It was May 13, 1917. Three shepherd children were watching their sheep in the Cova da Iria, a piece of land near Fatima, Portugal. It was a beautiful morning, and Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were busy playing. Suddenly, they saw a flash of light. Thinking it was lightning, Lucia, the oldest, recommended that they go home. Her cousins, who were nine and seven years old, agreed.
They began to drive the sheep back home. But as they neared a young oak tree, there was another flash of light; and there, atop the oak tree, stood a beautiful lady, shining like the sun.
Then Our Lady told us, "Don't be afraid. I will not hurt you."
"Where are You from?" I asked.
"I am from heaven."
"And what do You want from me?"
"I came to ask you to come here six months in a row on the thirteenth at this same time. Later I will tell you who I am and what I want. Then I will return here a seventh time."
Lucia asked the Lady whether she and Jacinta and Francisco would go to Heaven. The Lady replied that they would, although Francisco would have to say many rosaries. Lucia then asked whether two young ladies who had been her friends and recently died were in Heaven; the Lady replied that one of them was, and that the other was in Purgatory. Then the Lady said,
"Do you wish to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings that He may wish to send you, in reparation for the sins with which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners?"
"Yes, we do."
"Go, then, for you will have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort."
It was on pronouncing these last words that She opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense, like reflections from her hands, that penetrated our chests and the innermost part of our souls, making us see ourselves in God. God was this light, making us see ourselves more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. Then, though an intimate impulse also communicated to us, we fell on our knees and repeated in our minds, "O Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee. My God, my God, I love Thee in the Blessed Sacrament."
The first few moments having passed, Our Lady added, "Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the [First World] War."
She then began to rise serenely, ascending toward the east until she disappeared in the immense distance. The light that surrounded her, as it were, gradually opened a way amid the stars, and this is why sometimes we said we have seen heaven opening up."
It's a rather wild story, isn't it? Sometimes I think those of us who are cradle Catholics have heard it so many times we forget how remarkable it is. We might inadvertently fall into a way of thinking similar to this: "Oh, yes, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima a hundred years ago. Such a nice story. Ho-hum."
At the same time, I think there's a danger that we lose the real significance of Our Lady's visits by focusing too much on the extraordinary phenomena that occurred. Our Lady didn't come to Portugal just to dazzle us the light surrounding her or amaze us by floating back to Heaven. Rather, she dazzled us with light and amazed us by floating back to Heaven to get our attention. She had something to tell us. More accurately, God had something to tell us. And that something is what we should be really concerned about.
What is really important about Our Lady's first visit? I think we should focus on the following things.
- Reparation and conversion. Our Lady asked the children if they were willing to offer up all the sufferings God sent them for two purposes: in reparation for the sins committed against him and for the conversion of poor sinners. These two intentions, which are closely linked, should be intentions close to our heart, too.
- Sacrifice. Mary promised the three children that they would have much to suffer, but the grace of God would be their comfort. Her promise would certainly come true; these three little children would go through more suffering in their lives than we can imagine. Even if we don't suffer to the extent they did, we, too, are going to have suffering in our lives. It's part of the human condition. We can't escape it. When we encounter it, the best thing we can do is offer it to God and suffer bravely for love of him.
- The Rosary. On her very first visit, Mary tells the children to pray the rosary for peace for the world. We all want world peace. Through Mary, God is telling us how to attain it: through prayer. Prayer and only prayer, especially the rosary, will bring peace to the world.
|From left to right: Jacinta, Lucia, and Francico|
These three themes, as we will see in the following weeks, come up again and again and again throughout the Fatima apparitions.
As basic and simple as these things are, there is something even simpler which lies at the very heart of the Fatima message. At the core of Our Lady's plea is one infinitely simple and infinitely crucial thing: love of God. It is only love of God that could give the Fatima children strength to do what they would have to do, and it is only love of God that gives prayers and sacrifices any merit. Love of God is the most important part of the Fatima Message. It's what the entire thing, complete with dancing suns and heroic shepherd children, really boils down to.
My Fatima resolution for the week: Find at least one time each day to offer up some little sacrifice for love of God.