Tag Archives: sacrifice

The Liberating Power of Fasting – March 6, 2017

“Do you wish your prayer to reach God? Give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.”
-St. Augustine, Discourse on the Psalms

“What happened to fast and abstinence in the Church in the United States?” This was the question Pope John Paul II asked Msgr. Charles M. Murphy, the former Dean of the Pontifical North American College, in a conversation they had in Rome in 1980. Pope John Paul perceived what is readily apparent to us still today, the seeming collapse of the practice of fasting in the day-to-day lives of Catholics. This question is particularly relevant now in the midst of Lent as the Church unites herself “to the mystery of Jesus in desert.” (CCC 540) The Bible tells us that Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was hungry.” (Mt. 4:2) If we are to unite ourselves more closely with Christ, we need to rediscover this holy practice of fasting.

The Catechism lists fasting as one of the three pillars of penance in the Christian life. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving express our conversion, respectively towards oneself, God, and neighbor. (CCC 1434) Fasting is a critical part of our metanoia, our turning away from sin. We are in constant need of this conversion towards God. It was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit that Original Sin and concupiscence entered our human nature. Since then, as St. Paul eloquently wrote, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” (Gal. 5:17) This is our human predicament. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do our bodily desires and instincts rule our spirit, or does our spirit control our bodies? The mortification of the flesh, through fasting, offers a sort of “liberation of man” against this “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance.” (Paentiemini, II) Through fasting, we can cultivate this cardinal virtue of temperance, as moderation and self-control tame the unruliness of the flesh.

In the Old Testament, Nineveh turned away from their sins. The wickedness of the city had reached a point that God sent the prophet Jonah to warn them that in “forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” (Jnh. 3:4) However, the people of Nineveh believed Jonah and the words of God, so “they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.” God reacted by not carrying out His threat against them. God showed Himself to be “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (Jnh. 4:2) It is an example for us. By fasting, we can demonstrate our humility before God by repenting of our sins and asking forgiveness. As the story of Nineveh shows, God readily accepts this act of contrition.

Jesus is our example par excellence on the vital spiritual importance of fasting. Scripture tells us that before He began His public ministry, He was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt. 4:1) Just as the first Adam was tempted by the serpent and failed by eating the fruit, so the second Adam, Jesus, was tempted by Satan, and yet resisted him by not eating. Satan tempted Jesus to break His fast by turning stones into loaves of bread, at which Jesus countered him, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Jesus’ fast spiritually prepared His humanity to confront and resist the devil. This is reminiscent of the disciples, who were unable to cast out a demon from a boy. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith, and then, exorcised the demon. Later, when the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast it out, He replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mk. 9:29) Prayer and fasting are fundamental tools we have to overcome the devil and his minions, and temptation. Fasting is a powerful weapon.

This self-denial and mortification, as expressed in fasting, is also efficacious for the conversion of others. Sacrifice and prayer are the vicarious payment we make towards the redemption of another. It is the required “money,” if you will, offered on behalf of their “debt.” St. Paul captured this eloquently when he wrote, “Now 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.” (Col. 1:24) This remains the same for us. We know that our love and intercessory sacrifices for others will cover a multitude of sins. (Jas. 5:20)

Intercessory prayer and fasting is exactly the message of Fatima as well. Our Lady of Fatima said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Mary revealed that our prayers and sacrifices are truly efficacious reparations, in which we can even positively affect someone’s eternal destiny. This Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to heed her words, especially this year, the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Heaven is waiting for our daily prayers, sacrifices, and fasts.

As Christians, we need to re-embrace this pillar of our faith and practice regularly the discipline of fasting. It is a transformational habit that would enliven the modern Church, liberate us from our intemperate desires, and bring us into a closer divine intimacy with God. It also draws us nearer to the hungry and the poor, in line with the Beatitudes of Jesus. Although Jesus forbade His disciples from fasting while He, the divine Bridegroom, was still here, He did exhort future generations, and for that matter, us, that once the Bridegroom was gone, “then they will fast.” (Mt. 9:15) Some 2,000 years later, we continue our fast, at the behest of Jesus’ Good News, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17)

Of course, fasting is not easy. It is a discipline that we must train our bodies to handle. We can accommodate fasting to our life situation. The important point is that we fast in some fashion, in union with the Church, particularly on Fridays in remembrance of Christ’s Passion, whether just giving up meat, or strictly on bread and water, or somewhere in between the two. The ancient ascetic monks perfected the discipline of fasting in the desert. Yet, we can bring fasting into the hustle and bustle of our lives, and families, and homes, and Churches, to form an oasis of sanctity in our modern world. Let us renew our faith – and fasting – this Lent, and beyond.

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima (long version) – February 24, 2016

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12:1)   

The Angel / 1916:

This spring 2016 is the one hundred year anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. It is true that Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, did not begin to appear to the three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco dos Santos, in Fatima, Portugal until May 13, 1917. However, in the spring of 1916 they were first visited by the “Angel of Peace,” who prepared the way for the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima the following year. The angel appeared to them “whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it and of great beauty.” He spoke to them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel returned to three shepherd children again in the summer of 1916, and then again, lastly, in late September-early October 1916. The angel imparted heavenly entreaties to them for prayer, conversion and intercession; sacrifice and reparation; while imploring them to adoration and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The Virgin Mary later told Jacinta that war is a punishment for sin. In the spring of 1916, when the angel first appeared, Europe and the world were already embroiled in the “Great War,” World War I. It began on July 28, 1914, with an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia, and an invasion soon after. Eventually, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had joined forces to form the “Central Powers” in a war of aggression against the main Allied countries of Britain and the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, and later on, the United States. There were many more countries obviously involved too, making it the first truly global conflict. It was “the war to end all wars,” and by the end of it, on November 11, 1918, over 17 million people had died. Portugal, for its part, had, at least initially, remained neutral, yet they ended up losing over 7,000 Allied combatants, and over 80,000 civilians as well due to disease, hunger, and the worldwide Influenza pandemic.

By the spring of 1916, Germany and the Allies were locked into their positions, along trench lines, in a grueling battle of attrition, and poison gas attacks, on the Western Front across northern France. Along the Eastern Front, Russian and Romanian forces continued to fight bitterly against German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian troops. During the time of the angelic apparitions in Fatima in 1916, one of the largest battles of World War I was raging at the Battle of Verdun, along the Meuse River in France. Here, during the ten month long campaign, French and German forces suffered cumulative losses of over 300,000 dead and over 700,000 casualties. During the same time period from July to November 1916, the British and French, backed by the first ever use of tanks (British) on the battlefield, engaged the Germans at the Battle of the Somme River. The five month long assault resulted in over 1,000,000 men being killed or injured, including the shrapnel wounds of a German soldier, Adolf Hitler.

It was in this context of savage war that the Angel of Peace first appeared to the innocent children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. He invited them to pray with him, as he bowed down touching his forehead to the ground, similar to as Muslim men pray five times a day. [It is interesting to note that God chose the small village, Fatima, in Portugal for these occurrences, as it is named after Muhammad’s favorite daughter, Fatima, from the time of Moorish Muslim occupation. Bishop Fulton Sheen attributed this to God’s attempt to reach out to and convert Muslims, who, in fact, do hold Mary, as the mother of Jesus, in high respect within Islamic tradition and the Quran. Perhaps, they will one day be converted, in part, as the Aztec Indians were through the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.] At this first appearance, the angel taught them the “Pardon Prayer.” He prayed, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” This is the heavenly entreaty for us to pray intercessory prayer for others, especially for those who do not worship God. This is one of the central messages of Fatima: to pray for the salvation of souls. Upon departing, the angel told them, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”  

In the summer of 1916, the angel appeared again to the three children. One day during the siesta hours the children were relaxing and playing games, when the angel appeared, gently admonishing them, “What are you doing?” Then, he entreated them, “Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” The angel was exhorting them to live a strong prayer life, to pray constantly and to offer sacrifices to God. The children continued to pray the Pardon Prayer he had previously taught them. Upon questioning the angel of how they should make sacrifices, he said, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.” With that, the angel made known to them that they should offer sacrifices to God as reparation and intercession for the conversion of sinners. They should also humbly bear any sufferings that God sends into their lives, as a form of intercession on behalf of sinners.

In late September or early October 1916 (Lucia did not recall the exact date), the angel returned again one last time. This time he came to teach them to pray and adore the Holy Eucharist and to receive Communion. He came with the chalice in his left hand with the Eucharistic host suspended over it, with drops of the precious blooded falling into the chalice. Bowing down, again touching his forehead to the ground, he taught them another prayer, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.” With that, the angel then offered the Eucharist as Holy Communion to the children. The angel said to them, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” This underscored the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist; in it, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ to dwell within us. God wants us to receive Him and adore Him in the Eucharist. The angel also tells us to “console your God.” God has made Himself vulnerable for us, and because of us. He is hurt by our sins, especially our mortal sins, and the thought of the eternal loss of His children. God’s main goal in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church is to save our souls, as we are all sinners in need of His forgiveness, mercy and grace. Thus, by our intercession and sacrifices on behalf of others, we can atone for their lack of prayer, lack of faith and lack of sacrifice. We can be co-redeemers with Christ, by uniting our sacrifices to His one eternal sacrifice and infinite merits, for the salvation of souls. By virtue of our Baptisms, we are baptized into the priesthood of Christ, and so, we can offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in atonement for sin. In this way, we can, in fact, console God by renouncing ourselves for the good of others.

For the next seven months or so, the three little shepherd children contemplated and practiced these spiritual things the angel had taught them. Yet, in early 1917, Europe and the world were still engulfed in total war, unspeakable carnage, genocides and revolutions. Of note, the Ottoman Turks were in the process of exterminating 1.5 million Armenian Christians, along with Greeks and Assyrians, in the ethnic and religious genocide of their territory. Along the Western Front, the Germans had established a second defensive position called the Hindenburg Line. The first-ever aerial warfare was well underway as the Allies and German planes, including the German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” clashed in the skies over Europe, fighting for air superiority. Naval and submarine warfare continued around the North Sea, as Germany tried to cut-off the British Isles and sink American ships. On April 6, after repeated German U-boat attacks, the U.S. finally declared war on Germany. To the East, British and Indian troops were fighting the Turks in Mesopotamia. Then, in March and April 1917, Russia, faltering and in the midst of revolution, overthrew the Czar, Nicholas II, and established a new provisional Russian Democratic government. Consequently, on April 16, a political agitator, Vladimir Lenin, returned from years in exile in Switzerland, and went back to Russia with his radical Bolshevik Party.

Our Lady / 1917:

It was amidst these years of swirling, manmade evil, and chaos, and devastation, that on May 13, 1917, the first apparition of Our Lady appeared to the same three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, seven months or so after they had last seen the Angel of Peace. Mary appeared to the children as they tended to their flock of sheep in a field, Cova da Iria. Shining “more brilliant than the sun,” Mary said to them, just as the angel had, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.” When Lucia asked her where she was from, she replied, “I am from Heaven.” Mary focused her message along the same lines as the angel had done: on prayer, reparation and the Eucharist. She asked the children if they would be willing to accept the suffering God sends them as an act of reparation for sins and the conversion of sinners. Again, this gives insight into how heaven views our roles as intercessors and priests who can offer sacrifice on behalf of others. We are called to stand in the breach! Then, the children, led by an interior impulse, fell on their knees and recited this prayer, “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” As the Catechism teaches us, the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Before departing Mary made one more request of them, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” Just as she indicated that sin is the cause of war, so too Mary shows them that by prayer, and specifically praying the Rosary, we can bring about peace. Sin brings conflict, suffering and war, whereas prayer brings resolution and peace. Interestingly, her request to pray the Rosary every day is the same and only request she repeated at all six apparitions. This is one of the central spokes of Fatima, to pray the Rosary everyday.

Mary appeared again to the three children on June 13, 1917. She repeated her request of them to return there on the 13th of each month, and of course, to pray the Rosary daily. Mary told them that Jesus wished to establish a worldwide devotion to her Immaculate Heart, which “will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” This is another central component to the apparitions, that is, to offer devotion and reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To honor her along with her Son, Jesus Christ, and the devotion to His Sacred Heart, given previously to the world through revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Mary was kept immaculate, without sin, at her conception. She became a suitable dwelling place for the Word of God. Yet, God did not force her to accept becoming Theotokos, the God bearer, but asked her assent, through her own freewill, to bear the Son of God. It is in Mary’s fiat, her yes to the archangel Gabriel, saying “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38) that Jesus came into the world. Our salvation was contingent upon Mary’s obedience and compliance with the divine plan. Thus, Jesus asks us to honor her, as our spiritual mother, through which, grace, mercy and redemption entered the world.

The Secrets

The following month, on July 13, 1917, Mary imparted a secret message in three parts to the children. By now many people were following the happenings at Fatima and making requests, such as healings, of the children to ask Mary. It is interesting that Mary’s response to Lucia is that it would be necessary for such people to “pray the Rosary in order to obtain the graces” they were requesting. Now, the first secret was a terrifying vision of hell, shown to them for a brief instant. She wished to show them that eternal damnation is real, and that is the place where sinners go upon death if they do not amend their lives. She taught them to plead to God on behalf of sinners living in mortal sin and in danger of being eternally lost. She said, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make any sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Again, her focus is on prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and reparation to her Immaculate Heart. This is a stark reminder of how vitally important it is to live a holy life, close to the Church, and avoiding sin, because our eternal destiny hinges upon it. As horrible as it is that millions of people had lost their lives during World War I, losing your soul is far worse. God is much more concerned about the soul than the body. It is because of this that Mary requested a special prayer to be said at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Fatima is an urgent plea to stay on the narrow path to heaven.

In the second part of the secret message, Mary conveyed to the children a warning that if mankind did not stop offending God, another war would happen, far worse than the current war (ie, WWI). She said, “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.” Of course, as we now know, that this all came to pass. Hitler and the National Socialists, Nazis, came to power in 1933. During the reign of Pope Pius XI, Germany annexed Austria and invaded the Sudetenland in 1938, marking the beginnings of aggression by Nazi Germany and World War II. This was heralded on January 25-26, 1938 by an extraordinary aurora borealis that illuminated the skies over Europe. Newspapers across Europe and America recorded the event. The January 26th edition of the NY Times has an article describing how Europe was “startled” by the brilliant display of lights. They were “pulsating beams like searchlights in dark red, greenish-blue and purple.” One person described it as a “shimmering curtain of fire.” Indeed, people from all over Europe, fearful and panicked that war had begun, called police stations and fire departments asking, “Where is the fire?” The true fire was soon set ablaze across the world, as it plunged into a second global conflagration.

Continuing in this third apparition in July, Mary also warned them, “To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” In this, Mary focuses attention not upon the Central Powers, but upon Russia. This might have seemed odd at the time. At this point in 1917, Russia was still part of the Allies, and was busy trying to establish a democratic government after the overthrow of the Czar, which put an end to the 300 years Romanov dynasty rule. Mary knew, however, the brutal atheistic Marxist regime that was emerging from the rubble of Russia’s Christian past. For the rest of the 20th century, atheistic Communism did run rampant from Russia and Eastern Europe to Red China and countries around the world, enslaving and killing tens of millions of people, and persecuting the Church.

First Five Saturdays Devotion

Mary did, in fact, come back again appearing to Lucia on December 10, 1925, while she was a postulant for the Congregation of Saint Dorothy Sisters in Pontevedra, Spain. The holy Virgin mystically showed her Heart covered and pierced by thorns from “ungrateful man” with their “blasphemies and ingratitude.” It was here that the Virgin Mary asked us to “console” her and make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. She said, “..I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess [their sins], receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.” This is the wonderful promise of graces necessary for our salvation, which the Virgin Mary makes to us, if we fulfill the first Five Saturdays devotion. This notion, for a holy, grace-filled death, is in the Hail Mary prayer itself, when we pray “..pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The devotion is not difficult. As she outlined, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months we must (1) go to Confession; (2) receive Holy Communion in a state of grace; (3) recite five decades of the Rosary; (4) meditate on the fifteen (now twenty) mysteries of the Rosary, all with the intention of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia believed that peace and war, and the salvation of souls were dependent upon spreading and fulfilling the First Five Saturdays devotion.   

The third Secret of Fatima also was given to the children that day on July 13, 1917. Whereas the first Secret was a vision of hell, and the second Secret concerned warnings about World War II and the spread of Communism, the third Secret was more enigmatic. It was a symbolic prophecy concerning the future sufferings of the Church, if the warnings of the other secrets were not heeded. In the vision, the children saw an angel with a flaming sword about to set the world on fire, crying out “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The flames from the sword, however, died out before they reached the earth, when they met the “splendor that Our Lady radiated..” The intercession of Mary on behalf of the world staved off divine chastisement. People, however, have to embrace a constant state of conversion; a metanoia, a constant turning away from one’s sins. The rest of the symbolic vision showed the Church, including the Bishops and Pope, climbing a large mountain, where they were attacked, killed and martyred. Although some have disputed the official interpretation, the Church has said this vision is a representation of the martyrdoms of the saints and Church through the 20th century, especially under the atheist, Communist regimes, and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

In the next apparitions in August and September 1917, Mary again reiterated the need for prayer, in particular the Rosary, and conversion, especially to save sinners. In August, Mary said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Christians, by virtue of our Baptism into the priesthood of Christ, can offer our prayers and sacrifices on behalf of other souls. As Christ suffered for our sins and redeemed humanity, so too, can Christians, as mini-Christs, offer suffering and prayer for others. Indeed, many prayers and intercessions were needed for others, for as these apparitions were happening, the war lingered onwards. On the Western Front, the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium was raging, and resulting in approximately half a million casualties by the Allies and the Germans. Russia continued to battle the Central Powers along the Eastern Front, in which, by the end of the war, both sides had suffered over 5,000,000 casualties in total. By October, in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a British officer and diplomat, was leading an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the Sinai and Palestine. Carnage, death, uprisings and revolutions continued to rule the day.

The Miracle of the Sun

This set the stage for the sixth and dramatic final apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three small shepherd children on October 13, 1917.   She had also promised a sign, a miracle to show all present that she was really appearing in Fatima. In anticipation of this promise, an estimated 70,000 people came out in October in the driving rain to witness the final apparition. They were not disappointed. Mary spoke to the children again saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” She implored them to continue to pray the Rosary every day and not to offend God anymore with our sins. Then, as she ascended back up to heaven, she reflected light from her hand onto the sun. This is when the great crowd there witnessed the “dancing of the sun” as it seemed to spin, and zigzag and shoot off multicolored beams of light. It grew larger in size, and brightness, although the light did not hurt their eyes. The sun looked like a spinning wheel of fire that seemed to detach itself from its place in the sky and fall downwards close to the earth, frightening and terrifying the crowd. Many people began to pray and confess their sins out loud, thinking it was the end of the world. After the miracle was over with and the sun returned to its normal place and brightness, people realized that their clothes and the ground, which had been soaked in the rain, were now completely dry.

Yet, at the same time that many people witnessed the dancing of the sun, the seers, and some of the people, witnessed something different. Lucia described seeing at first, “..St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, besides the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they had traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.” Next, Lucia described seeing “..Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours [Sorrows]. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done.” Then, finally Lucia and the seers saw Mary one last time “..resembling Our Lady of Carmel.” The first apparition they saw was that of the holy family. God was showing the world the need to strengthen the bonds of marriage and the Christian family unit, as represented by the perfect model of St. Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus. Jesus lived most of His life as part of a family. By His life in a family, Jesus sanctified all families, raising them up by His sanctified humanity. God blessed the family, as our model, because He knew the unrelenting attacks on the family that would come for the rest of the century and into the 21st century. We know now the scourge modernity has had on the family unit, from divorce, broken-marriages, single parent homes, adultery, abortions, sexual abuse, same sex marriages, and negative forces of every kind. The tragic breakdown of the family has been the single most interiorly corrosive development to the fracturing of modern culture and society. It is also interesting that in the first vision, St. Joseph, as the father figure, is the one to bless the world. Again, stressing the importance of fathers and fatherhood in the family and society. In the second apparition, Jesus and Mary appear and bless the world. Lucia said Jesus appeared as “the Perfect Man” and Mary appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows.” She attributed the meaning of this as a call to perfection in the Christian life, following the examples of Jesus and Mary in all things, especially in sacrifice and suffering. In the last apparition, the children saw Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in a religious habit, which Lucia attributed as a call of our total consecration to God, a call to holiness and to our intimate union with Him.

Russia

Immediately following the last apparition in Fatima in October 1917, more cataclysmic events befell the world, particularly with Russia, as Our Lady had placed so much emphasis upon. On November 6-7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the provisional democratic government in Russia, in the “October Revolution,” (by the Russian calendar).  Soon thereafter, in March 1918, the new Bolshevik Russian regime signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, effectively withdrawing from WWI and abandoning their alliance with the Allies. The Bolsheviks instituted a Soviet, non-democratic government based upon Marxism, without private enterprise or land ownership, repression of political rivals and ideas, and massacring their opponents, especially priests and the Church. They nationalized all of the Russian Orthodox Church property, sought to destroy all Christian practices, such as religious instruction, Sunday masses and holy days. The Bolshevik Communists sought to wipeout Christianity completely from Russia, and replace it entirely with atheistic materialism. Over the next couple of years, the Communist “Red Terror” campaign swept the country as the Communists and their secret police engaged in imprisonment, mass killings and gruesome torture of anyone, especially the Church, not seen as loyal to the new State. The era of Communist Russia had begun, and, as Our Lady had warned, to spread their errors around the world. From the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea to Africa, Cuba, and Latin America, it is estimated that Communists killed approximately 94,000,000 people in the 20th century; the largest collective massacre of peoples driven by a single ideology in the history of the world.  Systematic mass killings and genocides became state run programs. For seventy years, Communism metastasized from one country to the next, and fought a Cold War with the United States and the West, but as Mary had predicted in the July 1917 apparition, “..in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And so it happened, with the eventual consecration of Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mary did come back again to ask for the consecration of Russia. This time it was on June 13, 1929, twelve years later, while Lucia was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in Tuy, Spain. Lucia had a vision of the Trinity, and then, Mary came to announce, “The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means.” We know, unfortunately, now through the long gaze of history, that the full consecration of Russia, with all the Bishops and the Pope, was delayed for various reasons and not fulfilled until 55 years later, when Pope John Paul II completed the consecration in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 25, 1984. That same month, in which, in March 1984, Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Soviet Union. A year later, in March 1985, hardline Communist leader Konstantin Chernenko died, and Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He soon began to initiate his program of Perestroika (“restructuring”) and Glasnost (“openness”), which altered the whole trajectory that the Communist country had embraced for seventy years. Gorbachev reached out to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, and began pushing for religious freedom and liberty again. As a sign of the great conversion happening in the East, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Iron Curtain repression, was torn down in November 1989. Finally, on Christmas night, December 25, 1991, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. The Evil Empire was no more. The fifteen countries of the Soviet Republic were now free to become independent countries, and miraculously all happening virtually without war and bloodshed. In fulfillment of Mary’s promise, when the consecration happened, Russia was converted, and “a period of peace” has been granted to the world. One has to wonder now, some years later, in 2016, with a world in percolating turmoil, if that period of peace is coming to an end?

Consequential events continued in the next month, in December 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem, and then, Palestine and Syria, ending four centuries of control by Muslim Ottoman Turks. It was in this year that British foreign diplomat, Lord Balfour, sent a letter, the “Balfour Declaration,” to Jewish leaders indicating that the British government’s “..view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This led to the years of the British Mandate (1920-1948), when Britain controlled Palestine. It paved the way for the fulfillment of Jewish Zionist aspirations to return to their ancient homeland and reconstitute the state of Israel. This was propelled in the 1930’s and 1940’s with anti-Jewish pogroms in Europe, and of course, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Eventually, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish people in Palestine won their war of independence and declared the new state of Israel. This opened the way for the Jews to return to Israel with an ingathering of their diaspora from around the world, which many saw as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The Jewish Israeli and Arab Muslim conflict remains to this day a central dispute in international geopolitical affairs.

On October 4, 1918, nearly a year after the last apparition of Fatima, Germany requested an armistice, and on November 11, 1918, it officially surrendered, ending World War I. In the midst of that, however, in 1918 and 1919, a worldwide Flu pandemic killed around 50 million people, including two of the child seers, Jacinta and Francisco Santos, while Lucia ended up living much longer (until February 13, 2005), as Mary had predicted. Yet, the groundwork was laid for a second worldwide conflagration in World War II, in which over 60 million were killed. In the June 13, 1929 apparition in Tuy, Spain, Lucia had a final vision, of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; with a supernaturally illumined Cross, and Eucharistic imagery of a chalice and a large host with drops of blood issuing from the side of Jesus, with the words “Grace and Mercy.” She also saw Our Lady below the right arm of the Cross, with her Immaculate Heart in her hand. Mary was again at the foot of the Cross, just as she had been at the original crucifixion of Jesus. This is the same place we go to every Mass, to receive in Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, into our lives. God was imploring us again to turn away from sin, to embrace the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The message of Fatima is just as relevant today, 100 years later, as it was in 1916-1917. We receive the grace and mercy of God through the sacrificial offering of Christ in the Eucharist. We see Mary, our spiritual mother, there too, leading us to God, just as Jesus from the Cross had beckoned the beloved disciple, St. John, and us, to embrace His mother as our own, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27)

The Second Transubstantiation, One in the Eucharist – 25 September 2015

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)

The idea of living the sacramental life is to order all that we do and all that we are, by way of our intentions and invocations, to be one with Jesus Christ. We can live in union with Jesus in our most ordinary of circumstances each day. Yet, both the foundation and the pinnacle of the sacramental life are found in the sacraments themselves. As per the Catechism, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” (CCC 1131) They are efficacious, or produce the intended effect in our souls, in order to sanctify us. The sacraments are the source and continuation of the divine life of Jesus Christ for the world. Indeed, the whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the seven sacraments. These are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Christ did not leave us orphaned when He left this world. (Jn.14:18) Rather, Jesus said, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:20) When Jesus founded His Church, the Catholic Church, He intended to continue on living amongst us through the grace of His sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ does act directly through His Church via the sacraments. Jesus’ real presence endures. He is with us always.

These sacramental celebrations are, in fact, rituals instituted by Christ that are woven together with signs and symbols (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) They are outward signs, a visible activity, which reveals the invisible reality. St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” The washing by water in Baptism is the sign of the true reality of God’s spirit washing away our sin. However, these are not just symbols or symbolic, but rather, “real symbols,” which truly are what they represent. They are efficacious symbols that reveal a hidden reality. The water, as symbol, infused with sacramental grace does truly sanctify us in reality, albeit a hidden reality. It does what it symbolizes. In them, we proceed from the visible to the invisible and from the sign to the thing signified. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments is to initiate us into the mystery of Christ (“mystagogy”). (CCC 1075) For the early Christians, the faith wasn’t simply going to Church on Sunday, it was an all-encompassing faith, sacrament-alizing their lives, living in communion with God and with each other. The sacraments lead us to Christ, drawing us ever deeper into His mystagogy. They draw their power from Christ Himself. For Christ Himself is the ultimate sacrament of God-made-present, just as the Church too, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the efficacious sign, or sacrament, of Christ in the world.

Since Christ Himself is the supreme sacrament, the fountain of grace, we can approach Him directly to dispense His grace upon us. We can unite ourselves with Him in our daily activities to sacramentalize our ordinary lives. This is the sacramental life. Yet, we also know Christ established His sacraments through the Church as the divine avenues by which grace is issued upon us. Specifically, He established in the Church the seven sacraments for initiation, healing, personal commitment, and to impress an indelible character on our souls. The seven sacraments of the Church are the way. They are the path of salvation and holiness.  They draw us ever deeper into the mystagogy of Christ. The blood and water that issued forth from the side of Christ on the Cross, flows to us today as His grace and mercy in the sacraments. They bring forth the real presence of Christ to us and help conform us to His image. With those ideas in mind – His real presence and the transformation of us into His image – the sacrament par excellence is the Eucharist. The sacraments and the whole liturgical life of the Church are contained and oriented towards the Eucharist. For, the Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, and ever transforms us into Himself. As the Catechism says, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself.” (CCC 1324)

The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has been there from the beginning. The scriptures and Jesus Himself testify to this. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, two of His disciples were downcast walking on the road back to the town of Emmaus. Jesus approached them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) He began to teach them about all the scriptures related to what would happen to the Messiah. Jesus was so compelling that the disciples’ “hearts were burning” within themselves, and they asked Him to stay longer with them. Then, the Gospel writer Luke captures so succinctly what happens next: “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Lk.24:31) Jesus uses this post-resurrection appearance to teach them the importance of the Eucharist. They were unable to see Jesus until He consecrated and broke the bread. As the disciples later testified, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk.24:35) Jesus illustrates that He is no longer with them as He once was, but will now remain with them, sacramentally, in the form of the Eucharist. He uses the same Eucharistic formula as at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Mt.26:26) Jesus did not say this is a “symbol” of My body, rather, in no uncertain terms, “This is My body.” Jesus reinforced in Emmaus, what they initially called “the breaking of bread,” and what Jesus had instituted at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic sacrifice of His body and blood. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the mass and Eucharist. As St.Paul says, “They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

Of course, Jesus is the one who first spoke about Himself as “the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He goes into a long discourse, the Bread of Life discourse, which greatly offended and scandalized many of His followers and non-followers alike. Jesus continues, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn.6:51) It is interesting to note that John uses the Greek word “sarx” here to denote the word “flesh.” Sarx can only mean real flesh. Sarx is the same word John uses at the beginning of his Gospel in regard to the Incarnation when he states “The Word became flesh.” (Jn.1:14) Thus, he links the Eucharist with the Incarnation. In the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles, in regard to the Eucharistic formulation, they use the word soma, which means “body.” But here, in the Bread of Life discourse, John specifically uses the word sarx six times! As Jesus emphasizes, “for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” (Jn. 6:55) Not just an idea or mere symbol. The Eucharist is a Real Symbol. It is what it signifies. Yet, the disciples and the Jews were scandalized by this “hard saying.” Nonetheless, Jesus does not back off, but more forcefully emphasizes the point. He says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw.” He’s emphasizing that you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Not surprisingly, many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike were aghast at this; believing He was speaking about some sort of cannibalism. Jesus, of course, knew this, and so, He asks them, and by way of extension, He asks us, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it was too much for many to bear, because as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn.6:66) * After they abandon Him, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles. He tells them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn.6:63) Or, in other words, Jesus is telling them not to understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds; But rather, they should understand it by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual, but a heavenly sacrament. **

The Council of Trent in the 16th century reaffirmed the belief of the real presence in the Eucharist and spelled out in precise language the nature of the sacrament. The Council reaffirmed that by the consecration of the bread and wine, “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376; Trent 1551) Transubstantiation is ultimately the term they arrived at to define what happens in the mystical sacrament of the Eucharist. Under the veiled appearance of bread and wine, “the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374; Trent 1551) Jesus becomes our spiritual food. He is our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Jesus loves us so much that He desires to be consumed by us; to merge with us, and merge us into Himself. As Jesus said, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn. 6:56) The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not an end in itself. The purpose of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is for us to consume Him and be in communion with Him. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is meant to bring us into intimate union with Christ. It deepens our relationship with Him. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392) You are what you eat. Holy Communion transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Our personal salvation and transformation are not the only goals of Holy Communion. It also transforms us, as a whole community of faithful believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor. 10:17) The Eucharist lifts us up into union with Christ, and unites us all as one in His Mystical Body. (Mysterium Fidei, 70) All who partake in the body and blood of Christ, “enter into communion with Him and form but one body in Him.” (CCC 1329) In the mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second time, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” This is in reality the second transubstantiation; the transformation of those who eat the Eucharist into the one Mystical Body of Christ. This recalls Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane to the Father that His followers “may be one, as We are one.” (Jn 17:11) Just as the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so does He transform us into the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist unites us together mystically in Him.

Moreover, the members of the Church come together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, the Body and by virtue of our priesthood, unite all that we are and do, with the offering of the Head, the one and eternal Priest and Mediator, Jesus Christ, in His passion and death. Body and Head united, we offer our sacrifice together to the Father in the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass for the intercession of all humanity and the salvation of our souls.  The Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass draw us “day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48) In the fifth century B.C. the Hebrew Prophet Malachi (מַלְאָכִי) prophesied a time when not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, would worship the one, true God, but all the Gentile nations around the world would too. People everywhere would not make bloody or burnt sacrifices, but rather, each day they will make a pure and acceptable offering to God’s holy name.  This has found its fulfillment in the Christian Eucharist and mass.  Jesus puts an end to the millennia-old ritualistic blood-letting.  He is the pure offering. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal.1:11) 

*As an aside, it’s interesting to note that various early Roman pagans had spread false rumors about Christians that they participated in cannibalistic rituals. This was probably from their false understanding of the Eucharistic meal. As recorded by Roman pagan historians, this smear was used as one of the excuses to persecute the early Christian Church. Yet, it also lends extra-biblical credence to the idea that the first Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

**It’s also interesting to note that directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, John related two other miracles. The first was Jesus’ multiplications of the loaves. This has obvious Eucharistic connotations. The next was Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee. Both miracles reveal that matter, the elements and nature itself are subject to Jesus. In other words, just before Jesus discusses bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates by these miracles, that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.