As I write this, the Pope is on his way to Fatima for a lightning one night visit, when he will say Mass and lead people in the Rosary.
The eyes of the Catholic world are turned towards the Portuguese shrine, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, which falls tomorrow, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. And people are not just thinking of Fatima because the Pope is going there – he is the fourth Pontiff to visit – rather it is because Fatima is important, and, a hundred years on, more important than ever.
I used to think that Fatima was something of a sideshow, a specialist interest, which appealed to a niche market in the Church. I certainly do not think this now. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, at Fatima, Our Lady told it like it is. She is the one person who could never be guilty of what the world calls hate crime or hate speech, being a mother and the most loving mother of all. But at Fatima she made it clear to us all that sin has consequences, and that these consequences are not good. Professor Stephen Bullivant writes about this in the magazine this week and how right he is.
Hell has been a neglected theme in Catholic theology and discourse of late, and it needs to be given its rightful place in both. That we should neglect Hell is odd, because the 100 years since 1917 have seen the enormous growth in examples of the hell we create for ourselves. We should have no difficultly in believing in an otherworldly Hell – a place quite without the love of God – when we have seen pictures and heard descriptions of the hells on earth that human beings have made for their fellow creatures: the trenches of the First World War, the Gulag, the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia.
These terrifying examples should convince us that we are capable of evil and that evil actions have dreadful consequences. Perhaps contemporary preachers and theologians (and I am one) steer away from Hell, not wanting to give offence. Well, insofar as we have failed, let us pass the microphone, so to speak, to Our Lady of Fatima.
The second thing is the emphasis on the Rosary. It is such a simple prayer, and so easy to say. So just say it. It can’t possibly do any of us any harm, and will do us, we are promised, much good.
Thirdly, there is the emphasis on the Immaculate Heart. This is the thing that thrills me most. Our Lady said at Fatima:
“If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
The triumph of the Immaculate Heart is the great promise of Fatima. In the end, Lenin and Stalin and Brezhnev’s evil will be blown away by the triumph of that Heart. War and suffering will be forgotten, and love alone will triumph.
This prophecy is something of which we find echoes in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, in those passages to do with the coming of the Messianic Age. In particular I think of these verses from Isaiah:
“The haughty eyes of man will be lowered, the arrogance of men will be abased, and the LORD alone will be exalted, on that day. For the LORD of hosts will have his day against all that is proud and arrogant, all that is high, and it will be brought low.” (2:11-12)
The same sentiment is expressed in the New Testament in Our Lady’s Magnificat. That is the song that is the perfect expression of the love that fills the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and devotion to the Immaculate Heart unlocks this passage of scripture for us, I think.
I have never been to Fatima, but I intend to right this omission shortly!