Thoughts may tend toward the apocalyptic on this 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Fatima--and with good reason. The Virgin came with an urgent plea. On the one side was a dire threat; on the other, an immense promise.
The plea was threefold: Prayer (especially the Rosary), Penance (with an emphasis on reparation), and Consecration (personal and social).One hundred years have passed, and the threefold message seems as valid (if not more) than ever. Not that Mary's message has changed over time. We can go back to the Gospels and find Mary's secrets of peace: personal peace, world peace. We find those secrets in Mary's example and in her words.
The threat was apparent to anyone with a newspaper there in World War I Europe. (Not that the illiterate shepherd children had access to news from the war front.) During her visits, Mary led the children to see that the destruction of earthly war was only a shadow of a war taking place on a different plane.
The promise echoed the angels' song at Bethlehem: "If people do what I tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace." In fact, the three little shepherds (two of whom are now canonized saints) were prepared for Our Lady's visit by an earlier apparition: that of the "Angel of Peace" who had invited the children "pray with me."
Mary teaches us to think before we speak: At the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel, Mary "was troubled, and pondered what this greeting meant" (Lk 1:29). Mary did not react to Gabriel's inspired words calling her "full of grace"; she was not filled with euphoria or paralyzed with dread; she did not challenge the Angel with demands for signs. Instead, she took the words in and reflected on them. We see later in the Magnificat that she interpreted Gabriel's message in the light of God's earlier promises to Abraham, reading her own life in the story of what God had been doing for his people through the ages. She began to recognize that "the great things the Almighty worked" for her were meant for Abraham and all his descendants.
Mary teaches us to say fiat: be it done to me. Mary's actual words of surrender are given only once in the Gospels, but reading between the lines we can find several occasions when she must have repeated them; moments when God's plan was anything but obvious. "This child is...a sign of contradiction, and your own soul will be pierced with a sword," she heard in the Temple on the day of Jesus' presentation. Fiat to an unknown future of pain. "Why did you search for me?" the twelve-year-old asked after his unexpected absence. "I had to be about my Father's matters." Fiat to a mysterious and exalted sense of mission. "Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea..." Fiat to an empty house, a silent carpenter shop. All the way to Calvary, when the prophesied contradiction tore into her son's flesh and into her heart. Fiat: Into your hands I commend my spirit. Mary did not insist on knowing ahead of time just what she was saying "yes" to, but she knew to whom she was saying "yes" and that "he who made the promise is worthy of trust."
Mary teaches us to treasure God's action in our life. After finding Jesus in the Temple, as the Holy Family returned to Nazareth, Mary "treasured all these things" and (as seen at the Annunciation) "pondered" them. She lived her life as in an ongoing relationship with God, who was present not only in his Incarnate Son, but who was active and involved in every aspect of her life. Later, perhaps during those days in the Cenacle with the apostles and the few dozen disciples of the Lord, she opened her interior treasure chest to share with the early Church what she had experienced and learned in thirty-three years of life as Jesus' closest disciple.
Mary teaches us to point others to Jesus. "Do whatever he tells you." Mary's words at Cana highlight the relationship between her own Divine Son and each one of us. She points us toward Jesus and invites us to draw others toward him in a winning, unforced manner. Here we are back full circle, but now "fiat" becomes a sharing of what was begun when we first began to "hear the Word of God and keep it." The children of Fatima offer a splendid example of this in the way they followed the directives of the Angel and then of Our Lady, first practicing themselves what they were being told, and then ardently communicating the same directives to others, even to the whole world, inviting us even today to "do whatever she tells us."
Which of Mary's lessons from the Gospel or from Fatima do you most need to take to heart?