“In 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.”
– Sister Lucia of Fatima
I wrote recently about the theme of penance in the message of Our Lady of Lourdes, noting that this theme was expressed in greater clarity and detail in the later message of Our Lady of Fatima. So let’s take a look at that message.
The year before the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, the three visionary children were graced with three apparitions of an Angel, who called himself the Angel of Peace. Teling them not to be afraid, the first thing the Angel did was to invite the children to pray with him, and this was the prayer he recited –
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.”
And so it is clear that from the very beginning of the heavenly events which took place at Fatima in 1916 and 1917, the theme of penance or reparation on behalf of sinners was present and it was a core part of the message.
Appearing a second time and finding the children praying, the Angel rebuked them –
“Pray! Pray very much! The most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
Here, the Angel clearly linked the themes of reparation offered to God for sins, and the request for the conversion of sinners. Note that ‘conversion’ in this sense means a change of heart, toward God and away from sin. What was also clear was that ‘everything’ can be offered as a sacrifice for these holy intentions. As time went on, the children found some quite ingenious ways to ‘make of everything a scarifice’.
The following summer, the first question addressed to the three children by the Mother of God was this –
“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the suffering He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”
And so here, the twin themes of reparation offered to God on behalf of sinners and prayer for their conversion, is again very much to the fore.
At the third appearance, in July 1917, the Blessed Virgin told the children this –
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice, ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’.. “
In that same appearance, She would then show the children the reality and the consequence of sin, by letting them briefly see a vision of the horrors of hell. She said to them –
“You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart.”
Ever the loving mother, She gave the children the means to help sinners avoid hell – devotion to Her Immaculate Heart. True devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary cannot but help the soul to obtain the graces necessary for salvation; as the Lady told them, this is the will of God, it is the means of salvation He Himself wishes to establish in the world. It also reflects very clearly the words of Jesus on the Cross, addressed to the Blessed Virgin – ‘Behold Your Son’. These words were not only about Saint John, standing near Her on Golgotha, but they were about every single one of us – the Lord gave His own Mother to all of us, to be our Mother also. Ever faithful, She has taken this command to heart and continues to do so now in Heaven. It is for this reason that She so greatly desires the salvation of sinners – She wishes none to be lost. Standing there beneath the Cross of Her Son, She has seen all too clearly the effect of sin, and the cost of redemption from it. The cost was the very life of Her Son.
And so She showed these three young children this vision of Hell, which would change them forever, so that they constantly offered prayers and sacrifices on behalf of sinners, to make reparation to the all-holy God and to seek the conversion of these poor souls. Jacinta, particularly, offered her intense sufferings in the hospital in Lisbon for this intention, which had become so very dear to her little heart. And in this way, she was responding to the words of the Lady at the appearance in August 1917 –
“Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
Bearing all this in mind, two things are very clear to us.
The first point is that sin is real, and Hell as it’s consequence is real. There are very real effects from sinfulness; if you doubt this, simply look around you at much of what is happening in the world, or take an honest look at yourself – all of us can see the reality and the effects of our sins in our own lives, and we may notice, too, how this then spills over to affect others around us. Sin is, after all, communal as well as personal.
The second point follows on from this first one; the Blessed Virgin calls every single one of us to do something to make amends for sin – not only our own sins, but also the sins of others. She tells us why this is necessary, She tells us the consequences of not listening to Her warning, and She even gives us the means to achieve what She asks of us. Note here that She asks, but She does not command – at all times, we are quite free to choose, for God gives us free will; but we must accept the consequences of whatever choice we make.
It is interesting to note that in the third part of the Secret given to the children at Fatima in July 1917, the vision shown to the children showed the Angel seeking Divine Retribution, calling out “Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!” – the very same words echoed at Lourdes in 1858 by Saint Bernadette, who had just heard them spoken by the Blessed Virgin, and which the child then repeated to the crowd gathered around her. At Fatima, the Mother of God expounds on this message begun 58 years beforehand.
And all of this leads to one very simple question, a question which each of us individually must answer in our hearts, in our consciences and in our wills – knowing all of this, how will we respond?