In the whole of the story of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, there has always been one single line which, from the moment I first heard it, jumped out at me; and it is this –

Do not lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

I first heard about Our Lady of Fatima when I was at high school and I can’t tell you the impression it made on me. I knew about Lourdes but had no idea the Mother of God had come to Portugal. The story of the appearances there is extraordinary. It covered so much and yet it was – in essence – a simple story, a call back to the message of the Gospel.

Those words have always stayed with me. I have thought about them a thousand times over the years since then. In fact, they feature fairly prominently in my Rosary every evening, as I made them into a little prayer which I say at the end. And as I pray, I really think about them and about what they tell us.

This Immaculate Heart is the Heart of the most perfect of all mothers, the Mother of Jesus and our mother. They say something about the immense kindness of this motherly Heart and about Her love for every single one of us without exception – although addressed in the first instance to one of the little children, they are intended for all of us.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is truly our “refuge” throughout life and at the moment of death; She wants nothing more than for us to spend Eternity in the company of Her Divine Son and She will do everything possible to help us to achieve this. And so She will petition Him on our behalf, obtaining for us every grace and blessing which flows from His Sacred Heart – which is the source of every grace and blessing. She will move His Heart with pity for us, tempering His justice where necessary and reminding Him of His promise of mercy toward us, sinners though we most certainly are. She does this precisely because She knows that we all need a refuge, a little place of safety amidst the onslaughts – both temporal and spiritual – which this life brings. Her Immaculate Heart is that refuge.

In the same way that Her Immaculate Heart was entirely open to the Lord at the moment of the Annunciation, and at the moment of the Crucifixion, and at every other moment of Her earthly life, so is it open to us and to our needs – this was the will of the Lord, the task given to Her by Her Son when She stood beneath His Cross. The Blessed Virgin desires only the will of God – and His will, as far as we are concerned, is that we love Him in this life and be with Him forever in the next. But without Her assistance, it is almost impossible for us to achieve this – our wilfullness, our weakness, our sinfulness all get in the way and so we turn from God and toward ourselves. She, on the other hand, is entirely centred and focussed on the Lord – and She obtains for us the many graces we need so that we, too, might be centred on Him alone.

And so in this way, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is “the way that will lead you to God”. The Church places the Blessed Virgin before us as the very model of the Church and as the perfection of the spiritual life – other than Her own Son, we could have no better model for the spiritual life. She is the ‘Compass of Heaven’ – a compass never points to itself, but always to something else; and the Blessed Virgin points us toward Her Son. When we magnify Her and call Her ‘blessed’, She immediately praises the Lord – just as She did with Elizabeth.

Further, She is the ‘Lightning Rod of Heaven’ – where Mary is, there you will find the Holy Spirit and His divine grace in action. The Holy Spirit is that ‘Heavenly Lightning’It was so at the moment of the Annunciation when, in Her Immaculate Heart, She consented to become the Mother of God – and He was conceived in Her womb. And again at the moment of Pentecost, She and the Holy Spirit were once more intimately united – and as She brought forth the Lord in the order of nature, so did She bring forth the Church in the order of grace. Truly, then, She is rightly called the ‘Mother of the Church’And since we are each part of the Church, She is our Mother – for this was the spiritual role given Her by Her Son upon Calvary.

Whether or not any of us are devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, She is devoted to us and to our eternal salvation – but our progression in the spiritual life will be far greater, faster, more sure if we are devoted to this most beautiful and perfect of all God’s creatures, this Woman whom the Angel saluted as being “filled with grace”.

May this Immaculate Heart always be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God, obtaining for us every grace necessary for our salvation.

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