"The Message of Fatima – A Legacy of Divine Mercy"

– Danielle M. Peters, PAMI Conference, Fatima, September 2016

Karl Rahner affirms that Marian apparitions have a dynamic function in the life of the Church. While they do not contain new truths of faith, they make known the salvific will of God in concrete and historical situations. Thus, apparitions, while private in nature, belong to the “Signs of the times.” The Spirit of God directs the life of the Church through such impulses, which cannot be easily discerned by theologians from the deposit of Faith alone.[1] In that same line, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, aka Card. Ratzinger, notes that “apparitions of Our Lady show certain analogies to the Old Testament prophecies [in as far as they] explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future.”[2]  The prophet, in this case the Blessed Virgin Mary, essentially actualizes an aspect of the definite Revelation which affects the core of the human person.[3] The prophetic dimension of Marian apparitions is thus in the service of the Church’s mission since their message offers concrete ways to respond to the ‘signs of the times.’[4] This context permits us to ponder the Fatima Apparitions in the light of the Year of Mercy![5]

I would like to propose Pope Francis’ papal motto: miserando atque eligendo as a key to interpret the Fatima Message for today.[6] The pope’s cantus firmus—which for him is revelatory of the divine pedagogy—reminds us that God chooses the small and humble-the anawim-to defeat the so-called wise of this world. We know that the experience of having encountered God’s mercy and election radically changed the life of the teenager Jorge Bergoglio. In one way or other, I tend to think that the motto captures the core experience of each and every vocation! With the following I want to offer some examples how this is true (1) of the calling of Our Lady and (2) of the three children at Fatima. In the concluding remarks, I will suggest some pointers how this motto may aid us to understand the Fatima prophecy in this Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Experience: Miserando atque Eligendo

Mary’s existence distinguishes itself by her unmerited election as the New Eve. Through her free “Yes” to the call, God launched a new beginning marked by the kiss of Mercy to Justice (Cf. Ps 85(84):11). It is perhaps in her Magnificat where the acknowledgement of her own smallness and God’s election becomes most evident. Mary’s Song testifies that in the divine-human encounter—paradoxically in our estimation—lowliness and exaltation belong together. In fact, one is the presupposition for the other! Mary magnifies God’s mercy and faithfulness, which shines forth fully because of her utter lowliness and not in spite of it. God favors the little ones because they welcome His love and care without reserve. This is Mary’s core experience when encountering the Almighty, who has lifted her up because of her total transparency and alignment to God’s salvific plan.[7]

As Mother of Mercy, the Blessed Virgin continues from eternity to obtain for us the graces of merciful Love (cf. LG 62). Throughout time, she seeks allies who help her spread the message of Mercy, as for example in Fatima, where she points to the intercessory power of her Immaculate Heart and the eschatological certainty of its triumph. St. John Paul II attested that Fatima “is a wonderful testimony to God’s mercy, which reaches man through Mary’s intercession. The miracles of … spiritual redemption, and conversion are the obvious sign” that she continues to point the way to Mercy and accompanies us with her maternal heart that beats in Christ for us.[8] We are familiar with Our Lady’s requests to the three children. In our context I would like to draw attention to the fact that when speaking to the children, she followed the method of the Angel who addressed her at the Annunciation. The beautiful lady did not command or threaten the children; rather she appealed to their generosity by presenting her wishes in form of a petition:

  • "I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour. Later I shall say who I am and what I desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time."
  • "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?"[9]
  • "I would like you to come on the 13th of next month, [July] to pray the Rosary every day, and to learn to read."[10]
  • "To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays[11]

 
Just like God’s messenger at the Annunciation, so in 1917 at Fatima—albeit on a much lower level—Our Lady appealed to the freedom of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco. As God’s messenger and as their spiritual Mother, she takes the initiative by showing them her Immaculate Heart, source of her love and compassion. Like the Angel, she respects the children’s freedom as she awaited their answer with suspense. In the words of Pope Francis: “Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart.”[12]


The Experience of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco: Miserando atque Eligendo

Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco certainly belonged to the simple and poor, chosen to become privileged interlocutors of a prophetic message. On six occasions, the children were privileged to encounter the “beautiful lady.” The maternal love flowing from Mary’s Immaculate Heart drew them irresistibly, making them amenable for cooperating with her requests. “Children tend to be the ones to receive these apparitions,” writes Card. Ratzinger, “because their souls are as yet little disturbed, (and) their interior powers of perception are still not impaired (cf. Mt 21:16; Ps 8:3).”[13]  In other words, their ‘vision’ is pure and free from atmospheric disturbances; their faith in the Lady’s message is simple and radical, as only children can be. With all their hearts they are in accord and committed to “help save souls,” even at the cost of greatest sacrifices.  The specific way proposed to them is devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a piety less appealing to the Western cultural world. Yet, according to Matthew 5:8, it is the immaculate heart that can see God, and the children intuitively embrace this attitude of heart, and with it, the fiat as the defining attitude of their collaboration with God’s will.[14] 

The transformative power of the Immaculate Heart that chooses the little ones is indeed extraordinary for children of their age. Yet, the three children of Fatima have experienced the bliss of the truth précised in miserando atque eligendo. The souls of the poor and uneducated little shepherds offered the perfect soil for the call of Our Lady to germinate. There was no false pretense or inferiority complex in their response; on the contrary and with great confidence, they were aware of their God-given dignity and election, staking everything on the Love of God. With every fiber of their being they assented completely to Our Lady’s message by leaving their childish ways behind and offering prayer, penance, regular acts of voluntary mortification, and even their lives for the salvation of souls.[15]

Fatima’s Message Today: Miserando  atque Eligendo

Notwithstanding the technological upsurge of our time, the world of the third millennium is little different from that surrounding the apparitions at Fatima one hundred years ago. In fact, the Two World Wars of the 20th century have led to what Pope Francis calls “the third world war [fought] piecemeal.” This universal disaster will in the words of the Holy Father lead not to the end of the world but to a “terminal” culture. Instead of learning from history, the Pope argued, we have “to start from the beginning again.”[16]

Thus, we may ask, is it coincidence or Divine Providence that the centennial of the Fatima Apparitions coincides with the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy? If Marian apparitions aid us in deciphering the signs of the time, then Fatima’s message may be the lens through which we view Pope Francis’ untiring outreach to the broken-hearted, the marginalized, and those tied in the knots of sin. According to his predecessor, the key for unlocking the prophetic dimension of the Fatima secret in our age is Our Lady’s promise that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph. We may add that this will occur, each time her spiritual children are receptive to the tangible encounter of miserando atque eligendo.

Mary’s Heart, like no other, has experienced God’s merciful glance and choosing, which marks the axis of its existence. In virtue of this experience, Mary’s Heart has overcome and continues to conquer the Evil One, and, vanquished with him are all heresies and wars. This Heart, favored and chosen by God, is inseparably united with the Sacred Heart of her Son and consumes itself in maternal, merciful love for her children.  The alliance of these two Hearts is a gift of God’s personal love to the world. Being consecrated to these Hearts transposes us in the womb of God’s Mercy, as it were. There, our own heart, in a unique and unrepeated manner, is touched by the miserando atque eligendo, and in virtue of a free fiat response, our heart, too, becomes a favored place of God’s indwelling, an oasis of merciful love for the world.



[1] Cf. K. Rahner, Visionen und Prophezeiungen (Basel: Herder, 1960), 26-30. See also: Boguslaw Kochaniewicz, O.P., „Marian Apparitions as a Locus Theologicus?” Nova et Vetera, English Edition, vol. 7, No. 4 (2009), 973–85. The apparition of Our Lord Jesus Christ to St. Faustina Kowalski and the Devotion to Divine Mercy may serve as an example.

[2] Joseph Card. Ratzinger, “The Message of Fatima: Theological Commentary,” June 26, 2000. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima _en.html  Cf. ibid, “To interpret the signs of the times in the light of faith means to recognize the presence of Christ in every age. In the private revelations approved by the Church—and therefore also in Fatima—this is the point: they help us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith.”  

[3] During his first visit to the Cova da Iria, Pope John Paul II explained why the Church has so enthusiastically embraced the message of Our Lady of Fatima: "The first words that the Messiah addressed to humanity are: 'Repent, and believe in the Gospel' (Mk 1:15). The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as is the Gospel. This call was uttered at the beginning of the twentieth century. The author of the message seems to have read with special insight the 'signs of the
times,' the signs of our times."
[4] Cf. S. C. Napiórkowski, Jak uprawia´c teologie∫ (Wroclaw: 2002), 52. The author presents a hierarchy of theological non-objectivized and non-inspired sources contributing to the loci theologici, mentioning the ’signs of the times’ and ‘the experience of people and Christian communities.’ Marian apparitions appear to be a link among these categories. Cf. John Paul II, “Homily in Fatima.” L'Osservatore Romano English Weekly Edition (17 May 17, 1982), 6 “The Lady of the message seems to have read with special insight the "signs of the times, the signs of our time.”
[5] Cf. Benedict XVI, “Homily in a Mass at the Fatima Shrine” (May 13, 2010). “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.” Available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2010/ documents/hf_ben-
xvi_hom_20100513_fatima.html 
[6] Cf. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/elezione/stemma-papa-francesco.html The motto of Pope Francis is taken from a passage from the venerable Bede, Homily 21 (CCL 122, 149-151), on the Feast of Matthew, which reads: Vidit ergo Jesus
publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’. [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’.]
[7] Cf. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia. Encyclical Letter on God who is rich in Mercy, (November 30, 1980), 9. See also Theotokos 142f where John Paul II explained that the Greek word tapeínosis calls attention to the humility and misery with which Mary described her poverty and awareness of being little before God who elected her to be the Mother of the Messiah. 
[8] John Paul II, Theotókos: Woman, Mother, Disciple. A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2000), 35.
[9] May 13, 1917.
[10] June 13, 1917.
[11] July 13, 1917.
[12] “Catechesis,” (May 13, 2015), L’Osservatore Romano (May 14, 2015), 8. Cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia on Love in the Family (March 19, 2016), 100, footnote 109.
[13] Joseph Card. Ratzinger, “The Message of Fatima: Theological Commentary.” Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html
[14] Cf. Joseph Card. Ratzinger, “The Message of Fatima: Theological Commentary.”
[15] Cf. Miller, Frederick L. (1993) "The Significance of Fatima: A Seventy-Five-Year Perspective," Marian Studies: Vol. 44, Article 9, 61. Available at: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/marian_studies/vol44/iss1/9 Also see: John Paul II, Homily on the Occasion of the Beatification of Francisco And Jacinta Marto, Shepherds of Fatima, May 13, 2000. Available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20000513_ beaitification-fatima.html
[16] Francis, In-Flight Press Conference from Istanbul to Rome, (November 30, 2014). Available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/november/documents/papa-francesco_20141130_turchia-conferenza-stampa.html