May 13, 2019: Our Lady of Fatima
“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” (M 175)
The spontaneous fiat of the shephers, 'the Lady welcomed [...] as the first fruits of her Message "(CVM 36), is confirmed by the Virgin with an intense light that penetrated the innermost dephts of the children, making them see themselves" in God, who was that light"(M 175). This light, in which they will also be immersed in June, will prepare them to welcome the Secret revealed to them in July: in a succession of images unveiled by Our Lady, the little shepherds grasp the idea that God's heart is caring for the human history; that sin consists in being indifferent to God's heart; that God is merciful and is always in search of man entangled in his dramas and misfortunes; and that those who embrace the light of God's heart are invited to participate, by prayer and sacrifice, in His care for humanity.
On the first immersion in that light, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, still savoring the echoes of the depth they had experienced, decided not to tell anything of what happened. But Jacinta, strongly affected by the beauty of the Lady and full of an irrepressible joy, cannot refrain herself. She is the first herald and messenger of this newfound divine joy communicated by the Lady. And like the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24,32) who, in front of the paschal mystery, had a burning feeling in the chest, she will confess to her friends: "I had inside me something that would not let me be silent" (M 45).
The news of the apparitions of the Lady of the Rosary soon will make its way. And the number of those who, as pilgrims, come to the Cova da Iria will certainly increase; and so the children will have much to suffer at the hands of those who doubted or opposed them. Already in the first encounter, almost as if to confirm the children fiat, the Lady had assured them that they would have much to suffer. As was the case with prophets (Jer 1:19), the vocation of the little shepherds accepts suffering as an integral part of their mission. They will be, for many, accused of fraud and greed. Even their own families, except perhaps the father of Francisco and Jacinta, fear they are spreading a lie and are afraid for their life. At home, and everywhere, they are subjected to visits and to incessant and strenuous interrogations.
But the greatest trial and affliction would occur on August 13. On the morning of that day, the children are surprised by the visit of the Municipality of Ourém Adminitrator, a well-known mason and freethinker. After having questioned them in their home and at the rectory, because he wanted at all costs to know the secret they insisted on keeping concealed, the Administrator, in a tricky and deceitful way, proposes to lead them to the the Cova da Iria, but in fact conveys them to Ourem. There he insists on pressing the kids to unveil their secret, and even reached the point of locking them, for a while, in a cell with other prisoners, and of uttering the threat of making them fry in olive oil. Francisco's innocent reply radiates peace and joy: “If they kill us, it’s all the same! We’ll go to Heaven!”(M 146).
Handed back to their parents on August 15, they will encounter the White Lady on the 19th, in Valinhos, and in September and October, in the Cova da Iria. A large crowd gather in this last apparition – thirsty for God or simply curious - and witness a sign, as the Lady had promised. But for the children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the last encounter becomes a permanent reminder that they are called to transform their lives into a blessing (Gen. 12.2).
"I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15)
The life of the shepherd children no more ceased to be paced and measured by God's heart. The fiat uttered to the Lady more brilliant than the sun was constantly renewed by the innocent desire of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta to intensify in their lives the passionate affection for God. The presence of God became, for them, sacred ground and, like Moses, barefoot in front of the burning bush (Ex 3.2-12), their intimacy is transmuted into an act of adoration in the presence of that inner light, which is God, which burns without consuming. That's the ineffable secret strengthening them. This Sacred Bush burning in their chest awakens them, as once did to Moses, for the mission of caring for those who live in the slavery of sin and ingratitude. And so, in sight of all others, they are the presence of God's light and also, before God, mediators in behalf of all others. Their lives become a constant offering of everything they are and do – however slight – for the love of God and in favour of sinners.
Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia's lives assume this vocation, that is inseparably contemplative, compassionate and announcing. But each of them will take on, with a particular and greater accent, the specific nature of their calling.
Francisco, moved by his inner eye sensitive to the Spirit's light, listens to the call to worship and contemplation. Sometimes, he took refuge behind a rock or on top of the mountain to pray alone. Other times, he remained in the parish church, for long hours, in the intimacy of silence, to keep company with Jesus hidden in the tabernacle. There he persisted in prayer, thinking about God, absorbed in the contemplation of the unfathomable mystery of God who comes to meet man. Francisco, and only he, with the eyes of his heart, becomes aware of the sadness of God before the suffering of the world, suffers from it and wants to comfort Him (M 145). The little shepherd, who had not heard both the Angel and Mary, but had only seen them, is the most contemplative of the three children. In his life, it is almost as if contemplation springs from attentive listening to silence that speaks of God, to silence in which God speaks. Francisco's contemplative disposition consists in letting himself to be inhabited by the unspeakable presence of God – “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how!” (M 142) - and this presence was to be transfigured into prayerful reception of the others. In Francisco comes to the fore a life of contemplation.
Little Jacinta translates the joy, purity and generosity of faith, welcomed as an offering of God's heart, and difused through the chores and trifles of her life as a simple girl, into a sacrifice acceptable to God (Romans 12, 1) in behalf of humanity. The force with which the divine light broke in and invaded her child's life seizes her definitely with a new dynamic and ardent desire of sharing her joy. The purity of her mirthful heart longs and wants that everyone may enjoy, grateful and pure, the presence and the gladness of God's heart. This eagerness to share the ardent love she felt for the hearts of Jesus and Mary made her grow and become solicitous for sinners. All the small details of her grazing day, all the discomforts of the unending questionings and interrogations to which she was subject, all the distresses of her illness were an occasion and motive of an offering to God for the conversion of sinners. Other times, she shared her food with the poor, offering this abstinence in sacrifice, as a sign of giving her life for the love of God and humanity. This pray and suffering for love "was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else» (M 61). Her joy was to live immersed in the love of the suffering Christ, in the manner of St. Paul: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church "(Col 1:24). The fire she had in her chest radiated and would, certainly, expand inasmuch as it did not contagiate, through the theological dynamics of prayer and sacrifice, all men and women, particularly the ungrateful ones, that is, all those who do not welcome the grace. Jacinta's vocation is compassion.
Lucia welcomes the mission to evangelize, to make known the good news of God's mercy, responding to the merciful God's desire to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (M 175). Early and in good time Lucia understands that in the core of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is the transforming power of God's mercy. And there she discovers her vocation to be a living memorial of the "greatness of the Divine Mercy" (M 190). In a way similar to Israel, called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49.6), Lucy's life becomes a living testimony of the designs of mercy that God has for humanity. From her humble life as shepherdness until the closure of her religious consecration, Lucia is the witness who quenches herself in order that light of the Secret of God's mercy shine without interruption, as already definitively revealed by the Son and remembered at Fatima. In her we can catch a glimpse of the faithful witness of a gift, that is accepted and offered to the world.