Mary and Joseph. God so loved the Virgin Mary that he gave his only begotten Son to her. The spotless Virgin Mary received him first in her heart and then in the womb (cf. LG, 53). Ever since Mary welcomed the word of the eternal Father in her virginal womb she loved him above everyone, above everything and above herself. But that love for Jesus she felt was incomplete. With Jesus in her immediately she went in haste to give him to her cousin Elizabeth and to others. Since then her life became inseparable from Jesus’ life and vice versa. It can be said that the virgin of Nazareth whom the eternal Father chose to be the Mother of God and the Mother of the Redeemer lived and worked for Jesus, her beloved Son.
Since the Annunciation which was her first Holy Communion Day (St. Teresa of Calcutta) Mary became the first tabernacle of the Lord. For nine months the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, dwelt in her, grew in her and the “Redeemer of man” breathed through her. Their heart beats were unison. He went where Mary went. He slept where she slept. Mary fed him with her life blood. No other creature could have greater physical closeness nor spiritual intimacy with Jesus than Mary had. It not only lasted for thirty three years but their relationship, especially the spiritual closeness, grew stronger and deeper with years of living and working together for the salvation of the world even after their earthly career was over.
The person chosen by God to share the physical closeness and spiritual intimacy was St. Joseph. It was to St. Joseph the eternal father entrusted the care and protection of both Jesus and Mary; and these were three extraordinary persons who ever lived on earth. In all three there was nothing but the desire to do the will of God, the Father. There was nothing but love and service, there was no ambition except to give and share; no other hunger and thirst except to know God, to love him madly and serve him whole-heartedly, to teach people to obey his commandments, and bring God to them and them to God.
They were people of deep inner convictions. In the presence of each other their convictions grew stronger and deeper. Their personal intimacy with Jesus made Mary and Joseph even more convinced of the importance of their vocation and mission. Their vocation and mission were not limited to their short span of life in this world of suffering, trials and sorrow, but became more powerful, effective and extraordinary after their going home to God. Their mission of love became an extension of the Father’s plan for and mission to mankind. Through them the eternal Father, who loves the world more than a mother who loves her suckling child (cf. Is 49: 15), not only reveals his saving plan for man but enables it to be realized through them until the end of the world. In this our Lady is the highly privileged and favoured daughter on whom the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bestowed every spiritual blessing in the heavens. Even before the foundation of the world, she was chosen by the Father to be his beloved and favourite daughter to become the mother of his only begotten Son (cf. Eph 1: 3 ff.).
Mary’s interventions to save souls. Many are the interventions of the Mother of God in human history and life. Her message is simple, but profound and practical. It is clear that God wants to continue to save the world through her pure, immaculate and maternal heart. Her apparitions and communications are interpretations of the teachings of Jesus found in the pages of the Gospels. So in various times and several places our Lady appeared to simple innocent and pure souls in order to save souls through them. We have, for example: Bernadette of Lourdes, Lucy, Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
It would not be out of place to go a little deeper into these apparitions, their contexts and their content, their differences and similarities, their immediate recipients of the messages. Even though the apparitions were to certain particular persons, the messages were for everybody and for all times and all places. It is interesting to note and important to pay attention to the choice of places, times and persons our Lady appeared to and the messages she communicated and continue to communicate.
My main purpose here is to compare the apparitions of our Lady to the three children of Fatima to the apparitions of our Lady to St. Teresa of Calcutta. However it may not be too much out of place to stop for a minute at Lourdes, and start from there and see some particularities of those apparitions and their central message.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was on 8 December 1854 Blessed Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma to be accepted and believed. Already the Church had two other Marian dogmas: Mary, the Mother of God, defended and defined by the Council Fathers at Ephesus in 431 A.D. The other Marian dogma is that the Mother of God remained ever virgin even though she gave birth to Jesus (ante partum, in partu et post partum). The definition of the third Marian dogma created certain uneasiness in certain quarters of the Church. One of the main criticisms was based on ecumenism. Most Protestant Churches did not give any special importance to our Lady’s role in the history and mystery of salvation. Adding one more defined Marian dogma with anathemas would keep the other denominations again away and apart from having any unity with the Catholic Church. Here our Lady herself had to intervene, which she did.
Lourdes apparitions reaffirm the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Mary chose a very poor village girl of fourteen, who knew neither to read nor to write, to tell the world and to reaffirm to the Church that the pope’s teaching was authentic, that she is the Immaculate Conception. The girl did not understand it at all. She was used by our Lady as an instrument, our Lady’s broom, to tell the sceptics to accept with humility the official teachings of the Church.
Bernadette Subirous suffered much in every way: in body, mind and soul. Our Lady told her that happiness was not for her in this world:
“I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next” (3rd apparition, Thursday, 18th February, 1858).
On the contrary she will suffer much. Our Lady wanted Bernadette to tell the parish priest to build a Chapel in honour of her:
“Go and tell the priests to have a Chapel built here “(10th apparition, Saturday, 27th February, 1858), to have Eucharistic adoration, processions: “The Lady told me that she wants people to come to the Grotto in procession” (13th apparition, Thursday, 2nd March, 1858), and praying the Rosary.
Through the water of the little stream of Massabielle thousands and thousands of miraculous healings, both spiritual and physical, took place. “There are other practical lessons here” writes Abbé Francois Trochis, “for the direction of every soul that aspires to a higher and nobler life, but which in its flight might shatter itself against self-love, the spirit of independence or the passion for pleasure. Detachment, obedience and humility was the refrain of this miraculous spring from its first murmurings; and it reveals to the world once more that it is by the lowest means that God, when he pleases, achieves great things” (St. Bernadette Subirous, p. 109). Many inner healings and conversions continue to take place in Lourdes ever since 1858 due to the power of prayer, sacrifice and penance:
“Penance, penance, penance” (8th and 9th apparitions, 24th and 25th February, 1858).
To be in Lourdes to see the faith of thousands who come from every corner of the world, bringing the sick, the paralysed, the disabled in wheelchairs, in bed rolls and in any and every way possible is something very moving, inspiring, edifying and fascinating.
Besides, the lines of penitents in the confessional who come to reconcile with God and with one another is another moving and edifying experience. Miracles are many. One must go to these places to witness to the profound faith of so many afflicted people coming to the heavenly Mother whose hands and heart are open to welcome them, listen to, understand and console them.
Jesus from the Cross entrusted the suffering humanity to the care and protection of his afflicted mother, whose heart was pierced through by a sword of sorrow. Her maternal heart puts the destructive flames out, as we find it written in “The Third Fatima Secret” by Sr. Lucy:
“…at the left of our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand…” (The Third part of the secret revealed at the Cova da Iria, Fatima on 13th July, 1917).
The same heavenly Queen and Mother of Mercy tells St. Teresa of Calcutta (1946-1947):
“Take care of them (the crowd) they are mine – bring them to Jesus and carry Jesus to them…”.
Two thousand years ago this was what our Lady did as soon as she received Jesus in her heart and in her virginal womb: she went in haste, carrying Jesus. Now she needs human beings to do that. Like Mary, who had her first Holy Communion at the Annunciation and went in haste to meet the human needs of her cousin Elizabeth, St. Teresa M.C., the Missionaries of Charity and all those who receive Jesus, must carry him to others, whoever they may be. The mysteries of the Annunciation and Visitation are two inseparable sides of the same coin, as the virtues of faith and charity are!
The Foundational Entrustment. From the Cross Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple John to Mary and his dearest mother to his beloved disciple John. For the Gospel says:
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…Seeing the mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother: ‘Woman, this is your Son’”. Then he said to his disciple: “’This is your mother!’, and from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn 19: 25-27).
There was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Maybe she could not understand all that was going on, but she could love him to the very end. Her presence was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus might be a criminal in the eyes of the law, but he was her beloved son.
St. John represents the entire humanity. Many of the Fathers of the Church saw in this entrustment of John to Mary by the crucified Jesus from the Cross the whole of humanity. In other words, the beloved disciple of the Gospel of John here represents the entire human race. So through John Jesus entrusts to Mary from the Cross the whole of mankind. Jesus redeemed the world through the Cross. “We adore you, O Christ and we praise you because by the Holy Cross you have redeemed the world”. Jesus opened the road to the Father again that was closed by the sin of our first parents. Jesus is the free way to the Father. As he says “I am the way” (Jn 14: 5) to be walked on, he is the truth to be believed and told to all in season and out of season and he is the life to be lived.
Mary’s maternal guidance. All of us need a good guide who knows the way well, who lived the truth in full and who has shared his life very closely. Who could be better than the mother of Jesus? She knew him better than any other creature on earth; she knew him from the first moment of his incarnation. It is in her that first of all the Word became flesh and only after nine months did he dwell among us through Mary. Without our Lady we do not have Jesus. That is the truth. There is no wonder then, that Jesus from the Cross entrusts John, the only faithful disciple, to Mary and Mary to the disciple whom Jesus loved.
On the other hand everyone is invited to accept, welcome and live with Mary as John did, as the Gospel says: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”. Mankind has to walk with Mary to be redeemed. Again and again Jesus entrusts humanity to Mary’s care to be brought to him.
That is why he lets our Lady appear again and again in various places, times and situations. Mankind is still in need of redemption and salvation. On the other hand mankind can and should see in Mary its perfect image and reflection and humbly and obediently accept her maternal guidance. It is not without reason that Jesus entrusted John to Mary and Mary to John from the Cross. It is another sign and expression of Jesus’ on going love for suffering humanity to the very end.
“If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’mine, O Mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
O Mother o’ mine, O Mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O Mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O Mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would take me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O Mother o’ mine!
The eternal love of Motherhood is in Mary at the Cross.
Jesus on the cross, a paradox and a contradiction. The evangelists, especially Luke and John see the Cross of Jesus as the royal throne and high priests’ pulpit. This is clear also by the inscription placed above Jesus’ head on the Cross:
“Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mt 27: 37).
From the Gospel according to John we read:
“Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” (I.N.R.I.), (Jn 19: 19).
Already the angel Gabriel had told Mary at the Annunciation that Jesus “will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his kingdom will have no end” (Lk 1: 32-33).
Although Jesus was the prophet, priest and king, he became a paradox and a contradiction. The persons he chose to be with, his mother and his foster father, were people of no standing in society. The King of kings was born in a manger among animals (cf. Lk 2: 7), and he had no place to lay his head: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9: 58). The place where he grew up was of no importance either: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1: 46). Although he chose the men he wanted after a full night of prayer (Mk 3: 13 ff.), they faltered and failed. One of them not only betrayed him but even ended up his life in despair (Mt 27: 5) and the other, Peter whom he appointed as head and leader, denied him three times (Mt 26: 69 ff.).
Jesus’ life, a complete failure in human eyes. Jesus’ entire earthly life for the most part was a complete failure in human eyes. His last days on earth were even worse. The worst of all began in the Upper Room during his last meal, which was the first Eucharistic celebration, when Judas walked out of the room with the morsel of bread in his mouth given by Jesus (Jn 13: 20). In that dark hour of the night Judas went out to do the work of darkness, which he did. He sold Jesus, his Master for thirty silver pieces. There was darkness in him and all around him. He saw nothing but darkness within and without: “The light came into the world but men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3: 19). Judas lived with the light, but he did not receive it, because his heart was not pure, sincere and transparent (cf. Jn 13: 27).
There came the climax and the culmination and the paradox on that first Good Friday. The Cross can be seen as a stumbling block as the Jews saw it, or as an absurdity and folly as the Greeks saw it or one can see it as the power and the wisdom of God and adore and thank God for it, as did the believers and the followers of Christ (cf. 1Cor 1: 18 ff.). Countless are the examples of Christians who offered their lives on the altar of the Cross down through the centuries.
The regality and nobility of Jesus. This was not all. Going deeper and deeper into the event of the crucifixion, we see the regality and the nobility of Jesus. “Quod scripsi, scripsi” said Pilate, “What I have written, I have written” (Jn 19: 22). This was said by Pilate precisely in the context of the kingship of Jesus. Jesus did not take up his Cross as his fate, as if he had no other choice. He was not forced to do it, except by the force of love. He did it in full freedom and in love. It was Jesus’ supreme expression of love for his Father and for mankind whose King he is. There he is on the Cross between two thieves, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews “. Born among animals, now he dies between two thieves. What a wonderful and unique King we have!
Although there were not many who had the grace to recognize the regality and the power of love Jesus manifested on the Cross, one of the thieves who was hung with him did: “…in our case we deserve it” he said, “we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong!” Then he said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. He answered him: “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23: 41-43). His kingship consists mainly in saving souls in love. The Cross became a throne of mercy, the yom kipurim – the mercy seat for all sinners of good will of all times and places!
The Mother of Mercy and the Queen of Peace. One who stood near the throne of mercy was his mother, the Mother of Mercy and the Queen of the world. It is here the handmaid of the Lord becomes the Queen of Peace and Mother of Mercy. If Jesus is the sun, then Mary is the moon. She shares and offers. Her heart was drowned in sorrow. Both Jesus and Mary gave their all for souls (cf. MFG, p. 10). Jesus’ death on the Cross then was not a terrible and miserable catastrophe, but an abandonment in love; not one of despair and disaster, but one of hope and salvation. Mary’s heart renting experience, that pierced her heart with a sword of sorrow, was not something to be pitied, but something to be praised and shared. Once Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, and now together with her beloved Son she is giving birth to a new humanity based on Calvary in excruciating pain. In the Son’s martyrdom of blood the new humanity is washed and redeemed. The redeemed humanity is Mary’s new born child to be nurtured and cared for by her in tender and maternal love. Jesus tells us and all humanity: “Behold your mother”, while his mother tells the entire world: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 5). When we do whatever Jesus tells us, we will experience profound peace and unspeakable joy.
It is interesting and important for us then to see Mary’s role at Jesus’ hour at the wedding feast at Cana (Jn 2: 1-12) and the Calvary scene (Jn 19: 25-27). That “hour” throughout the Gospel refers in the final analysis to the glorious and saving Cross. In each of the two passages the evangelist calls the Virgin “the mother of Jesus”, but Jesus himself addresses her as “woman”. It is not normal that a loving son calls his mother “woman”, unless we go back to the book of Genesis (3: 15), where we see the promise made to Eve after the fall in Yahweh’s words to the serpent: “I will make you enemies of each other: you and the ‘woman’, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its feet”.
Mary is the woman par excellence, associated with the New Adam, mother of all those who live (Gen 3: 20; Jn 19: 27). Jesus assigns Mary an analogous role in the new creation. He makes it known at this hour which is the hour of renewal, in this garden (Jn 19: 41), reminiscent of the garden of the Fall (Gen 3: 20-24) and chosen as the site for the beginning of a new world. She became the mother of all the disciples of the Saviour in the person of the well beloved disciple. This new motherhood that she contracts, a motherhood taking the form of an exchange, at the very hour when her Son dies, is strikingly clarified by Eve’s words in Genesis: “God has granted me another offspring in place of Abel since Cain killed him” (Gen 4: 25).
From Calvary to Lourdes, the new birth of Christians. On Calvary Jesus brings to light in the person of Mary what is going to be accomplished in the Church: the new birth of Christians.
Ever since our first parents disobeyed God’s command and have sinned, mankind too became sick, sinful and weak. What was natural, spontaneous and easy for man to attain became hard and difficult. Sin radically turned man upside down, creating a wall of separation from and loss of friendship with God. Instead of walking with God in the cool of the day, Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God. Peace and serenity were replaced by fear, remorse of conscience and anxiety:
“the man and his wife heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from Yahweh God amongst the trees of the garden” (Gen 3: 8).
Man lost control over himself and his actions; he did things which he did not want to do. Even though he wanted to do good he lost the power to do it. Years later St. Paul would say: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…” (Rom 7: 15-20).
Sick in body, mind and soul man became a slave to his own passions and desires of the flesh (sarx) (Gal 5: 15 ff.). Man has lost his inner freedom: “The works of the flesh (sarx) are: impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. I warn, as I warned you before, that those who do such things……..”. Man’s sickness is not only confined to his body but also his mind and soul. He can and he does get sick physically, psychologically and morally. What happens to his body affects his mind and soul as man is a psychosomatic being.
Unlike other creatures, man is endowed with an immortal soul, which is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1: 26). Each person is responsible for the salvation and sanctification of his own soul. Jesus asks us all a question: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mt 16: 26).
Jesus healed many who were sick in body, mind and soul. He healed Peter’s mother in law. Immediately after this event, people “brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons…And he healed many who were sick with various diseases” (cf. 1: 29 ff.). People brought a paralyzed man and let him down through the roof to be healed by Jesus. “Seeing their faith he said to the paralytic: ‘My child, your sins are forgiven’”, before saying: “Get up, pick up your bed and go home” (cf. Mk 2: 1-12). Jesus worked miracles only in the context of faith and salvation, as the Gospel clearly puts it: “…and he did not work many miracles because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13: 58). St Mark, the evangelist, goes further and says that Jesus not only did not do many miracles but “he could not work many miracles because of their lack of faith” (cf. Mk 6: 5-6). Faith in the person of Jesus is a condition sine qua non, an absolutely necessary condition for the miracle.
Miracles through Mary. The miracles do take place in our own time through the Church, the mother and agent of salvation and sanctification of souls. It is Jesus who works the miracles in and through our Lady and the saints. She continues to see the needs of her afflicted children and tells Jesus of their needs and wants as she did at Cana. She continues to say to us all the same way as she told the servants at the wedding feast: “Do whatever he tells you”. The servants just obeyed in faith and did what Jesus told them to do. There were six big jars. He told the servants to fill them with water and they did. He told them to take some of it to the waiter. They did. Obedience of faith is necessary for any miracle to take place (cf. Jn 2: 1-11).
Faith and humble obedience. This kind of humble obedience can be found also in the Old Testament, where we see Naaman, the Syrian, who was suffering from the disease of leprosy, obeying first his slave girl and then his servants when Naaman was terribly angry and was going away sad and upset, worse than before. “But his servants approached him and said: ‘Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? All the more reason, then, when he says to you, ‘Bathe, and you will become clean’. So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the river Jordan, as the prophet Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child” (cf. 2Kings 5: 1-14).
Miracles do not take place automatically nor can we compare them with or reduce them to the level of magic. Miracles demand deep faith, prompt and cheerful obedience, obeying the Lord without questions. Miracles demand a child-like attitude of humility, willingness to listen, to accept without questions even from people who may not have any social standing, like the little slave girl in the story of Naaman, who said to her mistress: “If only my master would approach the prophet of Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy”. Naaman went and told his master….” (2Kings 5: 3-4). This child-like attitude is very basic for any sort of miraculous cure, spiritual or physical or both. Miracles then take place in the context of obedient faith, utter, blind and loving trust, profound humility and ardent charity. As soon as Peter’s mother in law was healed by Jesus, she began to serve: “And the fever left her and she began to serve” (Mk 1: 31).
In Lourdes Mary is entrusted with the souls of the sick people. Not only the souls of those who are sick in body but more so in mind and soul. Many are in need of more spiritual healing than bodily cure, even though most people may go to Lourdes for their bodily illnesses. Beyond doubt there are more spiritually sick people in the world than physical ones. We need many more holy, fervent religious and committed lay people to take care of the spiritually sick people of the world. The world is in need of many more homes for spiritually dying destitutes, who might have lived like animals but may be able to die like angels. It is easier to look after the physically dying destitutes than the spiritually dying ones. Our Lady of Lourdes has touched millions of souls and there are still to be touched the thousands who present themselves at her feet in the spirit of humility filled with filial obedience, respect and trust.
In Fatima Mary is entrusted with the souls of the atheistic communists. While in Lourdes our Lady appeared to Bernadette Subirous and told her that she was the Immaculate Conception (25 March, 1858), in Fatima to the three children she showed the hell where the souls of the poor sinners go (13 July, 1917). “To save them”, she continued, “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart….In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”; in other words, in Lourdes our Lady appears as “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception” whereas in Fatima she appears as “Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart and Our Lady of the Rosary” (13 July, 1917).
In the announcement made by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, on 13 May, 2000 at Fatima after the Beatification of Francisco and Jacinta, he says: “The vision of Fatima concerns above all the war waged by atheistic systems against the Church and Christians, and it describes the immense suffering endured by the witnesses of the faith in the last century of the second millennium. It is an interminable Way of the Cross led by the Popes of the XX century. Our Lady’s call to conversion and penance, issued at the start of the twentieth century, remains timely and urgent today. The Lady of the message read the signs of the time–the signs of our time—with special insight…The insistent invitation of Mary Most Holy to penance is nothing but the manifestation of her maternal concern for the fate of the human family in need of conversion and forgiveness”.
Our Lady appeared to the three children of Fatima: Lucy (now Sr. Lucia), Francisco and Jacinta six times starting from 13 May and ending up with 13 October, 1917 at Cova da Iria, Portugal. It is at the third apparition our Lady told them the so called secret, which consists of three distinct parts, two of which were revealed and shared with all people of good will while the third part of the secret remained a matter of many speculations and discussions until 13 May, 2000.
In Kolkata Jesus entrusted to St. Teresa of Calcutta the souls of the poorest of the poor. I would like to point out from the start that the purpose of the apparitions has always been the same: “to save souls”, whether the souls of the sick people or the world of the atheistic communists and materially minded people of a consumer society, or the souls of the poorest of the poor of the world, whom nobody takes care of and whom Jesus entrusted to St. Teresa of Calcutta, saying:
“There are convents with number of nuns caring for the rich and able to do people, but for my (Jesus’) very poor there is absolutely none. For them I long, them I love—wilt thou refuse?” (MFG, p. 1-12).
In Fatima the three children were given a terribly frightening vision of hell: “Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth”. They saw the fall of “the souls of poor sinners”. Our Lady told them why they have been exposed to this terribly sad vision:
“In order to save souls—to show the way of salvation. To save them”, our Lady said, “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”.
The devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. According to Pope Benedict XVI, biblically “the heart indicates the centre of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Mathew 5: 8, the Immaculate Heart is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore “sees God”. To be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat, your will be done, the defining centre of one’s whole life” (The message of Fatima, Vatican City, 2000, p. 39).
Today more than ever we are in need of “Immaculate Hearts” like the Heart of the Mother of God. Hearts open to God and purified by contemplation of God are stronger than guns and weapons of any kind. Mary’s unconditional yes, the word of the heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world, the Emmanuel, God with us and God for us for all times and places.
A call to repentance through prayer, penance and works of mercy. The purpose of all the three parts of the secret is to “to save souls”. However the third and most speculated part of the secret emphasizes the need of penance as we read in the text of Sr. Lucy:
“…at the left side of our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: penance, penance, penance!”.
The Angel with the flaming sword can be a symbol of today’s world: the world can be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire in no time as man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword. But the Mother of Mercy and Queen of the world intervened and the fire died out and the flame disappeared as Sr. Lucy points out in the third part of the secret. She writes: ‘…but they (the flames) died out in contact with the splendor that our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand’, and stemming from this in a certain way the summons to penance.
In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. On the contrary it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction” (Pope Benedict XVI, The message of Fatima, Vatican City, 2000, p. 40).
The purpose of the apparition then is prophetic and medicinal: to warn people of the dangers of a care-free and promiscuous life; to call people to repentance and amendment of their life through intense prayer, sacrifice, penance and works of mercy. In fact the Angel repeats three times penance, penance, penance. This was a summons, an exhortation, a cry. This means sincere repentance over one’s sins and conversion of heart.
A universal summons to do penance, prayer and charity. This summons is not for a few individual persons here and there, but a universal one. Mankind can be saved or destroyed depending on how we respond to such summons. And if people do not heed to these sorts of messages the consequences can be disastrous. On the other hand our generous response to the invitation to do penance, prayer and charity can save the world from destruction.
The evil one exercises his power over us and because of our freedom which continually lets itself be led away from God, we can so easily experience discouragement, defeat and even despair. At times we can even feel as St. Paul felt: “I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things I hate…the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want, that is what I do…In my inmost self I dearly love God’s law, but I see that acting in my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of the law of sin which lives inside my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body doomed to death? God, thanks to him through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7: 14-24).
Thanks be to God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who took on himself our own infirmities and bore our sins; and in his wounds we are healed. His heart was meek and humble, pure and holy because he knew how to steer human freedom to the right direction and taught mankind to do the same. St. Paul’s words again come to mind: “Freedom is what we have, Christ has set us free” (Gal 5: 1).
Steering our freedom to what is good. Our future depends essentially on how we use our freedom properly and to that extent. We are like drivers; we reach where we drive our cars to: our freedom is like that. It is the most wonderful gift God could ever give us, but it is also the most dangerous gift. To drive properly we must have a license, which means taking lessons in driving both in theory and practice and then passing exams. In order to steer our freedom to what is good we must have good religious formation, otherwise it will be like a person driving a vehicle without practice and so without any driver’s license. What a disastrous end that would be. It is not enough to start a car and leave it to run, but the driver’s hand must always be on the steering, eyes must carefully watch and the feet must perform its proper function. There is harmony, coordination, attention, vigilance, training and practice in the driving. The same applies for the use of our freedom as our freedom is more dangerous than a car.
Pope Benedict XVI concludes his theological commentary on the Fatima Secret in the following words:
“Since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: ‘In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart: I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16: 33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise”.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.