Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

A Letter to Alessandro

0815assunta est .jpg
A young man asked if I might reflect with him on the practice of Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, following the doctrine of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. I remembered having written this little reflection in the form of a letter for Alessandro — who has since become a monk! — and thought that I would post it again. I trust that the young seeker will also find it helpful.

14 August 2009
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, priest and martyr
Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dear Alessandro,

With your characteristic candor and enthusiasm, you asked me a few days ago about the various ways of consecrating oneself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. You referred, in particular, to Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort’s plan for total consecration to Mary, and to the Act of Consecration composed by today’s Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.

I prayed this morning about your question and found myself reflecting on the meaning of consecration. You know, of course, that Pope John Paul II proposed the word affidamento, which one might translate as entrustment. (Read Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins’ book: Totus Tuus: John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration & Entrustment.) Personally, I think that, at least in English, entrustment rather weakens the notion of consecration, especially when one approaches it through the lens of Saint John’s Gospel and through Saint Paul’s Epistles.

Marie Reine Immaculée.jpgConsecration can mean two things: it can refer to the action by which one hands oneself over to God in imitation of Christ:

The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20).

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).

Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her (Eph 5:25).

You can see that “handing oneself over” “giving oneself up” is intrinsically linked to the idea of sacrifice, which, in turn, is related to sanctification or consecration.

And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth (Jn 17:19).

The meaning of “to consecrate” in this context is “to sacrifice.” One might render the above verse correctly as:

And for their sake I sacrifice Myself, that they also may be sacrificed in truth (Jn 17:19).

JP II Czestochowa.jpgYou may find the equivalence of to consecrate and to sacrifice a little frightening. I understand your apprehension. To sacrifice comes from two Latin roots: sacer (sacred) and facio (to do or make). In Book Ten of the The City of God, Saint Augustine explains that anything or anyone placed upon the altar becomes sacrificium; it or he becomes consecrated, that is, radically and irreversibly made over/given up/handed over to God. This is what Saint Paul says:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).

There are two moments in every sacrificium or consecration. The first moment corresponds to the Offertory of the Mass. One hands oneself over, offering to God one’s body and soul, one’s past, present, and future. Here the action is human; it engages one’s free will and, normally, finds expression in the formulation of an “act of consecration.”

From the human perspective, this is the active mode of consecration. One must hold fast, nonethless, to the truth that every good action is a free response, made possible by grace, to a divine solicitation of the heart. One consecrates oneself at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and in the grace of obedience to that inner prompting. I consecrate myself.

The second moment corresponds to the consecration of the Mass. One is acted upon by the Holy Spirit sent by the Father at the invocation of the Son. Here the action is divine, not human. The agent is God Himself, the work of sanctification/consecration being fittingly attributed to the Holy Spirit. I am consecrated.

Why would one risk an act of consecration, knowing full well that it will bring upon the one making it a configuration to Christ Jesus in the mystery of His sacrifice? One dares to consecrate oneself because it is the only response worthy of the love of God.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? (Rom 8:32)

To be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to be abandoned or given over to His love are, in effect the same thing. By consecrating oneself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to hand oneself over to His merciful love. This action on our part allows Our Lord to act upon us freely in view of the glory of His Father, the fruitfulness of His Church, and our own sanctification. Our Lord seeks souls who will hand themselves over to His love, just as He handed himself over to His Father’s love upon the altar of the Cross.

This is where Marian consecration comes in. The most effective way of handing oneself over to Jesus is through Mary. The consecration of oneself, made in her virginal hands, is immediately “handed over” to Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, who, in turn, unites it to His own perfect oblation to the Father.
Smiling St MM Kolbe1.gif
There are many ways of making this act of consecration to Our Lady. This past year I renewed my own Marian consecration by using the prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo. The beautiful prayer of consecration of Père Croset has marked my own life profoundly. You will find it here.

The act of consecration should not be done lightly. One should take counsel of one’s spiritual father and prepare for the act of consecration over a certain period of time. I recommend that the act of consecration coincide with one of Our Blessed Lady’s liturgical feasts. An act of consecration should be renewed frequently and need not always be renewed using the same formula.

The best way of demonstrating what an act of consecration might look like is by sharing with you the one that I wrote this morning during my prayer. Here it is:

O Immaculate Virgin Mary,
beloved Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mother of the Church and Mediatrix of All Graces,
I want to “hand myself over” to thee,
just as thy servant Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe “handed himself over” to thee
in an inspired act of consecration.
Thou art my Mother;
I am not afraid of trusting thee with my life
Thou art my Advocate;
I am confident that thou wilt plead for me
until I am safely with thee in heaven.
Thou art my Queen;
all power in heaven and on earth
hath been given thee by thy Divine Son,
Creator, Redeemer, and King of the Universe.
Thou art the Coredemptrix participating fully in the sacrifice of thy Son;
all that is made over to thee, thou handest over to Him
to be taken up into His oblation
for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.
There is no more effective way of entering into the Work of Redemption
than by consecrating myself to thee.
I am confident that thy Immaculate Heart will so order all things
that by giving myself to thee,
I will be handed over to thy Son, Priest and Victim,
to pass over, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, with Him into the glory of the Father
where thou waitest for the homecoming
of all thy sons and daughters.
O clement! O loving! O sweet Virgin Mary!

I hope that this letter responds, in some way, to your questions about Marian consecration. I bless you and keep you in my prayer.

Father

The Great Feast of Vocation

St DominicCall and Response
Not a week goes by when I do not meet or correspond with young men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory. Today I find myself thinking of all of them, because the Annunciation is the great feast of vocation. Every vocation is a mystery of call and response. With the call comes the grace to respond. The greeting of the Angel Gabriel communicates what it signifies: Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη!  One could exhaust oneself in attempting to express all that the angelic salutation contains: Grace upon thee whom God hath filled full of grace! Joy upon thee who art become the joy of Him who has filled thee with joy! Loveliness upon thee who art lovely in the eyes of Him who has made thee so lovely!

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’ s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

The Monk’s Starting Point
To open one’s ear to the greeting of an Angel, to one who comes bearing the Word of God, is to open oneself to a life–changing grace. In Psalm 44 the royal prophet addresses the Daughter of Sion, the Virgin of Nazareth: ” Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’ s house” (Psalm 44:11). Our Lady of the Annunciation is the Virgo audiens (the listening Virgin) whose portrait, I have always thought, shines through the text of the Prologue of the Holy Rule: “Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart” (Prologue 1). Every monastic vocation begins with listening to the Word of God. A certain silence and separation from the world are required of a man even before he crosses the threshold of the cloister. Saint John Paul II calls the Word of God the monk’s starting point.

The starting point for the monk is the Word of God, a Word who calls, who invites, who personally summons, as happened to the Apostles. When a person is touched by the Word obedience is born, that is, the listening which changes life. Every day the monk is nourished by the bread of the Word. Deprived of it, he is as though dead and has nothing left to communicate to his brothers and sisters because the Word is Christ, to whom the monk is called to be conformed. (Orientale Lumen, art. 10)

The Risk
Our Lady listened, and her life was forever changed. She listened, and the life of her people was forever changed. She listened, and all creation was forever changed.  The Virgin listened and, in the word addressed to her, she was offered all that would be necessary to respond to that word. In every vocation and, in particular, in every monastic vocation, there is an element of risk. A monastic vocation engages a man not only in a life marked by conversion of manners and obedience, but also in a life defined by stability and circumscribed by a real enclosure. One who enters a monastery risks living until death in one specific place and in the company of men who have already committed themselves to that one specific place. The risk is daunting, but the rewards of monastic life are well worth the risk.

Notre–Dame–du–RisqueThere is, over the portal of the abbey of Boquen in Brittany, a charming old statue of the Virgin Mary called Notre–Dame–du–Risque, Our Lady of the Risk. This title of the Mother of God has always fascinated me. The man who desires to risk his life listening to the Word of God must do so close to the Virgin Mary. One who lives with Mary will quickly come to understand the immense import of prophecy entrusted to Isaias:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. (Isaias 55:8–11)

In praying for the men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory, I can only ask that they hearken to the Word of God and, with Our Lady of the Risk, incline the ear of their hearts to the call that is addressed to them. By the prayers of the Virgin Mary, the Word of God shall not return to Him void; it shall prosper in the things for which God sent it forth.

Into the Mystery of the Annunciation

Annunciation,_Rome_-_Fra_Lippi

The Finger of God
By a wonderful and mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, Mother Catherine–Mectilde de Bar received permission for the first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament of her Institute on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1653. This was no mere coincidence; the Finger of God was in it. This is more than a mere historical happening; it belongs, rather, to those mysterious events that contain within themselves the seed and the grace of every future development. The first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament could have happened on another day. There is no shortage of feasts in the liturgical year that would have been suitable but, of all of them, God chose this one: the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Word.

Virgo Audiens
In sacred art, the Virgin of the Annunciation, the Virgo Audiens, is depicted either seated, with the book of the prophets or of the psalms lying open in her lap, or holding a spindle and engaged in weaving a scarlet cloth of great beauty. Both representations are symbolic. 

In the first we see Our Lady reading the Word of God.  She listens to the Word of God; she repeats it and, by repetition, takes it into herself; she allows the Word addressed to her to become in the sanctuary of her heart the Word she addresses to God; and, then, by the action of the Holy Ghost, she so gives herself to the Word, that the heart of the Word begins its eternal rhythm beneath her heart, pulsating within her virginal womb as the heart of the Host pulsates on the pure white linen of the corporal in the Holy Sacrifice.

Vesture for the High Priest
In the second image we see Our Lady weaving; in her immaculate hands, all the threads of Israel’s history, and of her own, enter into the fulfillment of God’s perfect design. Mary of Nazareth is not weaving a veil of wool and silk and linen for use in the temple in Jerusalem; she is weaving the most sacred liturgical vesture of all — a human body — for the Eternal High Priest who is about to offer Himself as the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim in the sanctuary of her womb.

Into the Holy of Holies
It is precisely at this moment — however we may choose to understand it — that the Archangel makes his entrance. He enters, he speaks, he receives the long–awaited answer from the lips of the Virgin only to make possible another entrance: the solemn entrance of Christ into space and time; the arrival of the High Priest, the Lamb of Sacrifice, the Victim prepared from the beginning of the world (Apocalypse 13:8).

Mary of Nazareth was, in spite of her youth, in perfect readiness for this moment. She felt a trembling in her womb, the blazing up of a fire, the movement, as it were, of priestly steps hastening to ascend the altar. Overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, she understood in an instant of incandescent light that her body had become a temple more spacious than the temple in Jerusalem, that her womb had become an altar, and her heart the Holy of Holies.

She remembered David’s mystic utterance in Psalm 39 and, was astonished to hear it repeated within herself by a voice that, without being hers, was perfectly attuned to her own.

No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; enough that thou hast given me an ear ready to listen. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God, is all my desire, to carry out that law of thine which is written in my heart. (Psalm 39:7–9)

My body, she whispered, has become a temple; my womb has become an altar. My fiat has opened heaven. The Holy Ghost has seized flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood so that, at last God may find on earth the one priest and one victim worthy of Himself.

Thou Hast Endowed Me with a Body
Saint Luke, of course, relates none of this explicitly in his account of the Annunciation. He writes of the Angel Gabriel sent from God, of the Virgin named Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, and of the dialogue on which hung the salvation of the world. He writes of the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, of the sign of old Elizabeth found with child and already in her sixth month, and of a sign greater and more wonderful still, for to God nothing is impossible.

Saint Luke gives us the Virgin’s response,” Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), and then, telling us of the Angel’s quick return to heaven, he covers all the rest in a veil of silence. To understand the mystery in its fulness, we are obliged to go to the Letter to the Hebrews.

As Christ comes into the world, he says, No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; thou hast endowed me, instead, with a body. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God. (Hebrews 10:5–7)

The Beginning of the Solemn Entrance Procession
The Annunciation is the great and solemn festival of the Victimhood of the Son of God. It is the beginning of the solemn entrance procession of the Eternal High Priest.  It sets in motion the immense movement of return to the Father by which the Word, having espoused our humanity, prepares to ascend to the altar where He will be immolated. 

Today Mary receives into the sanctuary of her womb, and upon the altar of her heart, the one Victim necessary, the only Victim worthy of God, the Victim whose coming the world desired, the prophets announced, the psalmists sang, and the children of Israel awaited in hope.

First he says, Thou didst not demand victim or offering, the burnt-sacrifice, the sacrifice for sin, nor hast thou found any pleasure in them; in anything, that is, which the law has to offer, and then:—I said, See, my God, I am coming to do thy will. He must clear the ground first, so as to build up afterwards. In accordance with this divine will we have been sanctified by an offering made once for all, the body of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:8–10)

A Charism Comes to Light
This is the mystery of the Annunciation in all its mystic fulfilment. The Annunciation cannot be celebrated, nor can it be meditated, nor can it be understood, apart from this, the Great Entrance of Christ the Victim, the beginning of the one Holy Sacrifice shown forth in the Cenacle, consummated on Calvary, ceaselessly offered in the sanctuary of heaven, and perpetuated until the end of time of earth in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. This is why the Providence of God ordained that Benedictines dedicated to perpetual adoration should first emerge from the shadows and become radiant in the light of the Sacred Host on the feast of the Annunciation, a day falling within the Octave of the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

Let Him Find You Ready
Receive today the Divine Victim into yourselves, even as the Virgin of Nazareth received Him into herself. Let Him find within you a sanctuary for the offering of His Sacrifice, an altar for His immolation, and an adoring silence worthy of His divine liturgy. Even more, let Him find you ready for His immolation, not as spectators looking on in awe, but as souls wholly abandoned to the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.

Lord Jesus Christ, 
Divine Victim hid in the sanctuary of Mary’s womb
and immolated upon the altar of her heart,
unite us to Thyself:
our bodies to Thy Body,
our blood to Thy Blood,
our souls to Thy Soul,
our hearts to Thy Heart,
so as to make us with Thyself
one Priest and one Victim 
offered to the glory of the Father,
out of love for Thy Spouse, the Church,
and in reparation for the sins by which
Thy Sacrifice is scorned,
Thy presence dishonoured,
and the brightness of Thy glory dimmed
in the sight of men 
who, even without knowing it,
yearn to gaze upon the beauty of Thy Face.
Amen.

Of the Observance of Lent (3)

CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
31 Mar. 31 July. 30 Nov.

Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence.

1 Licet omni tempore vita monachi quadragesimae debet observationem habere, 2 tamen, quia paucorum est ista virtus, ideo suademus istis diebus quadragesimae omni puritate vitam suam custodire omnes pariter, 3 et neglegentias aliorum temporum his diebus sanctis diluere.

Saint Benedict describes Lent as a time during which a monk can “wash away (diluere) the negligences of other times”. The very fact that one can wash away past negligences gives rise to hope and confidence. It is possible to start afresh. The man who can weep over his past sins — and this is itself a grace — can go forward in joy.

The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness. (Psalm 29:11–12)

I recall with gratitude the wisdom and solicitude of my Master of Novices, Père R.C. (to whom I owe so much), who saw fit in 1972 to introduce me Father Irenée Hausherr’s classic work, Penthos, The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East. The man who never weeps is not fully human. In the Gospels, the tears of Our Lord are the authentic tokens of His Humanity. It is recorded that Our Lord wept three times: first, over the faithless city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); then, at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:35); and, finally, in the bitter agony of Gethsemani (Hebrews 5:7). The shortest sentence in the New Testament is, if I am not mistaken, John 11:35: “And Jesus wept”, Et lacrimatus est Jesus. This little sentence is a an inexhaustible spring of consolation for all of us, poor sinners, who go “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”.

The tears of the Mother of God, no less than those of her Son, fall upon the hearts of poor sinners with a gentle efficacy. The devotion to the tears of Our Lady is not a product of baroque piety; there is evidence of it even among the Desert Fathers:

Abba Isaac said: Once I was sitting with Abba Poemen, and I saw that he was in an ecstasy; and since I used to speak very openly with him, I made a prostration before him and asked him, “Tell me, where were you?” And he did not want to tell me. But when I pressed him, he replied: “My thoughts were with St. Mary the Mother of God, as she stood and wept at the Cross of the Savior; and I wish that I could always weep as much as she wept then”.

If  a man has no tears, he should ask God for them with all his strength and with all his soul. There is no other way by which  he can remain sinless and pure in heart. So precious is the gift of tears that the Church makes it the object of her prayer in the Roman Missal. Blessed Abbot Marmion, among others, had a special devotion to the liturgical prayers for the gift of tears.

Almighty and most gentle God, who when Thy people thirsted drew living water out of a rock, do Thou draw tears of compunction from our stony hearts, giving us grace to lament our sins and fitting us to receive Thy merciful forgiveness.

It seems to me that there are seven fruits of tears. At least, this is my own experience. One desires these seven fruits must pray earnestly for the gift of tears. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 125:5). Here, then, are the seven fruits of tears.

  1. Humility
  2. Purity of heart
  3. Receptivity to the Word of God
  4. Softening of the heart to Divine Things
  5. Compassion for others in their weakness
  6. Closeness to the Mother of God
  7. Joy

 

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

An Oblate of Silverstream on Fatima and the Desert Fathers

Marco da Vinha and his wife, Isa, are Oblate novices of Silverstream Priory. Marco and Isa are the parents of Helena and Cristóvão. They make their home in the U.K., while remaining deeply rooted in Portugal, Mary’s Land, la Terra de Maria.

Fátima and the Desert Fathers
by Marco Gregory da Vinha, Obl.O.S.B.

I find myself writing today about a topic which I never thought I would – Fátima; specifically, the message of Fátima (or, at least, how I have come to understand it). Caveat: for those that came here expecting some comment on “the Consecration of Russia”, you can forget about that. That is a topic I’m not at all interested in touching. Let’s just say that I believe that that request was very time-specific, and is not necessarily what the “message” was all about, though it seems to me that to many it carries an almost messianic weight.

Love it or hate it, every Portuguese knows Fátima and has probably been there at least once in their life. In the minds of not a few, Fátima is something quite apart from the Church. How many times did I not hear from people (who even made regular pilgrimages there): “I don’t believe in the Church, but I have a lot of faith in Fátima.” I never understood what that was supposed to mean. What do those who profess such a belief understand Fátima to be? Does it mean you believe in some “miraculous” event, some “force” you keep a mercenary relationship with? Or does it mean that you believe in the message? If so, then you must necessarily believe in the Church. Our Lady cannot be understood apart of the Church; she is a type of the Church. If you believe in her, and not the Church, then there is something seriously flawed with your belief.

But I digress…

Fátima (Cova da Iria) is about an hour and fifteen minutes drive on the motorway from my home city. Now that I stop to think about it, I (providentially?) made my official return to the Church there 10 years ago. For almost two years I drove down every Sunday so as to be able to experience the vetus ordo of the Roman rite (and occasionally the Divine Liturgy at the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic chapel at Domus Pacis). When people found out that I would go to Fátima every Sunday they would say “Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Fátima.”, but it had never crossed my mind, in all those trips, that I was going there because of Fatima; if anything, in my mind, Fátima was accidental: the vetus ordo just happened to be celebrated there. As time went on, I began to have a bit more of a “sacramental” understanding of the place, and so the shrine (or at least the area of the chapel of the apparitions) became a kind of holy ground. The Deipara, the Dei genetrix, had appeared there; she had hallowed the ground (or at least the oak tree) by her contact. In my mind, that made the immediate vicinity a kind of contact relic, and so I would always stop by, even if just for 5 minutes, to say “hello” and entrust to her care my vocation, whichever it might be. Several years later, Sr. Maria do Rosário and I were received as novice Benedictine oblates at Fátima.

During these many years I had struggled to understand just what exactly was the “message of Fátima” or why “the world needs Fátima“. Searching for answers on the internet only served to further the confusion. I had never stopped to read any proper literature on the apparitions; I only got bits and pieces of the story from time to time from speaking with people who had purposely moved to Fátima from abroad, as well as from someone who had known Sr. Lucia for many years and served as an interpreter of sorts for her. However, it was only after Father Prior had spoken with the postulator for Bl. Francisco’s cause that things suddenly start to click in my head. To quote Father Prior’s own words:

I put the question to Dr Coelho. She explained that while little Jacinta was an extrovert, easily engaging with others and concerned in reaching out to all, especially to poor sinners, Francisco was a very interior soul, focused on God alone or, as he himself put it, on consoling the Hidden Jesus. In this way, the personalities and graces of Francisco and Jacinta are complementary. Jacinta is emblematic of the missionary impulse of the Church, while Francisco illustrates the call to the hidden life and total dedication to the “One Thing Necessary” (Luke 10:42). Francisco, explained Dr Coelho, was, from the very beginning of the apparitions, singled out as a contemplative soul.

The Postulator explained that had Our Lady said that Francisco was to become a “contemplative soul”, the meaning of her words would have completely escaped Francisco’s understanding. His was the simple vocabulary of a child, of a boy accustomed to the concrete realities of nature. Our Lady’s words that Francisco would “need to say many rosaries” before going to heaven was, in effect, her way of saying that Francisco was to become an entirely contemplative soul before going to heaven, and this by means of many rosaries. Understand by this that, for Francisco and for most ordinary people, many rosaries are the most simple and efficacious way to union with God.

For some time I had begun to see the message of “penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners” as synonymous with the Gospel, which made me wonder what was so unique about the apparition(s) and its message. Suddenly, with the postulator’s comment about Our Lady adapting her language to her interlocutors/audience, it made sense.

What was Our Lady trying to tell us? What had we forgotten?

Penance – mortifications; prayer for the conversion of sinners – intercession; pray the Rosary – the layman’s office par excellence in the West. Our Lady was reminding a simple people, a people of simple faith, of what it means to be Christian. I don’t mean simple in a pejorative sense; I mean simple in childlike, unable(?) to understand complex theological ideas, but faithful enough to intuit them, with a lively sensus fidelium. In very simple terms, she was reminding them of their baptismal priesthood. Sons in the Son, they could unite their sufferings, their mortifications, to Christ’s, to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). As Our Lord had offered Himself up on the Cross for sinners, so they were to become icons of all mankind, offering in themselves all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, especially for those who did not believe. The daily rosary was an injunction to “pray without ceasing”. For a long time the rosary had been an alternative to the Office for those who were unable to read. The Office, especially through the Psalms, shows us the vultus Christi; praying the Psalms helps one to acquire the mind of Christ. Being unable to do that, one turns to Mary, and in contemplating her, one can see in her face the face of her Son shining through.

“Fátima”, in my understanding of it, is nothing “new”. The message is the Gospel. It is the life that finds echo in the life of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Father’s lived a(-n extreme) life of penance, of mortification; one needs only to read their sayings to see how indispensable it was to them, how essential it was to cultivate humility. It was not something negative; rather it was liberating. See, for example, this saying of Abba Poemon:

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’

Even on their deathbed penance was still (or should that be especially?) on their minds:

It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, ‘Look, Abba Anthony is coming.’ A little later he said, ‘Look, the choir of prophets is coming.’ Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, Look, the choir of apostles is coming,’ His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, ‘With whom are you speaking, Father?’ He said, ‘Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.’ The old man said to him, ‘You have no need to do penance, Father.’ But the old man said to them, ‘Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.’

Continual prayer was also a theme on the minds of the Desert Fathers. They knew, through their experience, that it required a great effort to become a habit, especially if one was to pray without ceasing, which in a goal of all Christians, which they will one day do perfectly united to Christ, the Eternal High Priest. The Psalms were their school of prayer.

Abba Agathon said, “Prayer is hard work and a great struggle to one’s last breath”.

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

The brethren also asked him, ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’

We find as well stories of the Fathers’ intercession for sinners:

One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must fulfill that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery of virgins and entrusted her to the amma and he said, ‘Take this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later she besought the amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread and some work through the window.’ The amma did so and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life.

Is Fátima still “relevant”? I think it is particularly poignant a century later because it obliges us to ask “What have we forgotten?” It seems to me to be quite providential that our Blessed Mother should remind us of this supernatural aspect of the faith on the eve of a revolution of the “anti-Gospel”, of a materialistic “gospel” that promised an immanenitized eschaton. And yet, 100 years later, on the cusp of the anniversary of the apparitions, if one listens to the majority of the “testimonies” about the meaning of Fatima on this website (which is backed by the Sanctuary and a Catholic radio station), one will find that we have forgotten much. The majority of those testimonies of what Fátima means to those individuals is focused to much on me, on vague concepts of love and peace and feeling good with one’s self, a form of spiritual hygiene. God does not figure into the picture. The faith is primarily about the world here below, a convenient ethical system, but little beyond that.

We have forgotten the Cross. It is the Cross, the dulce lignum, that best encapsulates the Faith. In trying to make it more appealing, in applying so much cosmetic to sweeten the pill, we have gone so far as to forget what it is all about.

What is Fátima to me? Fátima is the unbroken tradition of the Church; Fátima is the life of monks and religious and clerics and lay alike; Fátima is the faith of the Desert Fathers –  Fátima is the Christian life in broad strokes, so simple enough even a child could understand it. And it is a reminder to make every day a beginning.

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Founded in 2012 in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, and canonically erected in 2017, Silverstream Priory is a house of monks living under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle. The monks of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the “Opus Dei” (Work of God, the sacred Liturgy) in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” (Extraordinary Form) of the Roman Rite. As Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, they aspire to assure ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream offer their life for the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, and a publishing house, the Cenacle Press.

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