Friday, May 13, 2011

Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima

(Acts 9:1-20; John 52-59)

In 1917 three Portuguese youth had visions of the Virgin Mary near the town of Fatima. They claimed that the Virgin revealed to them three “secrets.” The substance of the last of those revelations has created untold speculation in the Church for almost seventy years.

The first two secrets were related in a document written by one of the three children, Lucia Santos, in 1941. Lucia, who had become a Carmelite nun, responded to a request made by a Portuguese bishop to write down the matters. The contents of her message were sealed in an envelope that was opened only in 1960. The first secret is a vision of hell worthy of the Book of Revelation. The second secret chronicles the time in which it was written down. It tells of a second world war and the threat of Communist Russia.

Sr. Lucia was hesitant to tell of the final secret, but evidently the same bishop insisted so that it would not be lost in the case of her death. In 1944, acting under obedience, Sr. Lucia wrote of the third secret on four sheets of paper that were sealed in an envelope. The envelope was sent to Rome in 1957, evidently opened in 1960, but its secret was not made public until 2000. The text reads like another vision from the Apocalypse. It exhorts penance among the people and foresees the pope being killed by a group of soldiers. The latter prediction was understood as a reference to Pope John Paul II’s being shot in 1981. As the contents only demand greater devotion and contain a half-fulfilled prophecy, various critics have claimed that the Vatican was not completely forthcoming in publishing the contents. None other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, however, has verified that the publication of the contents was complete and that the nature of the secret was, as sometimes said, more prescriptive than descriptive.

What does the Fatima story tell us today? For one thing it warns us of speculating about the future. As a popular song once put it, “Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡” (what will be, will be). Ours is not to know the future but to prepare for it. We do this best, as Jesus says in today’s gospel, by regularly partaking of his body and blood at the Eucharist.