Tuesday of this week was the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13. On that day in 1917, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in a small town in Portugal. She then appeared on the thirteenth of the next five months.
There were miracles, including the bizarre miracle of the sun spinning on October 13, with thousands of people watching. And there were secrets she told the children.
But the way we relate to those “secrets” really gets to the heart of Catholicism.
Too often we’re more interested in miracles than in God himself. There are websites full of Fatima conspiracy theories, about the technicalities of what Mary asked to be done, and about what she really revealed to the children.
What these things overlook is how very simple Our Lady of Fatima’s message was: pray, and repent. Or: love God, and act like you love God.
Most centrally, she asked them to pray the rosary, and pray it well.
To be sure, there were miracles. There would be little sense in praying to a God who had no power over creation. Such a god would be no god at all.
But we don’t pray to God for miracles. He isn’t our sugar daddy. This, in fact, is a central theme of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Over and over the Psalms condemn Israel for demanding bread in the wilderness: “They spoke against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (Ps 78:19-22).
And Jesus recapitulates the same theme. “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, You seek me, not because you saw the miracles” (and acknowledged who I really am) “but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give to you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (Jn 6:26-27).
God doesn’t do miracles so that we’ll be miracle fans. He does miracles so that we will know that he, who can provide bread in the wilderness, is the true bread, the bread of angels, the goodness exceeding all goodness. Instead we say, “hey, do the magic trick again.”
He responds – and our Lady responds, “Do you still not understand?” (Mk 6:52, 8:12, 8:17, 8:21, 9:19).
There were prophecies, too. Mary warned them about lowering standards of modesty, and sexual immorality. She warned them about the mess that was arising in Russia. She even showed them a vision that seems to have been the assassination attempt, May 13, 1981, on John Paul II.
But what is the purpose of these prophecies? Anyone who loves Jesus – and who loves Mary, and prays the rosary, so as to love Jesus – could see these things happen. John Paul knew the prophecy, and it didn’t keep him from getting shot. That’s not the purpose of prophecy.
Rather, these prophecies took them deeper into the very simple message at the heart of Fatima: pray! What do we do about these disasters – attacks on the family, on civil society, and on the Church? We pray. Pray for Russia, she said. Yes! Pray! How do we see truly what is happening? Pray! Pray the rosary. Love Mary. Love Jesus.
The same is true, for example, of John’s revelation of the Apocalypse, at the end of the Bible. The point isn’t that we get secret knowledge. The point is that we see what is truly happening: the Pope trudging up the hill of crosses, in the vision of Fatima; the attack of the dragon, in John’s vision; the ultimate triumph of the City of God.
But all of this only points us to the true secret of Fatima: the Gospel. Jesus is everything. Without God, there is calamity, and moral disaster. But Jesus can save us from that disaster, and our reward is only Jesus.
The truest “secret” is the tender whispering of Jesus and his saints. At Lourdes, St. Bernadette said much of the vision was just about her intimate relationship with Jesus. The true secret is love.
So yes, pray the rosary, and live like you love God!
Do we let trivial matters obscure our focus on Jesus?