The Essential Message of Fatima
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
On May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II offered the Sacrifice of the Mass in Fatima, during his pilgrimage of gratitude to Portugal. During the Mass, the Pope preached a lengthy homily on “Mary’s Maternal Love.” This homily I consider the most authoritative explanation of the meaning of Fatima that we have received from now seven Roman Pontiffs since the first revelations made at Fatima in 1917.
Early in the homily, the Vicar of Christ made the following statement:
The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel.
This call was uttered at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it was thus addressed particularly to this present century.
The Lady of the message should be said to have read with special insight “the signs of the times,” the signs our own time.
What is the pope telling us? He is saying that “the basic nucleus,” the heart of the Fatima message is a call to conversion and repentance. It is the call to repentance from sin, and conversion to God. In the course of his homily, Pope John Paul combined the two words “conversion” and “sin” into one word, “repentance.” So that we may simply state that the core of the message of Fatima is the imperative of the verb “Repent!” or as a noun, “repentance.”
The Pope further declared that this call to repentance was made by Christ, through Our Lady at the beginning of the twentieth century. He further declared that one of the three children who received this Marian message is still living [the last of the children, Lúcia, died on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97.]
What does all of this imply? It implies that if there is one thing that God foresaw the twentieth century would desperately need, it was to repent. And even the unusually long life of one of the seers of Fatima — born in 1907 — only emphasizes the pressing urgency to call the twentieth century to repentance.
If we look more closely at what sins the twentieth century most needs to repent, there seems to be no doubt. They are the sins of:
- Ignoring the existence of God
- Denying that sin is an offense against God, and
- Indulging in the pleasures of this world contrary to the will of God.
Each of these three classes of sin needs to be repented. Each calls to high heaven for conversion and a return to God.
Ignoring the Existence of God
We have become used to pointing to Communism as a diabolical ignoring and even excluding of God from human life. Certainly Communism is godless in its principles and godless in its demonic fury against believers in God. It was surely no coincidence that the Communist Revolution in Russia took place in October 1917, the very month of the last formal revelations of Our Lady at Fatima.
But God is ignored not only by the Communists. Their organized propaganda against religion has been matched by the organized exclusion of God from public life in one supposedly developed country after another. Take the practical impossibility of teaching any semblance of religion in American public schools. Take the thunderous silence about God and religion and divine worship in the media of social communication in secularized countries like the United States.
You can read a thousand pages in the New York Times or the Washington Post, or the Chicago Tribune and you would never suspect that there are millions of intelligent, educated people who still believe in God and the Ten Commandments.
Secularism, or what the Second Vatican Council calls “practical atheism,” is widespread in one nation after another in Europe and North America.
If ignoring God’s existence, then, is the first capital sin of the twentieth century, how do we repent? We repent by prayer. Let me repeat: “We repent the sin of ignoring God by paying attention to God in prayer.”
Some years ago, I spoke with one of my Jesuit students returning to India after ordination and theological studies in America. I asked him what he found most appealing and what was most depressing during his four years in our country. Without hesitation, he told me the most appealing thing was the phenomenal liberty we enjoy, and the most depressing thing was how little we Americans pray.
Prayer is the repentance we believers must make for the sins of prayerlessness that are so prevalent in our day. Prayer is the expiation we must make, by praying more than we normally would, because so many millions are ignoring God and failing to pray as they should. Prayer is the single most important way that unbelievers can be brought back to God. We must pray for them and, no matter what it takes, we must persuade them, convince them, cajole them to pray themselves.
One single sentence summarizes the whole of God’s revelation to the human race. Those who pray will be saved. Those who do not pray will be lost. Without prayer, we cannot obtain from God the grace we need to reach heaven. Heaven is reserved for those who pray. No one else who has reached the age of reason will attain his eternal destiny,
Denying That Sin is an Offense Against God
It is only logical that where the existence of God is ignored, the fact of sin as an offense against God is denied.
No other explanation is possible for the massive denial of the rights of God in commanding His creatures to do His will.
Abortion is the murder of unborn infants and therefore the denial of the most basic right of a human being — to remain alive. But abortion is mainly the denial of the rights of the Creator to create human souls and keep them united with the body until He calls a person into eternity.
Adultery is the denial of the rights of a husband or wife to the exclusive intimacy of their spouse in marriage. But adultery is mainly the denial of the rights of God who wants marriage to be the human reflection of His own infinite loving community in the Holy Trinity.
Contraception is the denial of the rights of society to reproduce itself and thus sustain the existence of families in the world of human beings. But contraception is mainly the denial of the rights of God who wants to create human souls, provided married people provide the human bodies into which the souls, created by God, can be infused.
Homosexuality is the denial of men and women to the sacred experience of married love. But homosexuality is mainly the denial of the rights of God who made two sexes, so that they might, in marriage, enjoy the loving intimacy of each other and by cooperating with the Creator bring other human beings through this world into heaven.
Not only is sin denied as an offense against God, but in our century sin has become legalized and organized and institutionalized. The legislatures of one country after another, and not only behind the Iron or Bamboo Curtain, have made laws that are directly contrary to the laws of God. And the civil magistrates in one country after another, including our Supreme Court, are making decisions that canonize criminals and stigmatize those who defend the rights of God as fanatics who, like the early Christians, must be imprisoned as threats to society.
Our Lady’s message at Fatima is that we must repent. Repentance for the sin of denying sin is obedience to the will of God. Whenever we sin, we indulge our own will in opposition to the divine will. To repent, we must bend our wills to God’s will. And this is the hardest task we have to do on earth.
This kind of repentance by obedience must begin with ourselves. We who have the true faith must merit the graces that others need to be converted in obedience to the Divine Majesty. We must give the example to others of what it means to be humble by obeying the will of God in our lives, so that others may see our obedience and be converted from their evil ways. We must pay the heavy price of bending the knees of our self-will to the demanding will of God’s Providence. Why? So that God may be merciful to a sinful world and bring it back to moral sanity.
We must teach others, by word and example, individually and collectively, that sin is not a figment of the imagination; that sin is the root of all the evils in the world: that wars and suicides, drug addiction and broken families, broken hearts and broken minds — are really the consequences of sin.
We must tell everyone who is willing to listen, and even those who are not willing to hear it — that unless they repent, they will all likewise perish. We must restore faith in the justice of God, even as we glorify the love of God, in a world that is steeped in self-idolatry.
Not the least blessing of Fatima is to remind the world of the existence of hell.
Indulgence in Worldly Pleasures
The third sin for which Our Lady pleaded repentance is selfish indulgence in worldly pleasures.
It is not enough to say that the human race has always indulged in the pleasures of this life. There have always been people who avoided work and wanted their ease. There have always been people who did not restrain their bodily appetites for food and drink and sex, who gave in to their emotional lust for satisfaction at no matter what cost to other people and no matter how many others were hurt in their own mad search for getting what they wanted, because they wanted it, here and now and in this way.
But the twentieth century is unique in the history of mankind in providing millions with such worldly satisfaction as our ancestors never dreamed of. Pope John Paul II has coined the term “materially super developed countries.” By this he means there are certain societies that have so much of this world’s goods — in food, and drink, and ease, and luxury, and entertainment, and labor-saving devices, and means of transportation, and money, and comfort, and exotic sights, and soothing music, and all that the genius of modern science is still inventing, that Christ’s parable about the rich man and Lazarus must seem like an Aramaic fairy tale.
Our Lady of Fatima gives the lie to those who have even redefined the meaning of sin to justify this twentieth century dream world of pleasure-seeking.
She preached repentance for the sinful indulgence of pleasure. How? By telling us to love the Cross.
Two words should always be associated together. They are pleasure and pain. If the world has become drunk with its lust for pleasure, we must make expiation by our love of Jesus crucified. We believe that, when God became man, He gave up the joy set before Him and instead He chose the Cross.
No one likes to suffer. But if we love someone very deeply, we are ready to suffer for the one we love, like the one we love, and even from the one we love.
This is the crowning repentance proclaimed by the Mother of God at Fatima: the reparation of suffering pain in expiation for the world’s indulgence of pleasure. We choose to endure like Our Savior Crucified, so that we might mysteriously cooperate with Him in redeeming a sinful world.
Why the Message of Fatima Is Catholic Doctrine
We return to where we began these reflections, the original title of which was “Fatima and Catholic Doctrine.” I would now like to change the title to read, “Fatima Is Catholic Doctrine.”
Once we identify, as Pope John Paul did, the “basic nucleus” of the message of Fatima; once we see it in the Holy Father’s words, as “A call to conversion and repentance as in the Gospel” — then it all becomes self-evident. Of: course, Fatima is Catholic doctrine.
If there is one truth Christ preached during His visible stay on earth, it was the need for repentance and conversion, repentance from sin in the past and conversion to God in the future. His last act of mercy on the Cross was to promise Paradise to the good thief on Calvary because he repented. Christ’s first act of mercy on the night of His resurrection was to give His Apostles and their successors in the priesthood the power to forgive sins in His name.
But note well. Christ told the Apostles, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” But He immediately added, “And whose sins you retain – that is, do not forgive – they are retained – that is, they are not forgiven.”
Even the sacrament of Christ’s mercy, the sacrament of confession, is a conditional sacrament. Christ will indeed forgive our sins through sacramental absolution, provided we humbly repent and confess them. There is no reconciliation on God’s part, unless there is repentance on our part.
Repentance, therefore, is the bedrock of the Gospels and the foundation of Christianity. We return to Fatima. We are saying that the message of Fatima is Catholic doctrine emphatically.
In the homily of Pope John Paul II that he gave at Fatima in 1982, the Holy Father went to great lengths to explain just why the core message of Our Lady in 1917 belongs to the heart of Catholic doctrine. Here is what he said:
The Church has always taught and continues to proclaim that God’s revelation was brought to completion in Jesus Christ. He is the fullness of that revelation and “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of Our Lord.” The Church evaluates and judges private revelations by the criterion of conformity with that single public revelation.
If the Church has accepted the message of Fatima, it is above all because that message contains a truth and a call whose basic content is the truth and the call of the gospel itself.
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” These are the first words that the Messiah addressed to humanity.
Then the Pope makes the statement with which we opened this conference, that the message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, the same message that Jesus Christ proclaimed at the opening of His public ministry. It is the call to conversion and repentance.
To repeat the question I asked before: Why is the Fatima message Catholic doctrine? I can now answer. Fatima is Catholic doctrine because the principal directive of Our Lady at Fatima is identical with the principal teaching of her Son.
He came into the world to turn human hearts back to God from whom they have strayed. Their hearts will be converted provided they repent of having offended God.
Our lady is adding nothing new to the Gospel that her Son proclaimed two thousand years ago. She is simply repeating what she said to the servants at Cana when she told them, “Do whatever He tells you to do.”
There is one big difference, however. The world in the first century of the Christian era needed to repent. Those who repented then were those who were saved. But the world of the twentieth century is so estranged from God, so oblivious of sin, and so steeped in pleasure that nothing short of a cosmic miracle will convert the modern world back to God.
Response to the Message of Fatima
We still have one more question to answer. How should we respond to the Fatima expression of the Catholic doctrine on repentance?
The simplest answer to this question is one word, “Repent!”
But this is easier said than done. The repentance must begin deep down in our own hearts. Before God will use us to convert other sinners to Himself, we must be converted ourselves. In a word, we must change. We must change in the practice of the repentance of prayer, by praying more than we have ever prayed before. We must pray more often, more deeply, more fervently. We must especially pray to Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. We must pray to Our Lady, especially in the recitation of her Rosary.
We must change in the practice of the repentance of obedience. We must be more submissive to every least demand of God’s will in our lives, and abhor sin as the greatest evil in the world.
We must change in the practice of repentance of loving the Cross. We must never run away from the sufferings that God sends us, and should even welcome the trials that His Loving Providence places into our lives.
That is the first fundamental response we should make to the message of Fatima, which is the infallible teaching of the Holy Catholic Church.
But there is a second level of response we are also to make. This is what I call the Fatima Apostolate. Not only must we personally repent and be converted, but we should spend ourselves in getting others to repent and be converted, too.
This means that we who look on every sinner that enters our lives as the object of our apostolic zeal. Every unbeliever that we meet, or see, or even hear or read about should stimulate our desire to bring that soul back to a humble faith in God. Every man or woman that, as far as we can tell, is living in sin, we should do all we can by prayer, penance and patient endurance of pain to restore to God’s friendship and thus preserve from the fires of hell.
I would like to close this conference where I began, with the words of our Holy Father, which he spoke at Fatima. “My heart is oppressed,” confessed the Pope, “when I see the sin of the world and the whole rage of menaces gathering like a dark cloud over mankind.”
But the Pope continued, “My heart also rejoices with hope as I once more do what has been done by my predecessors, when the consecrated the world to the Heart of the Mother.”
The Popes have indeed consecrated the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. But we must also do our part. We Must each personally consecrate our hearts, through Mary, to the Heart of her Divine Son. This consecration must begin with our repentance from sin. It must be developed by our life of reparation for the sins of the world. It will continue, in heaven, where we shall be eternally in the company of Jesus and Mary – we converted sinners become saints – because we have believed and lived out the message of Fatima, which is the Catholic doctrine of our Catholic faith.
Thank you for listening to me.