100 YEARS OF FATIMA:
A homily in Worth Abbey church 13.5.17
This year the Church is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima to the Portuguese peasant children, Lúcia Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto, her little cousins. These events, occurring in 1917, were much more than devotional events narrowly conceived: they carried messages of great import for us, the Church on earth.
Many, out of genuinely innocent ignorance have misinterpreted Fatima. Some say
· Our Lady wants us to pray the rosary daily, full stop.
· Some have read into it a call to ecclesiastical and theological conservatism, a return to pre-Vatican II days of an individualist devotional spirituality.
· Others have found in it a political message such as, ‘down with Communism’ (as in the former Soviet Union) and ‘up with right wing regimes’, (as in Spanish Francoism of the 1930s).
All these are, at best, distortions or half-truths, because Fatima is an integral message about the Christian mystery, about living in the Trinity.
The Fatima apparitions began on May 13th 1917 and continued into October; at that time my father, with countless others, was fighting on the front line in Europe. He witnessed daily carnage all around him resulting from enemy shelling, and many years later at the insistence of his children, told us how he and his men had to pick up the bits - and if they were still alive, trundle them to the field hospital in a wheelbarrow. And today I think, how worried his family must have been, wondering whether he would ever come back to them alive; and how similarly agonised were millions of others, on both sides, for their loved ones: Europe was being tortured and traumatised. In March of the previous year Germany had declared war on Portugal, and in August 1916 the first Portuguese troops were sent into battle. In October, the Bolsheviks took over in Russia, establishing a communist and atheistic regime.
It was in this context that Lucia told us Our Lady asked us to pray the rosary every day for peace ! And so her message is immediately injected with an urgent preoccupation about the behaviour of humankind, in its entire personal, political, military, diplomatic, ideological and religious dimensions. The message is an integral one that can never be reduced to the merely devotional without doing violence to it.
It was later, in 1929, that Our Lady through Lucia asked for the consecration of Russia, then in the throes of political and social upheaval. What does ‘consecration’ mean ?
Well, on 13th July 1975, this church was consecrated: from then on it was no longer a building site, or just “our hall” (as some Free Church folk have occasionally spoken of it to us). It was changed into a holy place dedicated to the assembly of the people for their formal praising of God together.
When a Religious consecrates her or his life to God, that requires a lifetime of change.
And when the priest “consecrates” the bread and wine at Mass, it is changed into the presence of Jesus Christ among us; and also, as Sts. Paul and Augustine teach, becomes the mystery of ourselves united together in Him.
No one can consecrate who is not themselves consecrated and being continuously consecrated. So when Our Lady asked for the consecration of Russia, that could never be just the fulfilment of a request that a prayer be said by the Pope of the Day: it meant change, including changes too in our attitude to Russia.
Thus it was that Pope Benedict XVI located the Fatima prophecies firmly within what he called, “the final glory of the Most Holy Trinity”.
This prayer composed by Pope John Paul II to Our Lady of Fatima makes an appropriate conclusion to this reflection:
Mary, Queen of Peace, save us all who have so much trust in you, from wars, hatred, and oppression. Make us all learn to live in peace, and educate ourselves for peace, do what is demanded by justice, and respect the rights of every person so that peace may be firmly established. Amen.