MARY: CATECHIST AT FATIMA
Rev. Frederick Miller
The Ministry of the Word in Our Times
The last words Jesus spoke to his Apostles before his ascension into heaven are recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Mt. 28:18-20).
Through these words Christ commissioned the Apostles and their successors to take up as their own, his mission of preaching and teaching the Gospel. This task, upon which the very life of the Church depends, has come to be called the Ministry of the Word of God.
It is through the instrumentality of the preaching of Christ's word that people turn from sin to faith in the living God. Through the preaching of the word, individuals are integrated into the life of the Church and led to the source and summit of her life, the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Also, through constant reflection upon the word of Christ, the faithful grow in conversion to the Lord, and are, thereby, prepared for the vision of God in heaven.
The Church's proclamation of the Word of God is profoundly Trinitarian in essence. The Father ills that his Son be preached and adhered to in faith and charity. Consequently, the ministry of the word is one of the most significant manifestations and experiences of the Father's merciful love for his children. When Christ is preached He becomes present through the word and draws all people through Himself to the Father. The preaching of the word also "summons" the presence of the Holy Spirit, who, in the words of Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, "moves the heart (of the hearer) and converts it to God, opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth. The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Divine Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood." (DV, 5).
The Church delineates four forms of the ministry of the Word of God. Each form has its own finality and methodology. Each form is distinct yet intimately related to the others:
1. Evangelization is the initial proclamation and explanation of Christ, Son of God and Savior. It is the announcement of the saving death and resurrection of the Lord that includes a call to faith, conversion and baptism (cf. Acts 2:14-41 & Mk. 1:15).
2. Catechesis is instruction aimed at deepening the life of faith and conversion to Christ. In the words of the General Catechetical Directory, catechetics "is intended to make men's faith become living, conscious and active, through the light of instruction" (cf. GCD, 14 & 17). Traditionally, catechetics has been understood as the pedagogic explanation of the rudiments or articles of Catholic faith and morality under the general headings of the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments and Sacrifice of the Church and personal prayer. Recent authors have rightly stressed the formational dimensions of catechetics as well as the instructional aspects.
3. Liturgical Preaching fosters adherence to Christ, provides ongoing instruction in Christian living and disposes to deeper Eucharistic union with the Lord.
4. Theology is the systematic treatment and scientific analysis of the truths of the faith.
Ideally speaking, in areas where a Christian culture continues to operate, children are evangelized by their parents at home. The parents develop the child's growth in faith through catechesis. This instruction is then supplemented by the Church's catechetical and pre-sacramental programs. Liturgical preaching aims at perfecting the Christian life. It is meant to nurture and develop the faith handed on in catechesis throughout a person's lifetime. In the past, at least, few of the faithful have had direct contact with the theological form of the ministry of the word. Today there is a felicitous interest among many of the Catholic people in Sacred Scripture, as well as dogmatic, moral and spiritual theology.
The point that I want to make and underscore, however, is this: Catechesis is the Foundational form of the Church's ministry of the word. What comprehending concepts (reading, writing and rudimentary mathematics) is to natural learning, the subject matter of catechesis (the content of Catholic faith and morality) is to believing and Christian living.
A person defectively evangelized or not evangelized at all, is unprepared for catechetical teaching. The instruction will be senseless. The uncatechized person, in turn, is un-prepared to live the Christian life. For him, any religious discourse, whether it be liturgical preaching or theology, will be basically incomprehensible and without point. We may affirm that the catechetical form of the ministry of the word, preceded by careful evangelization and developed by liturgical preaching insures the health and vigor of the life of the Church and contributes immensely to an individual's salvation.
Of course, the work of evangelization and catechesis is never easy. It was not such for Peter and the Apostles, for Augustine of Canterbury or Patrick of Ireland, for Isaac Jogues, John Neumann or Mother Seton. However, no work is more essential in the life of the Church as is evidenced in the lives of the saints.
In our time the Church faces many serious difficulties in communicating the Word of God. Some of these difficulties are explained at the very beginning of the General Catechetical Directory issued by the Holy See in 1971: "The breakdown of Christian culture and the development of societies based on secular humanism, the ideologies of consumerism and hedonism; religious indifferentism and relativism; widespread religious ignorance, a resurgence of paganism, Satanism, militant materialism and dogmatic atheism."
Allow me to present a dramatic historical illustration that synthesizes the various hostile forces we are discussing.
It is reported that on May 13, 1917, a sizable group of children and their catechist were brutally slaughtered by the agents of Lenin as a catechetical lesson was in progress in a Catholic church in Moscow. This vicious attack on the Church graphically symbolizes the forces in the modern world that seek to silence the proclamation of the Word of Godespecially to the young.
Tertullian in the first Christian centuries stated: "Christians are not born. They are made." The Church has always understood the absolute necessity of evangelizing and catechizing young children. Through this work Christians are formed by the Spirit and the Church. The enemies of Christ's Church understand this point quite wellperhaps better than many of the Church's members. Hence, the first attack of atheistic materialism upon the Church took place in a catechism class. The Word of God was silenced, or so it was thought.
On that very day, perhaps at the very hour of the diabolical slaughter of these innocents, Mary, the Mother of God, came visibly into our world. She came as she had come centuries before to the temple of Jerusalem, heavy-hearted, grieving, in search of her lost child (cf. Lk. 2:42-50). This time she came to three young, illiterate children in Portugal. She came on May 13, 1917, to begin a series of catechetical instructions for the children and, through them, for the entire Church.
Mary came in search of all her children, redeemed in the precious blood of her only Son, who had already set themselves on the road of rejection of God and rebellion against his Church; on the road that leads to eternal damnation. She came as a Mother to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness of atheism, rebellion and despair which characterizes the so-called modern era of human history.
Who better than Mary is able to lead the people of the twentieth century back to Christ? She was the first person to whom the Father revealed the mystery of the Son. She was the first to know, love and serve Him. She was also the first person to be catechized by Christ. Consider this simple fact: The twelve disciples lived with Christ for barely three years. Mary lived with Him ten times longer than the twelve. She lived under the same roof with the Son of God for thirty years.
In his letter on catechetical instructions entitled Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II extols Mary as the first disciple ("disciple" means student) of Christ and hence the model teacher or catechist of other disciples:
"Mary was the first of Christ's disciples. She was the first in time, because even when she found her adolescent Son in the temple, she received lessons from Him that she kept carefully in her heart (Lk. 2:51). She was the first disciple above all else because no one has been 'taught by God' (Jn. 6:45) to such depth. There are good grounds for the statement made at the Synod of Bishops on catechetics that Mary is a 'living catechism' and the 'Mother and model of catechists."
During her life on earth and even now in heaven, Mary accomplishes through her intercession and interventions, what every good catechist seeks to do: Mary leads people to know, love and serve her Divine Son.
It is my task to investigate the catechetical content of the message of Fatima. I shall begin by examining the message itself as it is related in the memoirs of Sister Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima. In this context, I shall single out a few of the spiritual fruits of the message in the lives of the children who first put it into practice. In particular, I shall look at Jacinta and Francisco who were declared "venerable" by Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1989. I shall use as my major resource the perceptive journal of Sister Lucia that is published in English under the title Fatima in Lucia's Own Words. Finally, I shall draw some practical conclusions from the catechetical content of the message of Fatima for our contemporary ecclesial situation.
The Catechetical Approach of Our Lady at Fatima
Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia were prepared catechetically for the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother by frequent communication with the angels. On each occasion an angel, in Lucia's words "appeared in the form of a young man, transparent and much brighter than crystal pierced by the rays of the sun." During the first visitation the angel told the children: "Fear not. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me." Kneeling and then bowing his head to the ground, the angel taught the children a prayer of adoration and supplication: "My God, I believe, I adore, I trust and I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love Thee."
During the second visit, the angel again directed the children to adore God and to love their neighbor: "Pray a great deal. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer up prayers and sacrifices to the Most High." Lucia asked: "How are we to make sacrifices?'' The angel answered: "Make everything you do a sacrifice and offer it as an act of reparation for the sins by which God is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. Bring peace to your country in this way. Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings sent you by Our Lord."
In the final angelic apparition, some six months before Our Lady's appearance, the Angel of Peace taught the children to offer themselves with Jesus to the Father in the Mass and to adore the Blessed Sacrament. The angel, bearing the Eucharistic Species, adored Christ with the children and gave them Holy Communion. Again, the angel taught them a prayer that became part of their daily relationship with God:
"Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. And through the infinite merits of his most Sacred Heart, and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners."
Then the angel gave the Host to Lucia, and the contents of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco. For Jacinta and Francisco, seven and nine years old, this was their first Holy Communion. As he gave them Communion, he said: "Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God."
It is interesting to note that Francisco was not aware that he had received Holy Communion from the hands of the angel. However, by the work of the Holy Spirit, he recognized and adored the Real Presence in his soul. A few days after the event he asked: "The angel gave you Holy Communion, Lucia, but what was it he gave Jacinta and me?" She replied, "It was Holy Communion too." "Didn't you see that it was the blood that fell from the Host?" Francisco answered: "I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how."
Lucia relates the impact the apparitions of the angel and his "catechesis" had on her and her younger cousins: "The Angel's words made a deep impression on our minds, like a light making us understand who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, as well as the value of sacrifice; how pleasing it is to Him and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners."
Already the children had been well instructed by heaven. The work of the angel had prepared them for the great catechetical lessons of the Mother of God.
On May 13, 1917, the children saw the Blessed Mother for the first time. Lucia relates her first impression of the Mother of God: "We beheld a lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water when the rays of the burning sun shine through it."
The vision of the Blessed Mother was the first and, in a sense, the most important of all the catechetical lessons. The children spoke frequently of her beauty, her kindness and especially of the wonderful light that shone all about her. They knew immediately that she was from heaven. They understood that the light she radiated was God Himself. They knew, without being able to articulate it, that Mary existed in a glorified body and that she shared physically in Christ's triumph ova sin and death. Her beauty, in fact, was his work within her; the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The children were not "annihilated" by her presence as they had been by the Angel of Peace. Rather, they felt the joy and security of the presence of a Mother. They experienced her "fullness of grace" in a maternal way. She brought with her a profound experience of God's presence and love. Her spiritual motherhood was immediately evident to the children.
The first thing Mary did for the children was to steal from them their natural fear of death. They discovered in her presence that life exists beyond the confines of this world, beyond the barrier of the grave. Mary told them: "I am from heaven." Lucia, speaking for the three, said: "Will I go to heaven too? And Jacinta and Francisco?" Mary told them that they would. From that moment, the children no longer feared death and, in fact, began to long to be with God and Our Lady in heaven.
In the apparitions the children experienced the Holy Trinity in Mary, or to be exact, in the light that emanated from the holy Virgin's heart.
In reference to the May apparition, Lucia states: "Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, who is that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. Then, moved by an interior impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell to our knees repeating in our hearts: 'O Most Blessed Trinity, I adore you. My God, my God I love you in the Most Blessed Sacrament."
This phenomenon of experiencing God in the light of Mary was repeated more strongly in the June apparition. Lucia notes: "As Our Lady spoke the words 'I will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God,' she opened her hands and for the second time she communicated to us the rays of that same intense light. We saw ourselves in this light, as it were, immersed in God. In the front of the palm of Our Lady's right hand was a heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation."
Francisco recognized and sought to articulate the phenomenon of God manifested through Mary's Immaculate Heart: "These people are so happy just because you (Lucia) told them that Our Lady wants the Rosary said, and that you are to learn to read. How would they feel if they only knew what she showed to us in God, in her Immaculate Heart, in that great light?"
On another occasion, Francisco said to Lucia: "I loved seeing the angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts."
We may affirm that God, in permitting the children to experience directly the mysteries of Mary's Immaculate Conception, her spiritual maternity and assumption into heaven, communicated to them a deep knowledge of themselves. They described the "light" as penetrating their hearts. It caused them to know themselves in God. From this knowledge developed their great hatred of sin and desire to live in such a way as to always be pleasing to God. The Lord also communicated to the children a "connatural" knowledge of Himself and eternal life. They not only knew about God, they knew God in a deeply interior and personal way. Through this knowledge they came to love Him personally and in others. The Immaculate Heart of Mary instantaneously weaned them from any fear of God, death or spiritual reality.
In the July apparition, Our Lady gave the children a momentary vision of hell. Lucia's description is well worth our careful consideration:
"Our Lady opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth and we saw, as it were, a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished like 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 huge fires, without weight or equilibrium 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 repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succor, we looked at Our Lady, who said so kindly and so sadly: 'You have seen hell where poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart."'
Lucia admitted that she and her cousins would have died of fright had not Our Lady promised them heaven in the previous apparitions.
In the subsequent three visions, Mary, as a master teacher, repeats and reviews her simple instruction. She reinforces the love of God and neighbor in the children. She communicates a knowledge of self, of God, of the iniquity of sin. She calls for faith, conversion, prayer and vicarious penance.
In response to Mary's assurance that they would be able to help save souls from hell through prayer and penance, the three children placed themselves wholeheartedly at the service of Christ and his redemptive work. With driving force and heroic effort, they set as their goals consoling God and saving sinners. Numerous instances of their response to Our Lady's catechesis are recorded by Lucia.
Jacinta's main concern was to perform acts of love and voluntary penance to save sinners from the fires of hell. In the July apparition the Blessed Virgin had told the children that "the Holy Father will have much to suffer." Jacinta developed a very special love and concern for the Holy Father. She always included him and his intentions in her prayers and sacrifices.
When Jacinta was in the prison cell of Ourem, surrounded by hardened criminals and threatened with torture and death, she prayed: "O my Jesus! This is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, for the Holy Father and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
Jacinta grew to love the Holy Father and to sense his spiritual identification with Christ as Head of the Church. She intuited that the Pope shares Jesus' agony over sin and, therefore, gave herself to heroic acts of penance to save sinners from hell and thereby console the Pope. Love, loyalty and dedication to the Pope have been part and parcel of the Fatima charism from the very beginning!
Through the sorrow on the face of Our Lady, Francisco understood the agony in the heart of Christ, caused by the eternal loss of even one soul in the fires of hell. The boy's main concern was to console Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Lucia states: "Francisco was a boy of few words. Whenever we prayed or offered sacrifices, he preferred to go apart and hide, even from Jacinta and myself. If I asked him: 'Francisco, which do you like betterto console Our Lord or to convert sinners, so that no more souls will go to hell?' 'I would rather console Our Lord,' he responded. 'Didn't you notice how sad Our Lady was that last month when she said that people must not offend Our Lord any more for He is already much offended? I would like to console Our Lord and after that to convert sinners."
Francisco's great love for the Blessed Sacrament motivated him to spend large segments of his day in front of the tabernacle. Obviously, the practice of Eucharistic reparation is another component of the Fatima catechesis and an important lesson for our time.
In her journal Lucia writes: "Sometimes on our way to school, as soon as we reached Fatima, Francisco would say to me: 'Listen! You go to school and I'll stay here in the church close to the hidden Jesus. It's not worth my while learning to read, as I'll be going to heaven very soon. On your way home come here and call me.'"
Elsewhere Lucia states: "Later when Francisco fell ill, he often told me, when I called in to see him on my way to school, 'Look, go to the church and give my love to the hidden Jesus. What hurts me most is that I cannot go there myself and stay awhile with the hidden Jesus.'"
In a homily preached at the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Washington, New Jersey on May 13, 1989, Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, President of the Pontifical Council on the Family, announced that Pope John Paul II had declared Jacinta and Francisco "venerable" that very day. The cardinal noted that the Church has proclaimed the children's virtue heroic neither because they had seen the Blessed Virgin nor the angel nor the Miracle of the Sun. "No, Jacinta and Francisco are venerable," the Cardinal said, "because they responded heroically to Our Lady's pleas for personal conversion, prayer and reparation at the price of great personal sacrifices."
This response, of course, bears testimony to the work of the sanctifying spirit of God in their young souls. Our Lady with all of the gentle care of a Mother presented the rudimentary articles of the faith to the children. As a master catechist, she appealed to their senses and deepest human emotions. In this way the truth of the Gospel entered their minds and hearts eliciting a response of charity.
From the moment of the first apparition, the children experienced Mary's tender love for them. Hence, the vision of the Immaculate Heart! In the light emanating from her heart, the children experienced God whose true name is LOVE. Mary led them to a deep love for the Holy Trinity. Furthermore, the sadness of Jesus and Mary moved the children to want to do something to console the good God.
In the vision of hell, Mary again appealed to the children's senses and deepest sympathies. Besides engendering in them a horror for sin and a desire to preserve their baptismal innocence, the Virgin inspired the children to assist "poor sinners" by prayer and voluntary sacrifices. Obviously the children had no understanding whatsoever of Mary's words about communism. They did understand, however, that people would spend eternity in hellfire because of a willful revolt against Almighty God and his commandments. After all, they had seen people in hell! They knew that they must help.
Their desire to spend their lives saving sinners had two essentially related motives: Jesus, they knew, suffered for all and desired salvation for everyone. His deepest and most bitter agony on the cross was caused by the prospect of the loss of even one soul redeemed in his precious blood. After the apparitions the only motive that directed the lives of the children was the desire to console Jesus who was so wounded by sin and human indifference. Directly related to this sensitivity to the Heart of Christ was their simple wish to help people who were in dire trouble as a result of sin.
It is quite clear that Mary, in the course of her Fatima apparitions, simply taught the children how to practice Christ's "Law of Love:" "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: 'You must love your neighbor as yourself'" (Mt. 22:37-38).
The Catechetical Content of the Fatima Message
For the sake of clarity allow me to list the major catechetical truths communicated to the children by Our Lady in the six apparitions that took place between May 13 and October 13, 1917. I shall omit here the points of "prophecy" made by the Blessed Mother. Although the prophecies are important in themselves and an integral part of the message of Fatima, we must neither forget nor obscure the essential components of the message: faith, conversion to Christ and reparation.
1. God the Father's merciful love for every human person is definitively revealed in the gift of his Son. Many people in the twentieth century are indifferent to and even antagonistic towards Christ.
2. The mission of Christ is essentially redemptive. Christ came into the world to offer his life in sacrifice for the salvation of all people.
3. In Christ, God suffers as a result of sin. In Christ also, the Almighty loves mankind with a human heart and yearns for human love in return.
4. In his conversion from mortal sin, man begins to love the good God. This love continues and grows to perfection as he desires to make reparation for his own sins and the sins of others through acts of charity.
5. When a Christian surrenders himself unreservedly to the Lord, he consoles Jesus and satiates his thirst for souls.
6. Through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit working in the Church and in intimate communion with Christ, the Christian becomes "perfectly willing to spend all and to be expended in the interest of souls" (2 Cor. 12:15) and "makes up in his own body what has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church" (Col. 1:24). In other words, every Christian is called to give himself unreservedly to Christ's redeeming work. He does this by conversion, fidelity to daily duty, prayer (especially the Rosary), acts of charity, acceptance of sufferings permitted by God and voluntary penances.
7. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, following Mary as model and guide, unites her self-sacrifice to Christ's and becomes his co-worker in the world. The collective suffering of the Church as a whole, and of each Christian, joined to Christ's passion, brings the saving grace of the Lord to souls. The Church's active role in the application of the grace of Redemption is perhaps the major stress of the Fatima message. (Please note that this theme is conspicuously absent from many expressions of contemporary ecclesiology and is all but forgotten in many quarters as an essential component of the Church's ascetical-mystical doctrine. This fatal deficiency leads to either the denial or the devaluation of the Eucharist as the redemptive sacrifice of Christ and his Church. Hence, the need for Eucharistic reparation is at the heart of the Fatima catechesis.)
8. Every aspect of spirit and the spiritual world is underscored in the Fatima message: the Trinity, angels, demons, the existence of the immortal human soul; heaven, hell and purgatory.
9. Fatima affirms the essential importance of the Vicar of Christ in the daily life of the Church as well as the Pope's mystic identification with Christ, the crucified bridegroom of the Church.
10. Fatima unambiguously reaffirms the doctrine of hellfire (the pain of sense) and the real possibility of eternal damnation.
11. The Christian's union with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection leads to perfect union with Him in heaven and to the resurrection of the flesh on the last day.
12. Mary reveals that her spiritual Motherhood is the way to fidelity to Christ and eternal life. Through total consecration to Mary, the Christian accepts and benefits from her Motherhood in the spirit.
A cursory analysis of these fundamental, catechetical truths leads one to see that Our Lady presented the children with the truth about God (the Creed), the way to respond to God in love (the Commandments), as well as the means to conversion and growth in sanctity (the Mass, the Sacraments and personal prayer). The message of Fatima is unmistakably Theo-centric, Christo-centric and leads to active participation in the life of the Church at a deep spiritual level.
The teaching of Mary at Fatima was perfectly adapted to the capacity of the children yet able to be of benefit to every member of the Church, including the most intellectual and sophisticated.
The scriptural doctrine of the "two ways" is at the heart of the Fatima message. Each person must make a choice: the way to life or the way to death; unbelief and rebellion or faith and conversion; self or Christ; hell or heaven. Through the innocent children of Fatima, Mary has asked the Church in the twentieth century to be very conscious of the choice which by necessity confronts every person, even the very young; the choice of eternal life or eternal death.
As I attempted to unravel the catechetical content of the message of Fatima in the preparation of this article, I realized that Our Lady's message is profound and comprehensive. I began to suspect that very few have even begun to plumb the depths of this heavenly communication. The Fatima event, I am sure, will remain wrapped in holy mystery, enfolded as it is in the inscrutability of God, prophecy and Providence.
We must be very careful not to take one part of the message and allow it to overshadow and obscure the full truth of Fatima. I fear that some have concentrated only on the secret, the collegial consecration, the practical details of the conversion of Russia or the various phenomena such as the solar miracle or the vision of hell and by so doing miss or render myopic the Blessed Virgin's central teaching: The application of the grace of the redemption is accomplished through the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. By giving himself or herself unreservedly to God through conversion, prayer, sacrifice and other acts of charity, each member of the Church is called to be an instrument of Christ in the work of saving souls.
When our Holy Father journeyed to Fatima in May, 1982, one year to the day after the attack on his life, he preached a magnificent homily. Situating the message of Fatima in the context of God's public revelation, the Holy Father said: "If the Church has accepted the message of Fatima, it is above all because the message contains a truth and a call whose basic content is the truth and the call of the Gospel itself."
Obviously, Our Lady came to Fatima to combat the atheism, rebellion and materialism of the modern world. She came from God to save souls from unbelief, sin and ultimately from hellfire. She came, begging all believers to join Christ in his work of redemption by living faith-filled and holy lives.
The conclusion that I draw from our brief excursion into the catechetical content of Fatima is this: Fatima calls all Catholics to be deeply renewed in faith, conversion and spiritual life.
Our Lady's message should inspire all to know the faith in a more mature and comprehensive way; to study the content of the Creed, the moral law, the social teachings of the Church; to come to a better understanding of the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments as well as Christian prayer, liturgical and devotional. Through this study of the content of the Sacred Deposit of the Faith carried out in communion of mind and heart with the Vicar of Christ, each Catholic will become equipped to be an effective evangelist and catechist, each in his or her own sphere of influence.
In a yet unpublished paper, Fr. Rene Laurentin notes that private revelation usually highlights an aspect or several aspects of the original and normative Deposit of Faith and Morality. He observes that the elements of faith stressed in private revelations are often those eclipsed and very much needed at a particular juncture of history.
It is interesting and beneficial, I believe, to consider the twelve catechetical points listed above in the light of the ministry of the word, especially the catechetical form of that ministry in its contemporary format. This exercise will lead you to realize how desperately we and especially the young need the message of Fatima today.
Fatima also challenges Catholics to seek the perfection of Christian charity. In Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers of the Council taught that each of the baptized is called by God to seek Christian perfection through the careful observance of God's law of love and the practice of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience according to his state of life.
I believe that it may rightly be said that the "Universal Call to Holiness" is the core of the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit today. The evil spirit's particular work in our day seems to keep Catholics distracted with superficial issues so they never realize or implement this teaching.
Through Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia many others heard and responded to the "Universal Call to Holiness" over seventy years ago, fifty-five years prior to the Second Vatican Council.
In his 1984 consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Holy Father thanked all those in our times who actively seek Christian perfection:
"Blessed are all those souls who obey the call of eternal love. Blessed are all those who, day after day, with undiminished generosity, accept your invitation, O Mother, to do what your Jesus tells them (cf. Jn. 2:5) and give to the Church and the world a serene testimony of lives inspired by the Gospel."
In this same consecration the Holy Father challenged all Catholics to heed Our Lady's call; Vatican II's call to Gospel holiness:
"How pained we are by all the things in the Church and in each one of us that are opposed to holiness and consecration. How pained we are that the invitation to repentance, conversion, and prayer has not met with the acceptance that it should have received. How pained we are that many share so coldly in Christ's work of redemption. That 'what is lacking in Christ's affliction' (Col. 1:24) is so insufficiently completed in our flesh."
The unambiguous doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church is the only path to authentic holiness. Unfortunately, many today are being denied this undiluted Catholic doctrine and morality, especially in its catechetical form. It becomes increasingly evident that this sound teaching is often not part of the formation of future priests. Until the faith, in its integrity, and especially those elements of the faith stressed by Our Lady of Fatima are properly re-integrated into the content and praxis of the ministry of the word at the parish level, people will continue to fall away from the Church and view Christianity as a banal philosophical abstraction. They will neither know God in a personal way nor understand how to please Him. They will be spiritually paralyzed and unable to take even the first step on the road to Christian perfection. Mary's catechesis at Fatima includes the elements of authentic Christian spiritual formation so vitally needed today.
In the June apparition, Our Lady said to Lucia: "I will be your refuge and the way that leads you to God." Might these words be meant not only for Lucia but for the Church in the twentieth century? Perseverance in the Catholic Faith, the spread of the faith through the ministry of the word, and personal growth in holiness must proceed today under the motherly guidance of Mary. Consecration to her Immaculate Heart is the way to fidelity to Christ in our times.
For Christ to be known, loved and served in the world todayfor Christ to reignthe work of the Church must proceed under the guidance of Our Lady. At Fatima she is revealed as the model of the Church's catechetical ministry for all times, but in particular for our times. She calls her children to implement her message in their lives and to share that message with others. This call is the root and source of the Fatima Apostolate.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater, notes that Mary is the way to Christ and Mother of the life of faith. The Holy Father's words describe in capsule form Mary's catechetical "course" given to the Christian world at Fatima:
"For every Christian, for every human being, Mary is the one who first 'believed' and precisely with her faith as Spouse and Mother she wishes to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as her children. And it is well known that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8).
Many have returned to faith in Christ and the sacraments in our times through contact with the Fatima story. For them and for many others, who have never abandoned the life of grace, the Fatima message remains a powerful means of growth in the spiritual life. Might we not hope that the Holy Spirit, through the message of Fatima, will now raise up an army of zealous evangelists and catechists of the Catholic Faith? Nothing would seem more consistent with the message than this. So, let us pray and, following our Mother's example, begin to work....
1 Pope Paul VI, "Evangelization in the Modern World" (Evangelii Nuntiandi), 1975.
2 See, The Sacred Congregation of the Clergy, The General Catechetical Directory (Directorium Catechisticum Generale), 1971 and Pope John Paul II on Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae), 1979 for two recent magisterial statements on authentic catechetical teaching. These and other catechetical documents of the twentieth century are published in Teaching the Catholic Faith Today; Twentieth Century Catechetical Documents of the Holy See (Boston, Mass.: Daughters of St. Paul, 1982). Note the lucid introduction to this compendium by the Rev. Msgr. Eugene Kevane.
3 See, Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, "Sources and Transmission of the Faith," Communio (Spring 1983) pp. 17-35, for an excellent and contemporary survey of the Church's "method" of transmitting the content of Sacred Scripture and the importance of the format of The Roman Catechism.
4 Pelletier, A.A., Rev. Joseph, The Sun Danced At Fatima. (New York, N.Y.; Doubleday Image Books, 1983), p. 30.
5 Catechesi Tradendae, No. 73.
6 Sister Mary Lucia of the Immaculate Heart, Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, (Fatima, Portugal; Postulation Center, 1983).
7 Gagnon, Edouard Cardinal, "The Triumph of Mary in Jacinta and Francisco Marto," SOUL Magazine, (Vol. XL, September-October 1989), pp. 6,7.
8 Pope John Paul II, "And From That Hour. . . " (Washington, NJ: AMI Press, 1989) p. 7.
9 Ibid. p. 20
10 Ibid. p. 19.
Fr. Miller is the Academic Dean at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.
Copyright (c) Blue Army 1991