Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, the third day: And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24: 45-47).
April 18, 2017 Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
We are forced to deal here with one of the most disastrous and likely most deliberate, in its origin at least, misstatements in the whole history of Fatima, but first a bit of background. When Sister Lucia published her memoirs, a quarter of a century after the Apparitions, she revealed for the first time the extent of the penances and sacrifices that the children were practicing.
Apparently the movement in their heart to do penance started after the second Apparition of the Angel of Portugal in 1916 when he told them to “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.” This movement toward sacrifice and penance only accelerated, especially for Blessed Jacinta Marto, after Our Lady showed the children the vision of Hell on July 13, 1917, told them to sacrifice for sinners, and gave them the Fatima intention for which to offer their sacrifices: “O Jesus, it is for the love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
During this time the children followed her commands and the inspirations given by the Holy Spirit to their hearts to do penance. Often when they were shepherding their families’ sheep they would do without their lunch and either give it to whatever poor children they found or, if no impoverished families were at hand, they would give their lunch to the sheep. They would deprive themselves of water to drink on those unfathomably hot summer afternoons of the Portuguese serra at a time when there was no air conditioning to retreat into. They prayed constantly, Jacinta spending hours sometimes with her forehead pressed against the earth repeated the prayers of the Angel and the O my Jesus prayer the Blessed Virgin taught them that we now recite after each Mystery of the Rosary. This six year old girl made of everything she could a supplication for the conversion of sinners, to save them from Hell. Blessed Francisco Marto spent the days when other children were in school (since Our Lady had assured him that he wasn’t long for this world he felt no purpose in learning lessons to help him advance in it) before the Blessed Sacrament in the local church seeking to console Our Lord and Our Lady for the outrages committed against them. Blessed Francisco was only nine when he was doing this, and Blessed Jacinta only six. What were you doing when you were nine? What was I doing when I was six? What are any of us doing right now?
The tragic misstatement about Fatima originates with one of the penances the children were practicing. They chanced upon the idea a few days after the August 19, 1917 Apparition of tying a rope around their waists as a penance. Here is Lucia’s description from Volume II of her memoir repeated on page 78 of 1998’s Fatima in Lucia’s own words:
Some days later, as we were walking along the road with our sheep, I found a piece of rope that had fallen off a cart. I picked it up and, just for fun, I tied it round my arm. Before long, I noticed that the rope was hurting me.
“Look, this hurts!” I said to my cousins. “We could tie it round our waists and offer this sacrifice to God.”
The poor children promptly fell in with my suggestion. We then set about dividing it between the three of us, by placing it across a stone and striking it with the sharp edge of another one that served as a knife. Either because of the thickness or roughness of the rope, or because we sometimes tied it too tightly, this instrument of penance often caused us terrible suffering. Now and then, Jacinta could not keep back her tears, so great was the discomfort this caused her. Whenever I urged her to remove it, she replied: “No! I want to offer this sacrifice to Our Lord in reparation, and for the conversion of sinners.”
This was the genesis of Our Lady’s instruction to the children on September 13, 1917 that God is pleased with your sacrifices. He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only to wear it during the daytime.
This statement of Our Lady is often mutilated by various persons who talk and write about Fatima into some form of the following lie: “Yes the children were doing terrific penances, but Our Lady came and told them to stop doing that.” Quite obviously that is not what she said. She said that God was pleased with the penances were offering, but that He wanted them to modify one of them slightly. After all God made us, and He knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. He knows what we can handle and what what we cannot, what will draw us to Him and what will drive us away.
Yet you will hear this stupid misstatement that “Our Lady told the children to quit doing penances” in some form or another from people who seem to have devoted their lives to spreading the message of Fatima, who have written books about Fatima, who have made careers dealing with Fatima. It has sadly become part of ‘what people say’ about Fatima.
Why is this important? Because there has been a movement in the Church for a long time, starting in fact many lifetimes before the Second Vatican Council, to be done with penance. It probably goes back in some way to Martin Luther in 1517 and all of his successors and their declarations that the way one lives his life has nothing to do with whether or not he will be saved or not. So over the centuries this idea has crept into and consumed the Church. Penance and mortification, both exterior and interior, slowly over time began to lose their importance. Yet this is what it is to be a Christian: our screwed up will must be subdued and our fallen nature must be conquered. Penance and mortification are how you do that. And there is no other way. To remove penance from the Christian life is in many ways like removing the soul from the body: all you have left is a decaying corpse.
There is also the matter of what penance on our part can do for others and for the world. The Fatima revelations remind us of something that is made clear throughout Sacred Scripture: penance softens the anger of God and loosens the grip that devils have on souls in the world. Consider the account of the exorcism that Our Lord performed when He came down from Mount Tabor with Peter, James, and John after the Transfiguration. He encounters the rest of the Apostles who had been trying and failing to exorcise a demon from a young boy. Notice here as well the intimate connection between prayer and fasting and belief and faith. Here it is from the Gospel of Mark:
One of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus * asked his father, “How long has he had this?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:17-29)”
This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting. And what is the message of Fatima? Prayer and fasting. In this sense fasting, penance, sacrifice, they are three different words for the same thing. If you wish to drive out the demons afflicting souls in our world then heed the message of Fatima.
This would seem to have been a primary reason for Our Lady’s appearance at the Cova da Iria four centuries after Father Martin Luther’s little outburst: to call people back to penance. After all Our Lord Himself after his Resurrection stated that penance should be preached in his Name to all nations. How many times do we read in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, that the followers of the Beast (Antichrist) and his false prophet will in the last days of this world refuse to do penance, despite the plagues that afflict them, and instead blaspheme God?
The penances that these children did were a primary reason for the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto in the year 2000 so why do these people continue to repeat the lie that “Our Lady told them to stop making these sacrifices?” How can you call them ‘Blessed’ if you deny the reason for their beatification? Some of it is just habit, some of it is just a herd mentality i.e. people feel safe (even though they are in mortal danger) when they just repeat what everybody else says despite the fact that they know better and some are just ignorant, whether that ignorance is willful or not is between them and God.
But there is another group who have another purpose. They think that by spreading this lie they can undo a large part if not the whole message of Fatima. They are not the ones who repeat this lie publicly, rather they whisper it in the ears of authors of books on the subject, they cause it to be written in footnotes or cause it to be repeated by people who are supposed to be authorities on the subject. And trust me they are there. They do exist. Just ignore them and the fruits of their work and do penance.
So what is penance? What sacrifices are we called to make? Are we supposed to go out and buy a hairshirt or wrap a cilice around our thighs and wear it until we draw blood? No. If God wants you to do that you will know it and it won’t be because you read this post. But that is a dangerous place to start doing penance because most often those things are purely self will and feed only your pride and hurry you down the road to spiritual disaster. So what do we do?
Penance is primarily doing the will of God, especially when it contravenes your own will. Penance is not sinning, especially when the devil makes sin look like a good and reasonable choice that will do no harm to anyone and may perhaps actually help somebody. Penance is enduring and conquering with prayer and patience grievous temptations that afflict you to commit certain sins. Penance is being patient with the troublesome and helping them bear their burdens. If you want to do real penance then try this: the next time you encounter someone whom you deem to be rude and inconsiderate and whom you think is in your way then be kind to them, smile at them, pray a Hail Mary for them, ask them if you can help them in any way and maybe, just maybe, try getting out of their way. In other words learn to live and love the Works of Mercy.
Sometimes penance is just to live in this world that is so awash with sin and error that 99.9999999% of the human race perceives good to be evil and evil to be good and not to succumb to it. To not say Ave (2 John 1:10) to those in positions of authority who preach all manner of heretical yet seductive stupidity from the pulpit and to keep the commandments of God and bear the testimony of Jesus Christ in a world that is constantly screaming in your ear at the top of its lungs that neither of them have ever existed, that it is all a delusional fantasy.
These things are penance too, and if you let Him the Holy Spirit will show you more and better ways of doing penance than anything I could come up with. Pray the Rosary every day and do penance. Make supplication in reparation for the outrages committed against the Holy Trinity and for the conversion of sinners. Place your forehead against the earth and say:
O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.