Many devotees and followers of Our Lady of Fatima’s apparitions and messages a century ago tended to focus on fearful or even catastrophic events in the world. So it is in today’s here-and-now, this-life-focused perspective.
Yet which is far more fearful for a believer — dying in a devastating earthquake or a global war, or peacefully passing away in mortal sin, then suffering an eternity in hell?
That’s probably how many a modern, sophisticated, worldly man or woman might remark. Even among Christians these days, there isn’t much interest, let alone fear about the Inferno. In fact, when was the last time one had a conversation, or even a Sunday mass homily where hell was mentioned or even hinted at?
Nope, hell isn’t scaring many folks these days. Even priests, including some prominent ones in Pope Francis’s Jesuit order, think that four-letter word is either an old myth or a real place or state of after-life that’s actually empty, because the all-loving, all-merciful God would find a way to save every soul, even those unrepentant of the gravest sins.
And that’s how people have been thinking for, well, over a century. That’s why in the three-part secret Our Lady of Fatima revealed on July 13, 1917, to Lucia dos Santos, 9 going on 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacintha Marto, nearing 9 and 7, the first revelation was a vision of hell.
Even then, people didn’t fear or even believe in hell, so the Blessed Mother had to show it was a terrible place where mortal sinners and demons blazed for all time.
That sight was so fearsome that Jacintha, for all her playful youth, was so distressed over the condemned that she embraced any pain and distress to make reparations for the sins of others, so they won’t end up in the burning lake.
And Sister Lucia, who lived till age 97 in 2005, while her fellow visionaries died in the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, made sure to firmly emphasize: “My mission is not to tell the world of the material chastisements that are yet to take place if we do not amend. No, my mission is to tell everyone that we are in danger of going to hell if we do not amend.”
A world disregarding God
So, more than prophecies of war and other punishments for man’s sinfulness, the paramount warning of Our Lady of Fatima was about man’s transgressions against God, most especially the growing disbelief or disregard for Him.
Indeed, the chastisements, terrible though they are, may be seen as acts of divine mercy, waking faithless man to the reality of a Supreme Being in control of history, Whom he must heed and seek if he is to be avoid everlasting fire.
And what does God want man to do? Lucia summed up Our Lady’s admonition: “… now, it is necessary for each one of us to begin to reform himself spiritually. Each person must not only save his own soul, but also all the souls God has placed in our path.” That means not only exhorting them toward faith, hope and charity, but offering daily every thought, word and deed for the reparation of sins.
In fact, the year before Our Lady appeared, the Angel of Peace also delivered God’s call to faithless man in his spring, summer and autumn visits to Lucia, Francisco and Jacintha.
In the Angel’s very first apparition, he taught the children a prayer that not only declared faith, hope and love, but also lamented their absence among men:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love Thee.”
And that disregard and disbelief toward God was already worrying the Popes even a century ago, when secular culture was far less widespread as it is today.
In the decade before Fatima, Pope St. Pius X lamented that most people in his time had “lost all respect for Eternal God” and “no regard is paid in the manifestations of public and private life to the Supreme Will – nay, every effort and every artifice is used to utterly destroy the memory and the knowledge of God.”
Warnings over the centuries
And even in apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in centuries past, she had already warned of worldwide disbelief and disobedience in our time.
In the 17th Century, Our Lady of Good Success appeared to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres at a Conceptionist Convent in Quito, Ecuador. The Blessed Virgin warned that “the Church would be in a state of crisis from shortly after the middle of the 20th Century.”
Seven decades before Fatima, Our Lady appeared to two French shepherds, Peter Maximin Girard, age 11, and Frances Melanie Mathieu-Calvat, age 14, on the Mountain of La Salette in France.
What she warned of was unthinkable at an age when all European nations were staunchly Christian, even in government and public affairs. But what Our Lady of La Salette predicted has come to pass in our century: “All civil governments will have one and the same plan, which will be to abolish and do away with every religious principle, to make way for materialism, atheism, spiritualism and vice of all kinds.”
Sure enough, in our time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, admonished: “God is very marginalized. In the political sphere it seems almost indecent to talk about God, almost as though it were an attack on the freedom of those who don’t believe.”
And Pope Saint John Paul II also lamented the decline of faith even among the faithful: “Christians are tempted by atheism, agnosticism, vaguely moral enlightenment and by a sociological Christianity devoid of defined dogmas or an objective morality.”
So, what does Our Lady of Fatima offer for those seeking salvation in a world and a Church where God is vanishing?
For starters, pray the Rosary daily, as she asked in all her six apparitions at Fatima. And next week, we discuss her whole salvation plan.