“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.”
The words above were spoken at Fatima in 1917 by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Who had just shown the three children a terrifying vision of Hell; Lucia said the vision lasted only for a moment, but its effect on the children remained with each of them for life. The vision had a particularly profound effect on Jacinta – later, suffering greatly in hospital and approaching death, she said to Lucia, “if men only knew what eternity is, they would do everything in their power to amend their lives”.
Our Lady’s words offered a way to amend one’s life and a means of avoiding an eternity in Hell – devotion to Her Immaculate Heart. At Her next appearance the following month, She gave the following counsel to the three children –
“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.”
Like the Divine Mercy devotion, the message of Fatima is one of reparation for sin – on our own behalf, and on behalf of other sinners. Both devotions have a very clear communal dimension – it is not just about the personal level of sin, but something broader than this. We pray the Divine Mercy chaplet “for our sins and the sins of all the world”.
At Fatima, the two forms of reparation given by the Mother of God are prayer and sacrifice. As always, She invites us to take up our beads and to pray Her Rosary – that ancient and exceptionally powerful prayer which so touches Her Immaculate Heart, recommended to us by the Church over and over again, the favourite of so many of the Saints and the Popes.
But as for making sacrifices for sinners – just how are we to do that? The Angel who appeared to the children in 1916 gave the answer –
“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.. Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
The primary means of offering sacrifices is the humble and joyful acceptance of the duties of our daily lives and all they contain, bearing everything for the love fo God and with the intention of offering everything to Him as reparation for sin. In this way, all our activities can contribute to our sanctification and work toward meriting grace for souls.
A second way is to look for little sacrifices we can offer each day – each sacrifice being a small and hidden way of thwarting our self-will and love of self, mortifying ourselves in this way. The children of Fatima found innumerable ways of achieving this, such as not taking a drink of water, or divine away their lunch to those in greater need. Similarly, each day will present to every one of us many opportunities to do something of this sort – we need only look for them and then embrace them in joy. Simple examples might consist of not putting salt on food; not listening to the radio when driving and praying instead; praying for a particular soul each day; smiling even to those who are unkind to us; placing ourselves always at the service of those around us, and many, many more similar things.
This fits with the thinking of the teaching of the Church. In ‘Lumen Gentium’, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution On The Church’ (Second Vatican Council), we read this –
“The laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and equipped to produce in themselves ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit. For all their works, prayers, apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if borne patiently – all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Lumen Gentium, para.34)
Ultimately, what counts is not so much the sacrifice itself, or it’s size, but rather the pure love with which we undertake and offer it.
In doing this, however, we need always to be mindful of our two great enemies – the desire to be noticed, and the pride that can spring up in the soul, which is the death of virtue. Keep every sacrifice small and hidden, known only to God, and undertaken always with a smile and with great love of Him.
The more souls who live in this way, the greater the outpouring of grace, for we will be living the message of Fatima in the world; and that grace is able to touch a greater number of souls, so that fewer – please God – will be lost.
In all this, may the grace of God be our comfort and the Immaculate Heart of Mary be our refuge.