[*Trigger warning for Bosco – do not read, it will bring on strange palpitations]
It is now a century since the Blessed Virgin appeared in the Cova del Iria in Fatima, to three peasant children. She would appear to Lucia dos Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto four more times. On the last occasion, in October 1917, a huge crowd gathered to see her, as rumour had spread that a sign would be granted. It was. On that day ‘the sun danced’, or at least that was what onlookers reported – the sun seemed to move, come close to the earth – some even thought (as men and women will) that the end times had come. It had not. Within four years two of the little ‘seers’, Jacinta and Francisco, were dead; Lucia, who became a nun, lived on until 2005. Today, Pope Francis will canonise Jacinta and Francisco. What began as a small, local phenomenon, has become a global one.
Jesus himself lamented the tendency of mankind to demand signs, not least because it always needed more signs. The Church imposes no obligation upon us to believe the revelations of Fatima, although the canonisation of the little Seers is a clear statement of its view; we can choose to believe or not. Faith does not depend on signs, but the signs given at Fatima were the ones our age needed to hear. It is natural that our age should respond by shutting its eyes to them. “What”, it says, “a miraculous sign, well, we don’t believe in such things, we seek rational explanations”. But there is nothing rational about rejecting a priori miraculous events; Christian history is full of them, and our faith is founded on the greatest miracle of all – that God became man for our sakes, died on the Cross and was raised again on the third day. If we believe that, how can there be a problem with any other miracle?
Our Lady calls for repentance. Again, our age offers cheap forgiveness, so what need has it for repentance? The Church, like Christianity in general, has more or less topped talking about hell, and the way it emphasises that all can be forgiven, shades too readily into the message that all are forgiven. Our Lady of Fatima warns of the perils of hell. Our age has abolished hell and does not want to hear about it; yet another reason we prefer not to listen to the message of Fatima. She also calls for penance, something else with which our age is uncomfortable, so much so that it tends to find the self-mortification of the little seers almost a form of child abuse. Then, of course, is the idea that God might send a war as punishment for the sins of the world. We have constructed a God outside of time and space, so the notion he intervenes, as he always has, is yet another reason we are uncomfortable with the message from Fatima.
Yet what, in any of it, is not there from the beginning? We are called to repentance and penance by a God who intervenes to save us from the fires of hell and who wants all souls led to heaven. That the mother of Our Saviour should exercise her maternal care for her children and seek to lead all souls to the path that leads to her Son is, if one stops to pray, the most obvious thing in this world or the next. But the world does not want to believe in hell, so closes its ears. But the message from Our Lady through the little Seers is as relevant now as it ever has been.
As Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco did, so must we do. They listened, they did penance, they prayed the Rosary, and they spread the message that God wants to lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of his mercy. The message of Fatima is not one set apart for private revelation, it is the call our age needs to heed. For those who want to know more, there is a new book out by the estimable Professor Stephen Bullivant on the meaning of the Fatima Prayer – I recommend it highly.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.
What could be more relevant to our age than these words> If we will not turn to Jesus and repent, then the path ahead of us is clear enough. That some men will focus upon ‘Diana worship’ when they should be focussing on their sins, says much for why we should heed the lessons of Fatima. St Francisco, St Jacinta, Blessed Sr Lucia, pray for us, Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.