If there’s one lesson we could all afford to learn from Our Lady appearing in Fátima, it’s got to start with praying the rosary. And not in a pray-the-rosary-in-15-minutes-or-less-box-checking kind of way, but in an embrace-the-mother-of-our-Lord-as-our-mother kind of way — all in for the stretching of our hearts for the Marian way, a life of “yes” to the will of God in our lives.
Mary takes us to her son. And, in the rosary — however heart-fully or rote-fully we pray it — he’s there. She walks us through his life. She takes us to her womb. She shows us the power of the incarnation and the strength that he offers us if we choose joyful obedience over prideful self-reliance.
When St. John Paul II went to Fátima on the feast day there in 1982, he called the rosary “Mary’s Prayer” — “the prayer in which she feels particularly united with us.” He observed that, “She herself prays with us. The rosary prayer embraces the problems of the Church, of the See of St. Peter, the problems of the whole world. In it we also remember sinners, that they may be converted and saved, and the souls in purgatory.”
Nothing is out of the reach of the graces of Mary’s prayer. He said of the apparitions in Fatima:
“The words of the message were addressed to children aged from 7 to 10. Children, like Bernadette of Lourdes, are particularly privileged in these apparitions of the mother of God. Hence the fact that also her language is simple, within the limits of their understanding. The children of Fatima became partners in dialogue with the Lady of the message and collaborators with her.”
The rosary takes us into a deep dialogue with Mary, of the kind that recalls the biblical summons to pray without ceasing. How do you do that? By walking and breathing the way of Jesus on the cross in the full knowledge of the eternal hope of the Resurrection, even as we suffer here in this valley of tears.
Looking out on the world — your life, the news, the ordeals around the globe — it is a great consolation to have the mother of God as our own. It’s the stuff of deepening hope. As she brings us closer to her son, we can become more like him, which happens to be exactly what the world needs — nothing more and nothing less than Christians who are actually who they profess to be!
Can it be any mere coincidence that John Paul II was shot and his life spared on the feast of Our Lady of Fátima? How could we not take that reality as the greatest of sirens from heaven to pay more attention to her, to what she said?
Fátima hears our cries and the cries of the suffering souls around the world and in purgatory. As you and I go to her for help, we begin to have a deeper capacity for taking the cries of others to her, so that they might go straight to the heart of her son for the healing of hearts.
This is how John Paul put it:
“The successor of Peter presents himself here also as a witness to the immensity of human suffering, a witness to the almost apocalyptic menaces looking over the nations and mankind as a whole. He is trying to embrace these sufferings with his own weak human heart, as he places himself before the mystery of the heart of the mother, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“In the name of these sufferings and with awareness of the evil that is spreading throughout the world and menacing the individual human being, the nations, and mankind as a whole, Peter’s successor presents himself here with greater faith in the redemption of the world, in the saving love that is always stronger, always more powerful than any evil.”
Movingly, he said:
“My heart is oppressed when I see the sin of the world and the whole range of menaces gathering like a dark cloud over mankind, but it also rejoices with hope as I once more do what has been done by my predecessors, when they consecrated the world to the heart of the mother, when they consecrated especially to that heart those peoples which particularly need to be consecrated. Doing this means consecrating the world to him who is infinite holiness. This holiness means redemption. It means a love more powerful than evil. No ‘sin of the world’ can ever overcome this love.
“Once more this act is being done. Mary’s appeal is not for just once. Her appeal must be taken up by generation after generation, in accordance with the ever-new ‘signs of the times.’ It must be unceasingly returned to. It must ever be taken up anew.”
John Paul II knew the heart of darkness, confronting it from the days of his youth in Poland, becoming a man of bold and humble convicted courage on the world stage as a pastor and prophet. He himself was the victim of great evil and yet met it with Divine Mercy, famously forgiving the man who sought to shoot the Holy Father dead. What a witness to the world. What a message from heaven, focusing us once again on the Fátima message with the timing and the sparing of his life.
Pope Francis frequently talks about the Church as mother, and it is only motherly love that can keep us from shirking our duties to love and serve, to be people of the Beatitudes. Fátima is necessarily and unmistakably replete with the message of motherly care. Recalling further the words of John Paul II there, we might be able to celebrate this feast as a way of life, one constantly in renewal in love of the Son of God who Mary carried in her womb and held in her arms as the sins of men seemed to have won the day only to the agony and ecstasy of eternal victory. He said:
“In the light of a mother’s love we understand the whole message of the Lady of Fátima. The greatest obstacle to man’s journey towards God is sin, perseverance in sin, and, finally, denial of God. The deliberate blotting out of God from the world of human thought. The detachment from him of the whole of man’s earthly activity. The rejection of God by man.
“In reality, the eternal salvation of man is only in God. Man’s rejection of God, if it becomes definitive, leads logically to God’s rejection of man, to damnation.
“Can the mother who with all the force of the love that she fosters in the Holy Spirit desires everyone’s salvation keep silence on what undermines the very bases of their salvation? No, she cannot.
“And so, while the message of Our Lady of Fátima is a motherly one, it is also strong and decisive. It sounds severe. It sounds like John the Baptist speaking on the banks of the Jordan. It invites to repentance. It gives a warning. It calls to prayer. It recommends the rosary.”
The message is addressed to every human being. The love of the savior’s mother reaches every place touched by the work of salvation. Her care extends to every individual of our time, and to all the society’s nations and peoples; societies menaced by apostasy, threatened by moral degradation. The collapse of morality involves the collapse of societies.
Repent and pray the rosary. Pray the rosary and repent. Rinse with the sacrament of reconciliation and repeat.
Let’s not walk away from another May without heeding the message and passing it along. Not only praying it quickly or slowly, but entirely. May our lives be witness to the life Mary’s prayer gives. Praying the rosary is life-giving — it is God’s presence in our lives through the voluntary calling upon his mother to take us bead by bead, step by step to his heart forevermore, beyond any time and notion we know.