One hundred years ago this weekend, three young children: Francisco Marto aged 9, Jacinta Marto aged 7 (his sister) and their cousin Lucy dos Santos aged 10 were given six apparitions of Our Lady. Initially an angel came to them to prepare them for Our Lady’s visit. Then on May 13th Our Lady appeared to them for the first time. She would appear to them on the 13th of each month until October.
Our Lady told Francisco and Jacinta that they would die young, but first they were asked to pray much and suffer much for the conversion of sinners. Francisco died two years later aged 11 and Jacinta the following year aged 8. Lucy eventually became a Carmelite nun where she spent the rest of her life. She died in 2005 at the age of 98. Our Lady told the children that there would only be peace if her requests were heeded. She asked that people would pray the rosary daily, wear the brown scapular and that Russia would be consecrated to her. She told them that war was a punishment for sin and that only through prayer and penance could war be avoided. She also said that if Russia wasn’t converted it would continue to spread its errors (Communism and atheism) throughout the world. What became known as the three ‘secrets’ of Fatima were also given to the children. The first was a vision of Hell, the second was a prophecy of World War II and the third remained secret but was believed to have to do with the sufferings of the Church and the Holy Father.
On the last day of the apparitions, which was on October 13th, the people who came to the place of the apparition were allowed to see the miracle of the sun. It was raining heavily but then suddenly the rain stopped, the sun came out and many people saw the sun ‘dancing’ or spinning, with many different colors coming from it and finally the sun seemed to be careering towards the earth but then stopped. It is believed that between 30 and 50,000 people witnessed this miracle. The miracle of the sun was granted to them to help the people believe in the reality of the apparitions.
Apart from the fact that it is an interesting story, what has this got to do with us today? Like so many other aspects of our faith it has everything to do with us. If God sends Our Lady to us, there must be a serious reason for it. Our Lady has also appeared in other parts of the world throughout the centuries and the message is always basically the same. It is never about her, it is always her pointing us back to God. She tells us that the world is living as though God does not exist and that if we continue to live that way we will destroy ourselves. If we ignore God and his teachings we just have to listen to the news to see what happens. Greed, corruption, desire for power, all lead to misery and war. God shows us the way, but if we ignore it we bring nothing but suffering on ourselves and as always it is the ordinary people who suffer. Those with power play political games and war games, those at the bottom suffer the consequences.
In the Old Testament Moses says to the people,
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give them…” (Deut 30:19 ff)
We are offered the same choice today and the consequences are just as serious. If we want the world to be a better place for us and our children, then we must begin with ourselves. Sorting out the world’s problems is not where we start. We start with ourselves by obeying the Lord’s commandments; by repentance and prayer and keeping God at the center. That is what changes the world.
Why did Our Lady show the children a vision of Hell? I'm sure to make us realize that it is real, that we can lose heaven and that our actions do have consequences. We will be accountable for the way we live. Does that mean that we should be afraid? Absolutely not. The Lord promises us that the smallest effort on our part is enough to win his infinite mercy. What is important is that we try and that we don't take it for granted that heaven is ours no matter what. What we have to try and remember is that our time here on earth is the time of sacrifice, of love and service. We will struggle until the day we are brought home to heaven, but we need to remind ourselves that it is not all about us, but about loving and serving the people around us.
The truth is that we don’t take sin and repentance seriously enough. If unrepentant sin is the one thing that could cause us to lose our greatest happiness, which is life with God when we die, then we need to take it very seriously. God gives us all the tools that we need, the Eucharist, the priesthood to give us the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins, but we must choose to use them. If you think back on your time in school: at the time it seemed long, but now it is already in the distant past and seems unimportant. Our life on earth is something similar. Now it often seems long and difficult, but soon our time on earth will be over and then it will seem remarkably short. How we live it is what is really important. Remember the words of Our Lady at the wedding at Cana when the married couple ran out of wine. Mary told Jesus what was wrong she then turned to the servants and said: ‘Do whatever He tells you.’
Our lady of Fatima, pray for us.