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Written for Catholicmom.com
The celebrations are about to begin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fatima, especially with the canonization of the two littlest visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. What are we really celebrating, though? Married to a husband who is a Mariologist and speaks extensively on this subject around the country, I find myself revisiting the significance and message of Fatima with an entirely new perspective.
What I find myself going to is the children themselves and their mothers. I never really gave this much attention in the past, basically glossing over the incredible importance that a message that was to be entrusted to and communicated to the whole world would be through a 7-year-old, a 9-year-old and a 10-year-old. As the mother of five children ranging in ages from 13 to 21 months, I am overwhelmed to think that the message carrying the heart of a global revolution against the Godlessness of this age would be entrusted to these little, hardly-educated children. The world would never do something like that. It saves its revolutionary leaders for the global elite, the intelligentsia and those who wield the most powerful societal influence.
Instead God chose three shepherd children to not only be messengers, but heroic witnesses and living icons of the messages themselves. And this is where my motherly heart takes a deep pause because what they were asked to live was the heavenly blueprint of very great saints. In 1916 (when the children were 9, 8 and 6 respectively), the Angel of Peace (the Guardian Angel of Portugal) taught the children how to pray by showing them how to adore God and, in the same act, ask for mercy on those who don’t believe, adore, hope and love God. The Angel told them: “Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.” Do I teach my children this way of entering into prayer? Or do I know of a “better way”? How much do our children want to know that God is listening to us! Here is a great spiritual direction gift from an angel of heaven.
The next teaching the Angel had for the kids was not a new grace before meals or “Jesus loves me. Yes, I know. . .” Rather, it was to reveal their great capacity to give of themselves to save the souls of poor sinners. The angel taught the children the immeasurable value of sacrifice when he said: “In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.” Am I teaching my child how to live a sacrificial life to save other souls? Or am I afraid it will be too much for them? Am I afraid the message is too much for me?
It is easy to write off this type of motherly responsibility when we treat Fatima as a super awesome story of three children who won the heavenly lottery and were chosen to see Our Blessed Mother and convey her messages to the world. But the real message of Fatima is in what was asked of the children by the Angel and by Mary, who only double-downed on what the Angel taught and added the importance of saying the Rosary every day for “an end to the war and peace to the world.” She asked the children: “Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?” When the children answered, “Yes,” Mary didn’t say: “Yay, you passed the charity test!” Instead she said: “Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.” As a mom I have so much to offer, so many weighty decisions, responsibilities, aches, pains and tasks that can be heroically offered. Can I live this message myself even as I choose to ask my children to dive into the actions of saint-making?
And if that wasn’t enough, Our heavenly mother even showed the children Hell and what happens to so many souls who live lives of impurity and reject God. Why? Because the salvation of souls is serious and children are not exempt from it. Also, Mary is revealing how critical a role even little children can play in God’s redemptive plan. She believes in our children! Do we? Our kids know when we see them as helpless and pathetic. I know my kids feel hurt when I push them aside and relegate them to childishness by feeding them “twaddle” rather than calling them on to higher things. They rise or sink to our expectations of them. I hope to teach them through my witness and words that highlight their goodness. I try to come alongside them in their struggles and help them offer their trials. Evermore, I’d much rather they have me by their side to help them question and discern the right approach to facing the world than just stumbling unaware into the mire of societies misguided realities.
Our Lady of Fatima believes they have a greater capacity to love and sacrifice than I think we often do. One caution though: This doesn’t mean we get use this message to chastise our kids or guilt them into performing their chores or lecturing them on how much better they should be when they bicker with each other, argue or drag their feet to prayer.
As a mother, I look to Mary who is the model of mothers. And what she did at Fatima is the example of what we mothers need to be doing with our kids to form them to be the great saints of today. Mary is telling us mothers, “Your children, even the littlest one, have an enormous capacity to love and make heroic acts of sacrifice to save souls. Learn from me, embrace your own littleness and journey with your children as you listen and live my message at Fatima.”
This 100th anniversary of me is a wake-up call. I am left to confront my own shortcomings in offering my life and in passing on to my children what is most important. This is what our heavenly mother did with Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta because she knew they could receive it and respond heroically. What fascinates me most is that it was the youngest of the three, little Jacinta, who Lucia said lived the message of sacrificial love for souls the greatest, looking for every opportunity to offer up some sacrifice to save a soul — and she was only seven.
This message of Fatima now returns with greater urgency and I hear Our Blessed Mother asking me — and all mothers — not to prejudge the spiritual capabilities of our children and to share the full message and call of Fatima to them so that they may be the new Jacintas, Lucias and Franciscos whose innocence and generosity can have an immeasurably greater impact in bringing the world back to Jesus than all the military might on earth. This is why the Holy Spirit has chosen to canonize these little saints now, when their example is needed most.
I pray every mother hears Mary’s call this year to be her voice to their children to live the message that brings true peace to families and through the family, the whole world. Our Blessed Mother believes in our children to live her message. So must we with Rosary in hand.
Copyright 2017 Chantal Howard