I have been reflecting on fear and suffering. In my own life, I have encountered these two crosses – and they are very heavy.
This morning I was compelled to read the third ‘secret’ of Fatima. (That is, part of the apparitions which Our Lady revealed to the child visionaries of Fatima in the early twentieth century.) In all honesty, I am not that ‘into’ Marian apparitions or private revelation. This weekend, though, I was part of the Catholic Women’s Conference which my employers organize, and Our Lady’s voice reverberated through all the talks, Mass, prayer services, etc. It struck me.
So today I dove into the parchmented Vatican.va, and found the page regarding the Message of Fatima. I won’t recount all of it here, but wish to highlight what gave me hope. In the words of visionary Sr. Lucia, the third ‘secret’ is this:
At the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
What Does It Mean?
The official theological interpretation of this vision was appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In it, we hear a message of great hope (emphasis is my own):
…no suffering is in vain, and it is a suffering Church, a Church of martyrs, which becomes a sign-post for man in his search for God. […] “my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.
And then, I came to the signature of the interpreter, and I was pleased to see the name: Joseph Ratzinger.
The Urgent Need for Silence
Lately, the Holy Father has spoken about the need for silence and contemplative prayer in our times. Yesterday, his homily spoke to this strongly:
Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. […] The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. […] Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.
If we put these messages together, the necessity of silent contemplation is glaringly evident. The frantic world around us knows not what to make of its sufferings. It does not take time to discern, but rushes to find solutions – any solutions – to stave off suffering. The noise of its busyness is deafening.
As Catholics faced with suffering and persecution, we must beckon the Lord’s command: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:11). Only when we obey and enter into contemplation, do we begin to make ourselves vulnerable in God’s presence. We cannot allow ourselves to follow the world’s example, with its division, chaos, dissension, and confusion (characteristics of demonic influence).
When we allow silence we expose our weakness and frailty before God, we find meaning in suffering. Christ told Sr. Faustina Kowalska in an apparition, “Meditation on My Passion will help you rise above all things.”
There is much pain and evil in the world; it has entered through human’s decisions to act apart from God. When we stop for silent prayer, we step away from the messages of a world parched with thirst for God. Silence allows us to drink in God’s Living Water, which strengthens us beyond any of the world’s strongest weapons: “The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.”
I look forward to the Holy Father’s upcoming World Communications Day Message, which will focus on silence.