One hundred years ago an angel, then Our Lady, appeared to three poor shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Much was recorded by Sister Lucia, one of the children, who was asked to write about this event by the Bishop of Leiria, now the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima, and by priests, journalists and historians since then. Although this was a private revelation in a specific country and time period, it is a timeless global message we can all bring to our faith lives. Mothers especially are in a position where they can meditate and integrate the message of Fatima into their lives.
Open to Life and Family
Mothers can particularly relate to Our Lady simply by the fact that, like Mary, they are physically open to new life, to growing it in silence and to bearing its fruit to the world. The physical order reflects the spiritual. Every person, man or woman, is called to be spiritually open to God’s new life, to growing it and bearing its fruit. Mothers can do this physically and spiritually as a powerful sign for the world. Bearing children is constantly under attack yet remains the grandest mission of love.
Sister Lucia famously wrote:
The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family. ‘Don’t be afraid’, she added, ‘because whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.’ Then she concluded: ‘nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head’. (Catholic News Agency)
So also the message of Fatima, and particularly the third secret, spoke of the errors of Russia that would spread throughout the world. At the heart of these errors of Russia is the destruction of marriage and family.
As most of us learned in school, Marx considered class struggle to be the defining factor of history. But digging deeper, Marx also believed that the fundamental ‘class struggle’ was found in monogamous marriage and, indeed, in the sexual difference itself. ‘The first division of labor,’ Marx co-wrote with Friedrich Engels, ‘is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.’ In turn, Engels affirmed that Marxist theory ‘demands the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society’ (see The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State ). It seems the deeper revolution — and, I would contend, the deeper ‘error of Russia’ — is the one aimed at destroying marriage and the family. (Christopher West).
So it is that mothers by their most sacred duty are working for the sanctification of the world and against the errors of Russia.
Suffer for Sinners
A central part of the shepherd children’s example to the world was their willingness to suffer for sinners. Our Lady asked them if they would like to offer their small sufferings to help save sinners for whom no one prays for. They always answered with enthusiastic yeses. During their day of work and play, they would offer all small annoyances and inconveniences for the salvation of sinners, from headaches to thirst to the noise of crickets that bothered them. When Jacinta and Francisco were sick and hospitalized, they would offer every little pain and frustration with utter joy at the opportunity to be able to help in God’s divine plan.
I am in my second trimester of a third pregnancy and, although every woman has varying pregnancy symptoms, I can vouch that pregnancy has countless opportunities for offering up suffering. From general tiredness, nausea, discomfort, heat, childbirth… to the actual raising of children, with changing of diapers, wrangling children from one place to another, cleaning up constant messes, waking up at night. Motherhood is a plethora of opportunities to offer up physical suffering.
Mothers can have much in common with the stories of saints who physically suffered much, yet in this way participated in Christ’s redemption, like Saint Faustina or Padre Pio. Motherhood is also a plethora of spiritual suffering: the patience required to raise babies who have trouble sleeping, toddlers who are constantly in a state of emotional turbulence, children who seem more like barbarians yelling and fighting, teenagers who don’t want our plans for them. Even with adult children, mothers might have many opportunities to shed tears as Saint Monica did.
Do you want to suffer for sinners? Do you want to let Christ live His life out in you, including His Passion and Resurrection? I cannot think of anyone in a place as privileged as mothers for this task.
Peace in the World
Our Lady spoke much of peace at Fatima. If Her message were heeded, there would be peace in the world. If Russia were consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart, there would be peace in the world.
Our Lady also spoke much of the rosary. Pray the rosary every day, she said. When I confessed to a 90-year-old priest years ago that I didn’t like praying the rosary, he said with simplicity, “But Our Lady told the shepherd children to do it?!” Many popes, perhaps most memorably Saint John Paul II, have reiterated this message to families: pray the rosary every day. Also, Saint Teresa of Calcutta told some people who would ask her how they could help to go home and love their families. “Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.” (source)
Mothers, as the heart of their homes, can pray the simple prayer of the poor and of the shepherd children, which is the rosary, with their families. My children are ages one and three and it is difficult for us, but we have recently started praying a decade together after breakfast (the three-year-old loves saying the second half of the prayers by herself) and a decade together after dinner. Mothers can dedicate themselves and their families to the prayer Our Lady asked us to pray every day and they can work for peace in their homes, which is the surest way to peace in the world.
The Writings of Sister Lucia
Sister Lucia has four books of her actual writings: Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words I and II, The Message of Fatima, “Calls” From the Message of Fatima (books here). I’ve read the first one and it is a simple, heartwarming and yet profoundly spiritual account of family life and prayer life one hundred years ago. I urge all mothers to learn more about the message of Fatima as we celebrate 100 years of the apparitions this year and especially to place every sacred task of motherhood under the mantle and protection of Our Lady of Fatima.