Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us! This is a remarkable feast commemorating a private revelation that has arguably exercised more influence on the Catholic imagination than any other. From Our Lady’s prediction of the end of World War I and coming World War II to her identification of the impending global catastrophe of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution; from the Three Secrets (here) to the dancing sun miracle; from her revelation of Hell to three small children to her promotion of the Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Fatima has impressed herself deeply in the Catholic spirit. Let me share with you a portion of the vision of Hell the children received to give you a taste of Fatima’s stark vividness:
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.”
Pope Benedict XV wrote a letter dated May 5, 1917, pleading for an end to World War I. He asked the faithful throughout the world to have recourse to the Heart of Jesus through the mediation of Mary, and he ordered that the invocation “Queen of Peace, pray for us” be permanently added to the Litany of Loreto. Here’s a portion of what he said,
Our earnestly pleading voice, invoking the end of the vast conflict, the suicide of civilized Europe, was then and has remained ever since unheard. Indeed, it seemed that the dark tide of hatred grew higher and wider among the belligerent nations, and drew other countries into its frightful sweep, multiplying ruin and massacre. Nevertheless Our confidence was not lessened …. Since all graces which the Author of all good deigns to grant to the poor children of Adam, by a loving design of His Divine Providence are dispensed through the hands of the most holy Virgin, we wish that the petition of Her most afflicted children, more than ever in this terrible hour, may turn with lively confidence to the august Mother of God.
To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to Her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that Her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.
Exactly eight days after this appeal — an octave! — Heaven replied as Mary appeared on 5/13/1917 to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Her message was clear: prayer and penance! Here’s a sample of what she said, from the third apparition on July 13,
Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say often whenever you make a sacrifice: “O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them.
A Child’s Solution to War
Here’s what strikes me most about the message of Fatima: Mary’s proposed solution to the unimaginable complexity of what was at that time history’s bloodiest war was piety. She does not propose diplomatic strategies, but calls for repentance and conversion, reparation and penance, vicarious act of consecration and the daily praying of the Rosary, daily sacrifices and Adoration. The primary strategy she proposed for establishing peace was imitating the crucified High Priest: praying, sacrificial self-offering and so atoning for sins. In other words, as I said two weeks ago, conquering Hell and consecrating the world to God comes about by hanging as a powerless, praying Victim on the Cross of Christ. As in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, it’s the bloody slain Lamb that slays the blood-thirsty and violent Dragon, waging war by means of what you might call God’s peaceful violence. So there’s no surprise to hear this description by the visionary Lucia of this vision that accompanied the Third Secret:
Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspergillum in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
For Christians, our body-sacrificing (cf Rom. 12:1) baptismal priestly identity stands at the heart of the war against evil. Worship and prayer, sacrifice and repentance, penance and acts of faith, hope and love are, in God’s economy, omnipotent weapons.
As a priest friend of mine colorfully says it,
All loss in Him is gain. On the cross God defeats dark powers by a victorious victimhood, an omnipotent impotence, a heroic defeat. If you just give God your aches and pains, justice falls and mercy reigns…is it not divine comedy that the raging roar of Hell is undone by a frail elder whispering of a prayer while thumbing a bead?
What a wonderfully dizzying and counter-intuitive vision of life! The fabulous naivete of spiritual childhood!
So, rejoice in God’s strategic plan today by consecrating the world to God by your dally fidelity to prayer, sacrifices and penance.
Oh, and pray the Rosary.