How would it affect your faith if you saw the sun dance in the sky? What difference would it make in your trust in God if you were soaked by standing in a heavy downpour one minute, but a few minutes later you were dry and the ground was not muddy? Such were the events that happened in Fatima, Portugal on October 13, 1917 in the presence of 75,000 people. What if you had been one of those people?
Between May and October, 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field near the unknown village of Fatima. While no one but the children saw the Blessed Virgin, many others saw a small cloud on which she was standing and were caught in a sense of Presence. Over time the Church substantiated this really was communication from God through Mary that could and would give guidance to our world. The Church (and world) celebrates this appearance and communication this week, one hundred years later.
There were messages and predictions given at Fatima—not just to three children, but to the Church, to all of us. Those messages and predictions included a vision of hell, calls to do penance, a vision of a man in white killed (interpreted to have been the attempted assassination of Pope Saint John Paul II), visions of great trials and evils to come into the world, pleas to pray the rosary, to pray for mercy, to especially pray for Russia, and to turn to and emulate the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Considering Fatima gives a rich meaning to today’s readings.
The reading from Malachi is literally the last of the Old Testament. The setting is Jerusalem around 455 BCE. The people have returned from Babylon and begun to rebuild, but they are not working hard or rebuilding for God. Priests are careless with the sacrifices and with their lives. People are discouraged by living in rubble and without even minimal conveniences. This is the time before Nehemiah and Ezra came to inspire and guide their rebuilding of Jewish culture and faith.
Malachi is Hebrew for “messenger.” Perhaps because this unknown prophet was sharply criticizing the small Jewish community in Jerusalem he did not identify himself. He both critiques and promises in today’s reading:
You have said, “It is vain to serve God,
and what do we profit by keeping his command,
And going about in penitential dress
in awe of the LORD of hosts?
Rather must we call the proud blessed;
for indeed evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.”
For lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
And the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
Much like the words of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima for our modern age.
The Perfect Storm of Europe in the 20th Century
When the Blessed Virgin came to Fatima in 1917 Europe was toward the end of the “the Great War,” World War I. While the children in Fatima were well removed from that war, it killed millions and set up the unjust and horrific conditions that led to the spread of fascism, communism, and World War II.
After World War II came the spread of communism, the capacity for nuclear war, technology, and growths in capitalism, nationalism, individualism, and atheism that have over time eroded cultural foundations for a life of faith.
Not unlike what happened in Babylon.
Very much like what was described to the children at Fatima.
The Fatima Call to Prayer and Penance
It seems to me that part of the message of Fatima with its thousands of observers and predictions for this past hundred years, is the message of Malachi—trust that eventually God triumphs, God reigns. This is the kind of apocryphal message that can bring hope and foster perseverance when literally the world comes down around you. It was a message to instill courage and dependency on God as Christian Europe fell apart.
But another very important part of Fatima is the call to prayer. “Pray the rosary,” Mary said. “Pray for the conversion of Russia.” “Pray for the Church and for families.” “Pray.”
It was at Fatima that Mary asked us to add to each decade of the rosary after the Glory Be, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.”
Jesus’ Call to Prayer
Jesus calls us to prayer today in the Gospel reading. This passage follows immediately after Jesus’ giving us the Our Father in Tuesday’s reading. He describes how a neighbor will get up and give a neighbor some bread in the middle of the night, even though he doesn’t want to, to get the neighbor to go away. Then he says,
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
What Do Fatima and Jesus’ Words Here Mean to Me Today?
I am very much influenced by what Steven said in his A Catholic Moment reflection yesterday. He noted that Jesus’ disciples asked him HOW to pray. He commented on the difference it would make in our prayer if, instead of asking God to give peace or justice or help, we asked, “Lord, HOW I can make peace?” “HOW can I handle this situation fairly?” “HOW can I help?”
I had not thought about “HOW” in just the way Steven described it, but reflection tells me that yes, my experience of intercessory prayer says that it is very true. When I bring a client or friend or situation to God and seek to know what to do, I am inadvertently asking God, “Show me HOW to help.”
God has answered that prayer for me again and again and again. I am stuck with a client or a relationship or a problem. I give it to God. Maybe an hour later, maybe a week, a thought comes in my head that softens my heart or gives me an idea of something I can do to reach out, speak truth in a way it can be heard, or show love in a way that softens, gentles, opens a door to resolution.
Or God does the same in other people involved.
And again and again and again, the power of evil shifts, diminishes, or becomes glaringly apparent so it can be recognized.
I am part of a prayer effort in our parish to pray a rosary specifically for our country—that God would return us to the foundational faith of the US’s founders. I’ve spent substantial time in front of abortion facilities or Planned Parenthood praying the rosary to save unborn children and their parents. Each Tuesday I pray a rosary with a group at a local assisted living facility.
But in between—well, rosaries challenge me. They are not my “go to” form of prayer. Yet at Fatima Mary asked us to pray the rosary for our world and church—and those prayers are needed. I keep asking God for help to fully embrace the rosary. Maybe the “HOW” thought is God’s answer to me.
We have seen how the prayers of people have diminished the power of communism (though its atheism is rampant), saved Pope Saint John Paul’s life when he was struck by a would-be assassin, and recently how the power of hurricanes radically diminished or people were protected in their midst.
We are perhaps also witnessing the evil which still seeks to destroy the Church and Christian faith. That leads me to think that maybe we (I) need to pray the rosary more, pray better. Maybe do penance, too.
What if we join the thought of today’s first reading (God will hear the cries of his faithful and come with justice) with Jesus and Mary’s requests of us to pray with perseverance and Steven’s thought of asking God how? What if we (I) pray the rosary faithfully asking, “Show me HOW to change the culture of death.” “Show me HOW to combat atheism, secularism, and the insults to God in our culture.” “Show me HOW to offer us who I am and what I have TODAY to make Thy Kingdom come.”
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
And show me HOW to pray for our world, to pray for our church, especially the little corner of the world and church where I live, so that the Kingdom of God comes in me TODAY. Amen.