Walking in our quiet community in Tennessee on a recent spring day, I noticed a woman coming towards me. I immediately crossed the street. Ever since COVID-19 appeared, I have been keeping a distance from others.
For the first time, I wondered if this woman would judge me for my actions. Did she consider me a coward and a fool, or did she appreciate my efforts?
The division in our country has disturbed me for quite some time now. It is not just that we disagree with one another; it is the way in which we do it. Politics, of course, is an obvious subject to display our disunity. It always has been, but with social media, it is now fully on display. Unfortunately, the same also applies to other issues we care about. We no longer try to persuade those who do not share our beliefs. Instead, we resort to insults and name-calling.
It especially concerns me when Catholics and other professed Christians cannot respond graciously to our differences. Catholics judge others to be either not Catholic enough, or “more Catholic than the Pope.” We judge our fellow Catholics on what rite of Mass they attend, whether they veil or not, and sometimes even on where we choose to sit at Mass. We seem to forget that we are a Church of both/and.
Of course, it is good to feel passionate about important issues. I have no quarrel with that. We all rightfully evaluate some things to be superior to others. It is how we make decisions. My struggle is about how we treat those who disagree with us.
Lack of Love
Coronavirus has given us another venue to demonstrate our lack of compassion. Instead of discussing our disagreements, we resort to insults. People who desire to keep a distance from others and are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 are called cowards and sheeple. Those who do not believe the virus is a threat are called ignorant and stupid.
We argue about closing businesses. Are you in favor of it? Then you are living in fear and are willing to destroy freedom in exchange for safety. Would you like to see everything re-open? Then you are putting money before lives.
There are even some who say that Christians should never fear. It is a sign of a lack of faith if you do, even though Scripture tells us this is not necessarily so.
We seem to have lost the ability to empathize with others. We forget what we are here for. Remember in the Gospel of Mark, one of the scribes as Jesus which commandment was first? In Mark 12:29-31:
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
When the scribe expressed his understanding that Jesus was right, Jesus replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34a, RSVCE).
How do we get to a place where Jesus speaks these words about us? May 13 is the anniversary of the apparitions of Mary at Fatima. Recalling what happened there is a good way to remind ourselves what holiness looks like.
Most readers of Catholic Stand likely know the story. For those who do not, this is it in a nutshell:
Mary appeared to the three shepherd children a total of six times in 1917 from May through October. She asked the children to pray and make sacrifices for the salvation of sinners. She told them that World War I would end very soon. But if people failed to pray and repent from evil, there would be another, even more terrible war. She asked these three children to pray the rosary and to encourage others to do so for peace.
At the final apparition on Oct. 13, 1917, some 70,000 people, many of whom had come as skeptics, witnessed what has become popularly known as the “Miracle of the Sun.” Thousands saw the sun dancing in the sky. A natural science professor at a local university described the sun as “whirling.”
I cannot imagine the extraordinary privilege of a visit from Mary. Yet often it seems that those who are blessed so greatly also have much to suffer. Just look at what some of the Old Testament prophets endured. Consider the hardships of many of the saints. Contrary to what some believe, we do not follow Jesus to make our lives better. In fact, following Him often makes our lives more difficult.
It was the same for the Fatima visionaries. Life was not automatically made easy when Mary came to them. For starters, they were shown a terrifying vision of hell. Remember, these were just young children. I cannot imagine the horror. They knew how to respond, though. They prayed and sacrificed for the conversion of sinners; the likes of you and me.
Then there was their reaction when they displeased a local official.
The three children were ordered to testify that the apparitions were not true. The children refused despite threats of imprisonment and death by boiling oil. Spending August 13 in prison, they knelt and prayed. The other prisoners joined them.
Note that last line. These children inspired others to pray. How do we inspire others, and love our neighbor? Certainly not through insults and mockery.
A movie about Fatima was scheduled to be released in April, shortly before my birthday. The trailer is appealing. My family and I planned to celebrate my newest age with a night at the theater. I was looking forward to it.
Coronavirus, of course, changed everything. Theaters in our area were not even open that day. Fatima is now scheduled for release on August 14.
COVID-19 is frequently compared to the pandemic 100 years ago. That very pandemic took the lives of two of the Fatima children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Francisco was only 10 when he died; Jacinta was 9. Like so many who have died of Coronavirus this year, Jacinta died alone.
100 years later we are still talking about them. The story of Fatima continues to inspire others.
Mary’s message is as relevant to today as it was to was in 1917. Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, author of Our Lady’s Message to Three Shepherd Children and the World, put it this way:
We live in a culture that teaches us to think about ourselves and does not encourage us to think about sinners. Mary’s message teaches us to make sacrifices for sinners, to offer penance, and pray the daily Rosary.
I cannot help but wonder if we lived that message, would we treat our fellow humans differently? Would we speak more gently, voices filled with love, knowing our purpose is to live in heaven and bring others with us?
Fatima is also tied to the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Why is this devotion requested, and what makes it sanctifying? Catholic News Agency tells us that “devotion to Mary’s heart is essentially concerned with the love that her heart has for Jesus, for God”. As the mother of Jesus, Mary loves Him in a very special way.
Love as Mary Loved
If we love as Mary loves, we want what God wants. We strive to love all of God’s children.
It is all too easy to get upset with those who are insulting us. A Facebook friend reminds me, though, that when it comes to the pandemic and offensive comments:
I just keep reminding myself that people are hurting. They lash out because of that pain. They imagine you must not be suffering that pain – because how could you believe what you do while suffering that way?
This is the attitude worth cultivating. To place yourself in the shoes of the person being unkind to you is an act of love. These days, it also shows you are different. It makes people consider that following Jesus actually means something.
This attitude comes through the habits you develop in your decisions every day. One way to develop habits leading you to God is to live the message of Fatima. Look to Mary for an example of how to love Jesus. Pray the rosary. Sacrifice and pray for the conversion of sinners. Praying for others can help you to be more loving and gracious to them and develop empathy and compassion.
That is how you keep the commandment to love God and your neighbor. Do this and you, too, might one day hear the Master say “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”