This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal. At the end of September, I will be leading an archdiocesan pilgrimage to Fatima to commemorate the centenary.
Fatima is an example of a “private revelation” made to chosen individuals, the authenticity of which is accepted by the Church only after careful examination and discernment. The relatively few private revelations that have been formally approved by the Church through the centuries have these purposes: to help people understand what the Scriptures call “the signs of the times” and to lead them to respond with faith.
The message of Our Lady in 1917 came amid the horrors of world war and revolution that were only the beginning of a century scarred by tremendous evils and crimes against God and humanity. Her message, however, is timeless precisely because it is the Gospel message of conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice.
Like you, I pray for many things. I have a whole list of intentions for the Archdiocese of Hartford that are part of my prayers to God, to Our Lady and to the saints and angels. “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul writes, and in the literal translation of Luke 11: 9, Jesus says, “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking …” and you will receive.
If we look more deeply at the Scriptures, however, we will find an extremely important secret about prayer. Those whose prayers are heard are those who accompany their prayers with acts of penance and sacrifice.
The great prayers of the Bible are offered to God amid the rigors of the desert, the stripping away of earthly signs of pride and, especially, by mortification and fasting. Sinless though he was, Jesus himself fasted when he prayed, as an example to us that the human soul and body, mind and heart, must be freed and purified in order to ascend in adoration to the all-holy God.
Scripture teaches us that our Christian life and our prayers are at the service of a plan much greater than ourselves. When we connect the dots between prayer, penance and sacrifice, we understand that we are united to Christ in his fasting and prayer, and in his self-emptying sacrifice of expiation for the redemption of the world. All of our needs and desires are subject to the will of God for our salvation and the salvation of the world.
These scriptural truths have been lived by the saints throughout history. The words and works of the saints constitute the great spiritual treasury of our Catholic faith. Yet isn’t it that nowadays, the call to conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice is often muted, sometimes to the point of near silence?
I am reminded of an old “Hagar the Horrible” comic strip in which Hagar climbs a steep mountain during a blizzard in search of a guru. “What is the key to happiness?” Hagar asks. “Abstinence, poverty, fasting and celibacy,” the guru answers. After a pause, Hagar asks, “Is there someone else up here I could talk to?”
A life of conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice is not a welcome message to the ears of a sinful world or our sinful selves, even when the message comes from our mother in heaven. Yet if Mary’s message was urgent in 1917, imagine how much more urgent it is today!
I leave you with the words and the prayer of the angel spoken to the children of Fatima: “Pray, pray, pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. ... Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
Most Holy Trinity,Father, Son and Holy Spirit,I adore You profoundly.I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinityof Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world,in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges andindifferences by which He is offended.By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesusand the Immaculate Heart of Mary,I beg the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.