Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reparte com alegria, como a Jacinta

"Share with joy, like Jacinta"

This was the theme chosen (in Portuguese) by the Rector of the Shrine of Fatima, Portugal, for the year 2010: a reflection that was intended to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Fatima visionary Blessed Jacinta Marto while also offering a simple reflection on the 10th commandment against coveting our neighbor's goods and having a spirit of charity and generosity.  This particular focus received a "thumbs-up" from me, as I shall explain.  The Shrine's Rector explained:
In fact, Jacinta Marto possesses this quality.  She is that child who is always available for God and for others, namely, in the practice of sacrifices, in prayer and in almsgiving.  We think that, with that key phrase in mind, we can make a reflection, a catechesis, which would, at different levels, appeal to sharing, to love of neighbor, to generosity, solidarity, amongst other things.
During our pilgrimage to Europe last November/December, we made a visit, albeit brief, to Fatima.  Naturally, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  There is so much drama and controversy surrounding Fatima, to actually visit the site seemed to me almost like visiting Dealey Plaza or the site of some major historical event.

As a Catholic, I have never been one to succumb to "apparition fever" as many others have.  The Church has naturally cautioned against this.  One need only read the text and theological explanation of the Fatima message to ascertain this.  When it comes to "revelation", everything necessary for salvation was communicated in the God-man Jesus Christ.  It is helpful to refer to the mystical theology of St. John of the Cross, as the Church has done, in order to keep our head straight:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and he has no more to say... because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.
The Church is also quick to add, however, that even with this in mind, there is still a place, albeit assuming one proceeds with extreme prudence, for such a thing as "private revelation" in the life of the Church and the life of the believer.  What could this possibly be?  The Catechism explains (paragraph 67):
It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. 
The Church's theological explanation of the Fatima message elaborates on this further: 
How can [private revelations] be classified correctly in relation to Scripture? To which theological category do they belong? The oldest letter of Saint Paul which has been preserved, perhaps the oldest of the New Testament texts, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, seems to me to point the way. The Apostle says: “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, holding fast to what is good” (5:19-21). In every age the Church has received the charism of prophecy, which must be scrutinized but not scorned. 
It is with this eye that we have to proceed.  Private revelation, while not obligatory for salvation, can in some cases be helpful to the nurturing and cultivation of faith and devotion, particularly in difficult times.  It necessarily involves popular piety, but it must not depart from the Magisterial authority of the church -- which, in my opinion, must come first, lest folks become like those who elevate private revelation (even revelation that which does not seek to supplement public revelation) above and against the reflective guidance of Christ's church, the instrument and sacrament through which Christ leads us by grace to salvation. 

So what, then, is the "Fatima message"?  Essentially it is a call to conversion, repentance, penance, redemptive suffering, and grace for the salvation of souls.  This is what Rome's explanation has to say:

“To save souls” has emerged as the key word of the first and second parts of the “secret”, and the key word of this third part is the threefold cry: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The beginning of the Gospel comes to mind: “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mk 1:15). To understand the signs of the times means to accept the urgency of penance – of conversion – of faith. This is the correct response to this moment of history, characterized by the grave perils... Sister Lucia said that it appeared ever more clearly to her that the purpose of all the apparitions was to help people to grow more and more in faith, hope and love—everything else was intended to lead to this.  
Now, back to my story.  It's true: Fatima, like Lourdes, has a lot of kitschy shops that are not run by the Church nor officially associated with the shrine.  Once you leave the streets of the town and enter the grounds of the sanctuary, you no longer observe these things.  To be honest, I was not put off too much by such things.  We will continue to find such things in a fallen world driven by the desire to make money.  The Fatima message isn't about those things.  While we were there, we participated in Holy Mass at the Capelinha, spent time in humble adoration, walked the Stations of the Cross in the vast pasture and woods across town where the children often took their sheep, and my wife and I were even asked to lead a decade of the rosary in English during the nightly International Rosary and procession.

So now I come full circle to what I stated in the beginning of this post. What pleasantly surprised me about being at Fatima was that while much of the rest of the world is caught up in the controversies and dramas of the Fatima encounter, Vatican politics, and the "Third Secret", the Shrine itself has in mind only the Fatima message: the call to conversion, repentance, and redemptive suffering. How does it do this? By challenging us to meditate on Christ at work in the Fatima visionaries as evidenced by their profound virtues, particularly those of the youngest children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, now beatified by the Church. And this is exactly how it should be -- this is where the core of the Fatima message is to be found. Naturally, whatever it was the children experienced comes to us only through their own subjective, child-like perception. Yet, we should also naturally expect to see the fruit of the Fatima message in their lives. From a study of their lives, we can glean volumes of such depth and richness, it could put any adult to shame. As adults, we can only praise God, echoing our Lord who prayed, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes". I plan to write more about this in the coming weeks.

Reparte com alegria, como a Jacinta

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