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This year Fatima is front and center in Catholic minds because Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.
This coming May 13 will be the 105th anniversary of the apparition at Fatima, Portugal, when Our Lady began to appear to three shepherd children every 13th of the month between May and October, 1917. Five years ago, in 2017, two of the children were canonized to commemorate the centenary anniversary and the Church celebrated a Year of Fatima. Benedictine College dedicated the college commencement and the school year to Our Lady of Fatima, and I published the Fatima Family Handbook.
In order to prepare for the consecration on the Feast of the Annunciation, it is good to review a few Fatima basics: Three warnings from Our Lady and three responses she wanted to see from Catholics.
First: Our Lady warned Catholics — children included — about hell.
Lucia dos Santos was 10 when Our Lady of Fatima appeared to her and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 8 and 7. But on July 13, she did more than speak to them. She showed them a terrible sight. “We saw as it were a sea of fire,” Lucia wrote. “Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form … amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear.”
The vision of hell only happened after a year of preparation for the children, including visits by an angel and much reassurance about heaven. But the vision deeply affected Jacinta, especially, changing her personality.
Our Lady of Fatima knew that the understanding of hell has been badly damaged in our day. The fact is, “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom,” says the Catechism. For a Catholic who doesn’t go to confession, “it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.” To see how the Catechism defines mortal sin click here. To see the U.S. bishops’ warning about typical mortal sins, click here.
Jesus identifies one sin that is unforgivable: The sin against the Holy Spirit. The Catechism describes that sin this way: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”
The proliferation of that sin — loss of the sense of sin and denial of the need to repent — is by far the most deadly pandemic of the 21st century.
Second: Our Lady of Fatima next warned that above all, we need to repent.
On the Third Sunday of Lent in 2022, Jesus in the Gospel said how important this is. After telling the tale of those who had died violently in recent tragedies, he said: “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
“Repent!” is the first, most important message of Jesus (Mark 1:15), John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2) and Peter (Acts 2:38). Jesus defined the Church’s mission as preaching “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).
The Divine Mercy message, telling us how eager Jesus is to forgive each and every sin, is 100% correct and needed. God wants to forgive everybody. Only one thing stops him: We don’t repent.
Third: Our Lady of Fatima warns that war is a punishment for sin.
“This war will end,” Our Lady of Fatima told the children in July, “but if men do not refrain from offending God, another and more terrible war will begin.” She thus predicted both the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II.
The particulars of Our Lady’s warnings and Russia’s war with Ukraine are helpfully explained in a talk by Missionary of the Immaculate Conception priest Father Chris Alar. As Pope Francis keeps warning, it is our job to pray and fast for peace.
Our Lady also gave three ways we should respond to her message in our personal lives.
Our first response: Console Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Before he beatified Sts. Francisco and Jacinta, who died as children in 1919, St. John Paul II met with children to tell them the basics of the Fatima message. His explanation of what we should do works for adults too.
First, he said: “Our Lady needs you all to console Jesus, who is sad because of the bad things done to him.” This is the message that Francisco first heard from the angel, who said: “Comfort your God.”
Thereafter, Francisco’s life “was motivated by one desire,” said the pope, “to console Jesus and make him happy.” Francisco would often say, “I want to console Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
This is the way we can live the “comfort your God” spirituality, by spending time with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration As Jesus said to the Apostles at Gethsemane: “Could you not spend one hour with me?”
There, we can pray the prayer the angel taught the shepherd children: “My God, I believe, adore, hope and love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and who deny you love.”
Our second response: Conversion and sacrifice for sinners.
John Paul told children at Fatima: “Jesus needs your prayers and your sacrifices for sinners.”
Jacinta was the most enthusiastic of the children in suffering for sinners. “Little Jacinta felt and personally experienced Our Lady’s anguish, offering herself heroically as a victim for sinners,” said John Paul.
Jacinta’s life was riveted by the vision of hell Our Lady showed her, where she saw how horrifying — and horrifyingly common — it is for sinners to reject God, eternally. Sinners still need help: Ours. The angel taught the shepherd children to pray these words three times in a row for sinners:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You 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 with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.”
Our third response: Consecrate yourself to Our Lady.
St. John Paul II said to children: “Ask your parents and teachers to enroll you in the ‘school’ of Our Lady, so that she can teach you to be like the little shepherds.” Then he told them about St. Louis de Montfort’s consecration to Our Lady, saying, “This was how the little shepherds became saints so quickly.”
Today, Montfort’s “total consecration to Mary” has grown in popularity, thanks to Father Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, which shows how central it was to the most revered Catholic figures of our time. Central to the consecration is the Five First Saturdays devotion that Our Lady of Fatima called for. Holy Heroes offers this helpful explanation of how the devotion works and a scorecard to keep track.
If ever God was trying to get our attention with a bullhorn, it is with Fatima in our time.
For more information on how to respond to Our Lady of Fatima, check out my booklet, the Fatima Family Handbook.