Some people “read” themselves into the Catholic Church, having been convinced by Patristic writings or by dogmatic and doctrinal arguments. Others, looking about at the chaos within their own denominations, cross the Tiber due to the issue of authority. There are even stories of souls converting because of sacred architecture or liturgy, not to mention matrimony.
But then there are ones “born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8), who have rejected Christianity altogether and undergo, like Saul, a Road to Damascus moment. Why this should occur to those at war with Christ and not others is a mystery. While I never discuss my own conversion (and won’t do so here), it falls in the latter camp. I owe my faith (and subsequent education) entirely to Our Lady of Fatima.
My family is blessed to currently have the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima staying in our home during this special anniversary of my conversion. And all this has provided me some time to reflect on the events at Fatima, especially the much-needed catechesis given by Our Lady.
For She comes to the world at Fatima terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata (“fearsome as an army drawn up for battle”) and fires the opening salvo in a war against Marxism and Modernism, a war of which the faithful were largely unaware they were in danger.
In 1907, on the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, Pope Pius X publishes his condemnation of Modernism and closes by wanting some oversight to root out the heresy’s presence among the laity, clergy, and seminaries. He worries that it may prove futile if his remedies are “not dutifully and firmly carried out.”
Who among the faithful, though, ever hear their own shepherds sound this warning? Instead, a decade later, the shepherd children in Portugal receive a visit from the Queen of Heaven among their sheep. She has come to warn and defend her Son’s Church. It is not merely messages and secrets She conveys. She upholds, by the events themselves, the very doctrines that are the remedy.
The first teaching She demonstrates is that the heavenly hosts not only exist but are intimately involved in the mission of Christ and the salvation of Man. This flies in the face of a good many professors and priests who think of angels strictly as “literary devices” in the Bible or mere nursery tales. Before the Virgin ever appears to the shepherd children, She sends an emissary: the Angel of Peace.
For the devout Catholic, the existence of angels is no surprise, though it is greatly scoffed and ignored these days, even from the pulpit. But this emissary also identified himself as the Angel of Portugal. That there are angels who are charged with guarding individual nations is not as well-known as it used to be, despite its place in Scripture. (Cf. Daniel 10:13)
This angel teaches and guards two other truths of the Faith: the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and that propitiatory sacrifice is both real and required by God. Neither of these tenets are accepted in most “theology” departments these days. They have many models of soteriology but that Christ (and we united with Him) must expiate and atone for sins is not one which is typically welcome. But here, the angel sent by Our Lady insists on offering the Eucharistic Lord in reparation for sin as well as many personal sacrifices to “console your God” and to save sinners.
Which brings us to other doctrines Our Lady protects from the encroachment of Modernism: that of Hell and sin. She shows the children Hell itself. They could see human souls falling into it. She tells them many go there because they have no one to pray for their conversion. This underscores the reality of sin. Imagine that such a thing is no longer patently obvious!
I recall an entire course I was required to take in graduate school, allegedly on the Trinity, which opened my eyes to the genuinely frightening state of things. There was no Hell in these teachings. No sacrificial saving act of Christ. No need for Reconciliation because there were no individual personal sins, only “systemic” and “structural” ones.
When I hear from pastors that Hell does not exist; or that it is empty; or perhaps just temporary; or that the wicked blink out of existence; or that Judas is a saint; or when Confession is impossible to come by (except by appointment, or only for the vaccinated); when I am asked whether absolution would make me “feel better,” I think back to this course. And I know such ideas are not a bishop’s “fuzziness” or lack of education. It is its own system of theology that hangs together as a piece. But it is not Catholic.
A final matter on sin: Fatima underscores for us that sin has not only permanent consequences in eternity but real ramifications in this life as well. The Virgin warns that if people do not convert a worse war will break out.
That is perhaps something to spend time praying over. What do our daily choices bring upon the world? Conversely, what do our prayers and sacrifices accomplish?
In a time in which so many feel powerless against the powers-that-be, against the corruption, against the agendas set in motion and the long-plotted evils underway, Mary comes to gather an army. She comes to tell us that we, in our insignificance, make the difference in this Great Battle. Christ’s remnant flock, clinging to their pious devotions and the Ancient Truths of the Faith. Interceding for the world. Reconciling it to God.
Evil cannot stand against such humility and sacrifice. Call on the angels encamped around you! The Virgin never loses. She gives weapons fit for children in this spiritual battle. Penance, the Eucharist, Confession, and the Rosary. They cannot backfire. They harm no one. Then pick them up and lay siege.
*Image: Madonna del Soccorso by Francesco Melanzio 1504 [Pinacoteca Comunale, Città di Castello, (Umbria) Italy]. Our Lady, club in hand, protects the children from the devil. The painting is one of many others often bearing the title, Mary Destroyer of Heresies.