Tomorrow is the great Feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation, the memorial of that day foretold by Zacharias, when – more than any other time in history – God in His mercy would visit and redeem mankind. Fulfilling all His promises to the Hebrew people, God would come, like the Eastern sun from on high: “To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I wonder what this feast day will bring. The Holy Father has called all Catholics to pray that Russia and Ukraine will find the way of peace. He has called the bishops to join him in an act of penitential appeal and consecration to Our Lady. He has reminded the Faithful and an unknowing world of her words at Fatima, when she asked simple children to share her request that devotion to her Immaculate Heart be established; that there be a “consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart,” without which more wars would follow, and Russia would spread her “errors” throughout the world.
The consecration never came in the subsequent decade, nor the next, nor the next and, just as foretold to the Fatima children, greater wars and persecutions followed. Yet the message of mercy remains: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
That Mercy wins, and always wins, should be a consolation. Are Christians consoled?
At present, many Catholics seem to spend far more time watching videos of the doughty Ukrainians destroying Russian tanks than in penance and prayer. The allure of the images and the mythic tale – a little nation standing up against tyranny and raw might – appeals to every noble heart. But does not prayer also appeal?
Why is it that we are so drawn to images of war, but not images of peace? Why does watching others suffering, fighting, dying, winning, or losing draw us into the illusion of participation, but the real warfare into which we can daily enter – in particular over the remaining weeks of Lent – move us so little?
Which is more common to our experience: responding to the Holy Father’s request by increased fasting and prayer, or feverishly fighting over whether this or that act of consecration truly satisfies Our Lady’s request to Lúcia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto?
What mental icon of God or Our Lady sits before us: the God who time and again has shown He fulfills His promises despite human ineptitude, failure, and treachery or a god more akin to that depicted by Jonathan Edwards who holds men:
over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.
And what of Our Lady? Is she also a “mere arbitrary will”? Does she grade the word count of her children and say to her Son, “They have once again included too much in their request, I only want Russia consecrated to my heart: Do not show them mercy”?
It’s a sign that the grave errors of Communist Russia (materialism and naturalism) have spread and penetrated effectively, that we imagine a Divinity who does not have a bounty of mercy, but who rather counts and exacts with precision burnt offerings, and will not accept our fumbling attempts at humility and contrition.
A specter is haunting Europe and will continue to haunt Europe as Catholics continue to refuse to enter alliance – not with men of goodwill, not with children of Abraham, not with other Christians, but – with their own fellow Catholics. The new almighty comes not for sinners, but for the righteous. The rest he cancels.
We are at a dangerous moment (dangerous moments are what I normally call “history”). In his book on the Angelic Doctor, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.”
The peril upon us is the peril of Spy Wednesday and Holy Thursday, the treachery within – the idols of our own desires become too strong; the world is too much with us. “Blessed be the Lord God because He hath visited and wrought redemption.” Not us.
Tyrants must often be resisted by arms, but arms will always fail if the spiritual war is lost. Weapons that win a freedom one day are easily perverted and twisted to create new terrors and darker empires. Holiness and justice are not only needed in Lent or a single dark hour or a one-time consecration; they are the way of peace.
A prophetic rending of hearts, not a Levitical dissection of words, is what Our Lady awaits. Do we truly hope that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph? Or would that make the daily news less interesting for us?
*Image: Pope Francis prays in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, May 12, 2017 [CNS photo/Paul Haring]
You may also enjoy:
Stephen P. White’s Signs and Wonders
Rev. Jerry J. Pokorshy’s In a Time of Strife