And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bles thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. … So Abram went out as the Lord had commanded him.
— The Book of Genesis, 12:1-2, 4a
Mass readings today on the call to Abraham and last Sunday on the fall of Adam and Eve depict the core of Christian belief: That we werecreated by God, and that He calls us to be His children.
The Gospels, meanwhile, tell of how the Creator took the nature of His human creatures, lived our life and died our death, so that we can all rise to His holiness and be with Him in everlasting life.
Do you believe all that? Do Christians still believe, let alone the rest of humanity?
Actually, over the past two millennia since Jesus Christ walked the earth, His avowed followers have grown from a dozen apostles to one-third of all people on the planet, based on professed or birth religion.
Yet even if Christians seem to dominate the world statistically, age-old Christian beliefs and morals have in fact been giving way in many nations, especially in the old Christendom, to secular thinking and living, with God given less and less attention, or even openly opposed in the policies and lifestyles of society.
‘God is marginalized’
More than a century ago, then-Pope Saint Pius X already lamented that the majority of the people even then 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.”
A century later, unbelief and godlessness are even more widespread. Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest body advising the Supreme Pontiff, said: “God is very marginalized. In the political sphere it seems almost indecent to talk about God.”
Even Catholicism has been recasting millennia-old rites of worship and tenets of faith and morals, especially since the 1960s Second Vatican Council, to adapt the Church to the prevailing ideologies and lifestyles of the world. This recasting has accelerated under Pope Francis, to the discomfort, if not distress, of traditional Catholics.
This is the global context for this column’s articles on the apparitions, messages, and warnings of Our Lady of Fatima, marking its centenary on May 13. Once we see the retreat of Christian morals and devotions amid growing secularism, only then can we appreciate the full import and intent of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s coming to earth, not just at Fatima, but so many other places worldwide.
The Angel laments man’s unbelief
This mission to call humanity back to faith in God and obedience to His will and law was manifest even before our Lady appeared as a dazzling, beautiful woman atop a bush, to three shepherd children in the rural town of Fatima in Portugal every 13th of the month from May to October 1917.
The year before, another illuminated heavenly being, calling himself the Angel of Peace, made several visits to Lucia dos Santos, then 9; and her cousins Francisco and Jacintha Marto, 8 and 6, to prepare them for Mary’s appearance.
And right at the first apparition in the spring of 1916, the Angel already highlighted the faithlessness of the world in the prayer he taught the children, reciting it three times:
“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.”
Thus, from the very first vision at Fatima, even before the Blessed Mother visited, the paramount problem and overarching objective of the apparitions were made crystal clear: to call people to rekindle the faith and seek forgiveness for humanity’s woeful loss of faith, hope and charity toward our Lord, Creator and Savior.
One may ask why? Is God so desperate for human attention and adoration that He would punish those who deny Him such homage and fealty?
Actually, it’s the other way around. We need to believe, adore, hope and love, to open ourselves to God’s presence, grace, and love, which He will never force upon anyone.
If we don’t ask, how can we receive?
And if one goes through life not believing, adoring, hoping and loving, one cannot just do all that in an instant when one faces God in the afterlife. Let alone wanting to spend eternity with Someone one never cared for or even believed in. Nor can one expect His grace and providence in this world when one never prays or cares for it.
Now, extrapolate personal unbelief to planet-wide scale, and we have swathes of humanity shutting out God’s presence and grace, and disregarding His tenets and edicts. And we wonder why heaven seems to care little for the travails of earth.
“Ask and you shall receive,” Jesus said. Now, if we don’t ask or even believe in God, how can we expect to get His blessing, protection, and providence?
For sure, countless millions ask and don’t receive, at least not as they wished. That’s why many get tired and stop asking.
Well, to go back to the mass readings from the book of Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a bountiful garden they can enjoy endlessly, and He promised Abram a future nation — if they do His will and trust in His word.
Adam and Eve trusted the serpent instead and lost Paradise. Abram obeyed and trusted, and became Abraham, patriarch of the Chosen People.
Let us believe, adore, hope and love, and God will be with us forever. Amen.