Years back, I attended grade school and Mass at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa. This image of Our Lady of Fatima (whose feast day is today) is located in one of the vestibules of the church. When I was a boy, it always called out to me. It’s beautiful. I remember venerating it after daily Mass with a Hail Mary. Reading about the apparitions at Fatima left a deep impression on me at an early age, and the story was without a doubt the first seed of my devotion to the Virgin Mary. I realized through the events of Fatima how much the Blessed Mother loves me.
Like God, the Virgin Mary is drawn to simple and humble souls, not the “proud in the conceit of their hearts.” How well young children fit the description of meekness! The grainy old photos we have of Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco reflect their utter simplicity and trust. Children also don’t like to beat around the bush or dance around issues with sophisticated yet totally unnecessary nuances and equivocations. One of the first things the ten year-old Lúcia boldly asked this radiantly beautiful visitor was simply, “Will I go to heaven?” You can see why the Virgin Mary would want to spend time with these kids in that hot, rugged landscape of the Cova da Iria in 1917.
The three children were so young and yet incredibly brave in their desire to embrace suffering for the salvation of sinners. During one of the visions, they saw Hell, which of course terrified them. It’s never a good idea to whitewash this reality from our minds. “You have seen Hell, where poor sinners go…” the Virgin Mary said to a stunned Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco. It’s kind of in vogue in many circles today to imagine or wish away the realities of Hell and sin in order to give ourselves carte blanche to do whatever we want. It’s much easier that way, but it’s a big mistake. God’s mercy is open to us to forgive any sin, but we need to open our hearts to that mercy and repent. Fatima reminds us of that.