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in this regard: “even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made fully explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries” (#66). It is in this context that we must look at private revelations, like Fatima.
The Catechism teaches: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church… It is not their role to complete Christ’s definite Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history” (#67). That’s what Our Lady helps us to do. Her messages at Fatima are to help us to understand and live the Gospel. Approved private revelations, like Fatima, “help us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith” (Cardinal Ratzinger).
I think it is helpful to consider what exactly the children of Fatima experienced. What the children experienced in the apparitions was an interior vision, what Cardinal Ratzinger called “interior perception.” “Interior vision does not mean fantasy, which would be no more than an expression of the subjective imagination. It means rather that the soul is touched by something real, even if beyond the senses.” It is not without significance that Our Lady appeared to children. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained: “their souls are as yet little disturbed, their interior powers of perception are still not impaired.” At the same time, we must keep in mind that interior visions have their limitations because there is always a subjective element present. We’re dealing with realities that transcend space and time. The children experienced a real perception of something that has a higher origin, yet within the bounds of their capacities. It seems that God chooses children because, as Cardinal Ratzinger said, “their interior powers of perception are still not impaired.” It is also important that we look at the Fatima message and the children’s visions as a whole, in their totality. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “The details must be understood on the basis of the images taken in their entirety…. The center is found where the vision becomes a summons and a guide to the will of God.”
In the course of the centennial year, we will have the opportunity to consider more closely the six apparitions and the messages. I would like, therefore, to look at the whole, the central message. Then, I would like to share with you about the preparations for Our Lady’s apparitions 100 years ago, the experiences of the three children 100 years ago this year, back in 1916, namely, the three visions of an angel.
The Fatima message involves a truth and a call that the Church has always taught, the truth and the call of the Gospel itself. In its basic nucleus, it is a call to conversion and repentance, hearkening back to the first words that Jesus addressed to humanity in His public preaching: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” (Matthew 1:15). Our mother Mary appeared to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco with a message to the world that was the message of her Son: a call to repentance, linked, as always, with a call to prayer. Convert and repent! Everything about Fatima is linked to this call of the Gospel. Our Lady came to repeat this call in the context of the modern day, 100 years ago. It is a call that is as important today as it was in 1917. We can even think back to Saint John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan River. He invited the people to repentance. Mary our Mother came to the children at Fatima and gave what seems like a strong and even severe message, which reminds me of the severe message of repentance preached by John the Baptist. Mary even showed the children a vision of hell. But she delivers this strong and severe message as a loving mother. It is in her motherly love for us that she communicates warnings of damnation. It is her loving care for our salvation. She knows that sin hurts us. She wants us to receive the life of her Son, the abundant life that He came to bring to humanity. The Fatima message is fundamentally a message of love. Mary’s immaculate heart is full of love for her children. The children of Fatima, even though they received glimpses of evil, were comforted by their loving Mother.
When we think of the world today, we can feel almost overcome by the evil around us: wars, terrorism, violence, abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, abandoned refugees, the crisis of marriage and the family, the persecution of Christians, threats to our religious liberty, atheism, aggressive secularism, relativism,… the list goes on.
In 1982, in a visit to Fatima, Saint John Paul II said: “In the light of a mother’s love we understand the whole message of the Lady of Fatima.. The greatest obstacle to man’s journey towards God is sin, perseverance in sin, and, finally, denial of God. The deliberate blotting out of God from the world of human thought. The detachment from Him of the whole of man’s earthly activity. The rejection of God by man. In reality, the eternal salvation of man is only in God. Man’s rejection of God, if it becomes definitive, leads logically to God’s rejection of man; to damnation. Can the Mother, who desires everyone’s salvation with all the force of the love that she fosters in the Holy Spirit, keep silence on what undermines the very bases of each one’s salvation? No, she cannot.” Mary didn’t keep silent. She spoke to the shepherd children with a message that is so vitally important for us today: the message of repentance and conversion, a strong, yet loving, message. This message of Fatima, the message of the Gospel, is addressed to us today. Our Mother reaches out to us who live in a culture where there is a collapse of morality, resulting in so much suffering, which brings so many dangers, including right here in our own country. However, it is not a doomsday message. She revealed to the children that her Immaculate Heart will triumph. How? We don’t know exactly. But we do know that it must begin with each one of us, in our own hearts, our own conversion from sin, our own repentance, our own prayer and sacrifices, just as Mary asked for these things from the shepherd children in their own lives. We should never underestimate the power and influence of God’s grace working through our own lives. Evangelization begins not with some elaborate program or ministry, but it begins in the heart of each one of us. Mary helps us. When we consecrate ourselves to her and her Immaculate Heart, we accept her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind to her Son.
It is disturbing when we think about how it seems that so many people and societies have moved in a direction opposite the direction indicated by Our Lady 100 years ago. That’s why the message of Fatima is still urgent, even more urgent, today. Suffering and evil have not diminished. In fact, it seems that it has spread. But we must not waver in our trust in God’s mercy, in the power of Christ’s redemption, in the power of love that is always stronger and more powerful than any evil. That’s the message of this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the message Pope Francis wants the Church to embrace. We cannot succumb to despair. Yet, we must not be complacent in the presence of evil. Mary appeals to us today with the message she gave to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. She appeals to us with the words of her Son: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus appeals to us through His mother.
In a conversation with the former Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, some years ago before her death, Sister Lucia reiterated the heart of the Fatima message. Cardinal Bertone said that Sister Lucia would cite Our Lady’s words from the October 13th apparition as a kind of basic reference point. Here are those words: “I have come to exhort the faithful to change their lives and to stop offending the Lord by their sins. He is already too much offended.” According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the key word of the third part of the secret of Fatima is the threefold cry: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” He wrote: “To understand the signs of the times means to accept the urgency of penance – of conversion – of faith. This is the correct response to this moment of history….”. Cardinal Ratzinger then added a personal recollection of a conversation he had with Sister Lucia. She said to him that “it appeared ever more clearly to her that the purpose of all the apparitions was to help people to grow more and more in faith, hope, and love – everything else was intended to lead to this.” So that’s Fatima; that’s the Gospel: penance, conversion, and growth in faith, hope, and love! That’s the way to avert destruction. That’s the way to salvation. And intimately and necessarily connected to conversion and growth in the theological virtues is prayer. So I wish to say a few things about Our Lady’s messages about prayer, encouraging you in this upcoming centennial year to enter more deeply and regularly into prayer as Our Lady of Fatima invites us.
In all her apparitions, the request made most frequently by Our Lady is to pray the rosary daily. In her first apparition on May 13th, 1917, Our Lady said to the children” Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” That was World War I. She would repeat this request for a daily rosary for peace in all six of her apparitions in Fatima. In her third apparition on July 13th, 1917, Our Lady added that the rosary was to be prayed in honor of Our Lady of Rosary… because only she can help you.” This coming Friday, October 7th, is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast was established in remembrance of the power of the rosary on the day of the famous battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. The pope at the time, Saint Pius V, had ordered the Christians of Rome to pray the Rosary continually on that day when the Christian fleet, greatly outnumbered by the Muslim fleet, was trying to defend Europe. The Christian fleet was about to be annihilated when a strong wind turned against the enemy and the Christians were victorious. Recognizing the power of Mary’s intercession and the power of the rosary on that occasion, Pope Saint Pius V instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In the spiritual battles we face today, we need to have recourse to Our Lady, especially by praying the rosary for world peace and as, Saint John Paul II recommended, also for the family.
You may recall that Saint John Paul II called for a revival and rediscovery of the rosary. He wrote a beautiful apostolic letter on the rosary in 2002 in which he gave us the gift of the five luminous mysteries “to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary.” He added these mysteries of Christ’s public ministry to make it more fully a “compendium of the Gospel.” I recommend that you pray these mysteries of light, especially on Thursdays. He also proclaimed the Year of the Rosary that extended from October 2002 to October, 2003. As a result, I think we have seen something of a revival of the rosary in the Church. We need this prayer for peace and for the family. I also encourage you to pray the rosary with your children.
Saint John Paul told us that the rosary was his favorite prayer. “While in Fatima in 1991, John Paul spoke of the Rosary, saying, ‘It’s our daily meeting which neither I nor Blessed Virgin Mary neglect.’ What is telling about this statement is that she didn’t neglect her daily Rosary with him, either. To him, the prayer was not a monologue. When asked if the Virgin Mary ever appeared to him, John Paul replied: No. But when asked if she had ever spoken to him, he answered: Yes. One can only wonder if the five new mysteries of the Rosary that he offered to the Church in 2002 were the fruit of such dialogues” (Jason Evert, Saint John Paul the Great, p. 164).
To be devoted to Our Lady of Fatima is to be devoted to the rosary. I encourage you to pray the rosary daily, to spread the rosary, to teach others, especially children and young people how to pray the rosary. It is truly a compendium of the Gospel. It is powerful. How beautiful it is, as Saint John Paul said “to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.” That’s what we do when we pray the mysteries of the rosary.
Our Lady of Fatima also requested the observance of the first five Saturdays. During the third apparition on July 13th, Our Lady said that she would come to ask for the “Communion of Reparation” on the first Saturdays. And she did. Mary appeared with the Christ Child to Sister Lucia on December 10th, 1925. At that time, Sister Lucia was a postulant with the Dorothean Sisters at a convent in Pontevedra, Spain. In that apparition, “Jesus and Mary asked that the on the first Saturdays of five consecutive months, we go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say a Rosary and then meditate for fifteen minutes on the mysteries of the Rosary. All of these are to be done with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the many sins and blasphemies by which she is offended. Mary promised that she will assist at the moment of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, every person who makes this devotion. The Christ Child stressed, however, that we should not make this devotion only once, but make it over and over again” (Father Andrew Apostoli, Fatima for Today, p. 78).
I mention this devotion because it really is a beautiful way to grow in the spiritual life. It doesn’t require one to go to confession on that Saturday, but it can be within eight days of the first Saturday, according to Sister Lucia. One has to be careful not to be too scrupulous. I think this devotion is helpful today since there are increasing sins and blasphemies against Our Lord and Our Lady. Our Lord revealed to Sister Lucia five blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary that we see occurring in the world today: Blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity, her motherhood, indifference and even hatred of her implanted in children, and the disfiguring or destroying of images of Mary. Just a few months ago, we saw this happen in Oklahoma City with the desecration of Mary’s image by Satanists. Hard to believe, but true, in this day and age. The devotion of the first five Saturdays is a very practical and concrete way to heed our Lady’s invitation to prayer which she made at Fatima. She asks for sacrifice for sinners and for reparation. This is one way to sacrifice, dedicating that time on Saturdays.
Since we are preparing for the celebration of the centennial, I think it is good to recall the preparation of the three shepherd children that took place in 1916, 100 years ago this year. They received three angel apparitions. The word “angel” means “messenger.” In the Scriptures, we read about the angels who were messengers sent by God to prepare His people. At Fatima, an angel calling himself the Angel of Peace visited the three children to prepare them for what was to come.
The first apparition occurred in the spring of 1916. The three children were outside tending their sheep and had prayed the rosary together. Sister Lucia described in her memoirs what they saw: “a young man, about 14 or 15 years old, whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it and of great beauty.” Naturally, the children were astonished. The angel said to them: “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel knelt down and bowed until his forehead touched the ground (think of Muslims). This expressed great reverence to God. The children did the same. The angel taught them a beautiful prayer that perhaps you know. It is called the Pardon Prayer. “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” The angel repeated these words three times. Then he rose and said to the children, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” Then the angel disappeared. This was truly a preparation for Our Lady’s appearances, since the children were being taught to pray for the salvation of souls, for sinners. I think this Pardon Prayer is a beautiful prayer for us to say and to teach our children. This appearance of the Angel of Peace was the first such intense spiritual experience for the children. They felt the intimate presence of God, something quite beautiful.
The angel appeared to them a second time in the summer of 1916 at a well near the home of Lucia. The children were playing. The angel said to them: “Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” After that, the children became more devoted to prayer, especially praying the Pardon Prayer frequently. Of course, prayer is a central part of Our Lady’s message at Fatima. So the children were being prepared. But the angel also mentioned sacrifices. When Lucia asked him how they were to make sacrifice, the angel answered: “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.” Again, this was preparing them for a basic element of the Fatima message.
The third apparition of the angel occurred around this time, in late September or early October of 1916. The children were again grazing their sheep, like at the first apparition. They were praying the Pardon Prayer when the angel appeared. He was holding in his left hand a chalice, and over it was a Eucharistic Host. You’ve probably seen this image. Leaving the chalice and Host suspended in the air, the angel knelt down beside the children. They all bowed profoundly before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with their foreheads to the ground. The angel then taught them another prayer. Perhaps you have seen it or prayed it:
“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 Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.”
After the prayer, the angel rose, took the chalice and Host into his hands, gave the consecrated Host to Lucia, who had already made her First Holy Communion, and then gave the chalice to Francisco and Jacinto, though they had not yet made their first Communion. The angel said to them: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” Then the angel bowed down to the ground again, and repeated three times the prayer he had just taught the children. He then left. His mission was over. The children had been in ecstasy and were filled with peace and happiness. Though they did not know it, they were now prepared to meet our Lady.
These three appearances of the angel are a good reflection for us as we approach the centenary celebration. They remind us of the importance of prayer, of reparation, and of reverence for the Eucharist, both Holy Communion and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In the next six months or so before the first visit of Our Lady, the children put into practice all that the angel had taught them.
I invite you to think about these three apparitions of the angel and to pray the two prayers that the angel taught the children between now and May 13th. Perhaps some of you already pray these prayers. In our diocesan pilgrimage to Fatima next July, we will visit the two sites of these three angel apparitions. I like to think about these three experiences of the angel of peace, perhaps the childrens’ guardian angel. He opened to them the doorway into infinity, the doorway to the transcendent, to God, a doorway that would be further opened by the Blessed Virgin Mary. For us too, they open the doorway, maybe not in such an extraordinary manner as in supernatural apparitions, but a doorway nonetheless. The doorway was opened in a way to Mary herself by another angel, the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. We shouldn’t forget about the angels, the mysterious messengers of God who surround us. They are creatures of God, pure spirits. Through grace, they partake of God’s infinite glory. As we know, some rebelled and sinned against God and became the first adversaries of the Creator. But others, like the Angel of Peace who appeared to the children of Fatima, were good, stayed faithful to God, and received a mission from Him, a mission to humanity. They became God’s ambassadors to man. They participate in the history of salvation. They serve us and are solicitous for our salvation. We read in the letter to the Hebrews: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?” (1:14). Tomorrow, though it is a Sunday this year, is the feast of the Guardian Angels. It is good to have recourse to them. It is good to venerate these messengers of God’s love. When we reflect on the Angel of Peace in the Fatima events, we are reminded of our guardian angels. They are not mythological. They are real. Saint Basil the Great wrote: “Every one of the faithful has beside him an angel as tutor and pastor, to lead him to life.”
We will have many opportunities in the year ahead to reflect on the events and message of Fatima. These are opportunities for ongoing conversion and repentance, for growth in our prayer life, and for growth in the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Our Lady, our spiritual mother, guides us and helps us. That’s why she appeared to Lucia, Blessed Francisco, and Blessed Jacinta. She helped them. She is the Help of Christians. Her heart is immaculate, untouched by sin. Amid all the trials and troubles we encounter in this life, including the challenges of our culture today, even in the midst of terrible sinfulness and horrors, we must never give up hope in the promise that in the end Mary’s Immaculate Heart will triumph. That’s what Our Lady said to the children of Fatima at the third apparition on July 13th, when she revealed the three secrets. Cardinal Ratzinger explained beautifully what this triumph of Mary’s heart means: “The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior into the world – because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets us be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom toward what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: ‘In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.”
May our Blessed Mother help us to become better disciples during this upcoming centennial year!