by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Catolicismo N. 29 – May 1953
In its latest issue, Catolicismo published a summary of the revelations of the Angel of Portugal and later of Our Lady to the three little Fatima shepherds. The month of May is appropriate to continue dealing with the matter, all the more so since the whole City of Campos still vibrates with echoes of the triumphal welcome its children gave the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
In this study, we assume that the veracity of the Fatima apparitions has been demonstrated. In other words, that the reader recognizes as true that the Angel of Portugal, and after him, Our Lady, appeared to the three little shepherds, who faithfully relayed the revelations received in the various apparitions.
Such proof could, of course, be made according to the methods employed for the study of any historical fact of this kind. In Fatima, healings and miracles were witnessed by thousands of people. Therefore, one can submit them to scientific analysis to verify whether they are miraculous.
On the other hand, the three little shepherds were subjected to numerous interrogations, official and private, by friends and enemies. Their testimonials are likely to pass the criteria of all suitable methods of criticism. In this study, it would also be necessary to analyze the background of the little shepherds, the life they led after the apparitions, and the pronouncements of the Ecclesiastical Authority, as all this is important for a complete clarification of the matter.
As interesting as such a study is, we intentionally set it aside because the vast majority of the faithful believe in the apparitions and revelations of Fatima. As our paper intends primarily to guide Catholic readers, it seems more practical, instead of proving what they already take for granted, to analyze some aspects of what their souls, enlightened by the Faith, already accept.
The Great Crisis of Our Days
The most notable contemporary events are:
- A universal crisis. In the first half of this century, that is, until 1914, the human society presented a brilliant aspect. Progress was indisputable on all fields. Economic life had reached unprecedented prosperity. Social life was easy and attractive. Humanity seemed to be heading towards a golden age. Yet some serious symptoms clashed with the smiling colors of this picture. While there were material and moral miseries, few people fully measured the importance of these facts. The vast majority expected science and progress to solve all problems. The First World War was a terrible denial of these perspectives. The difficulties grew incessantly in every way until 1939.
The Second World War came, and with that, we arrived at the present condition, in which it can be said that no single nation on earth is not facing very serious crises in almost all fields. If we analyze the internal life of each nation, we notice in it a state of agitation, disorder, an unraveling of appetites and ambitions, a subversion of values, which, if it is not open anarchy, it is at any rate heading there. No statesman today has been able to present a remedy that would halt the advance of this sickly and universal process.
- Two world wars. That of 1914-1918 seemed an insurmountable tragedy. Yet, the war of 1939-1945 surpassed the earlier one from the standpoint of duration, universality, mortality, and amount of ruins. It left us two steps away from a new war, even worse from every point of view. Human masses have lived these latest years in terror of this prospect, aware that a third world conflict might bring about the end of our civilization.
The Relevance of the Fatima Revelations
As we will see, the essential elements of the messages from the Angel of Portugal and Our Lady consist in opening people’s eyes to the gravity of events, explaining them in the light of the plans of Divine Providence, and indicating the necessary means to avoid catastrophe. Our Lady is thus teaching us the very history of our time and, more than that, our future.
The Western Roman Empire ended with a catastrophe explained and analyzed by the genius of a great Doctor, Saint Augustine. The end of the Middle Ages was predicted by a great prophet, Saint Vincent Ferrer. The French Revolution, which marks the end of Modern Times, was predicted by another great prophet who was at the same time a great Doctor, Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. Contemporary Times, which seem on the verge of ending with a new crisis, have a more extraordinary privilege. Our Lady herself came to speak to men. Saint Augustine could not help but explain the causes of the tragedy he witnessed to posterity. In vain did Saint Vincent Ferrer and Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort try to divert the storm, as people would not listen. Our Lady explains the reasons for the crisis while at the same time indicating the remedy and prophesying a catastrophe if humanity turned a deaf ear. Given the nature of their contents and the dignity of those who made them, the Fatima revelations surpass from every point of view everything that Providence has communicated to men on history’s great impending storms.
The different points of the revelations on this topic are the essential elements of the messages. As important as the rest may be, it is merely complementary.
The Premise: A Terrible Religious and Moral Crisis
Every single apparition insists on this point: the sins of humanity have acquired unbearable weight on the scales of divine justice. This is the hidden cause of all contemporary miseries and disorders. Sins attract the righteous wrath of God. The most terrible punishments, therefore, threaten humanity. To prevent them, people must convert. And for sinners to convert, the good must pray ardently for them and offer all kinds of expiatory sacrifices to God.
Pray and Atone for Sinners
In his messages, the Angel of Portugal teaches the little shepherds to ask forgiveness for the wicked and offer sacrifices for them. He especially mentions the need to atone for the Blessed Sacrament for the insults received not only from those who profane It but from those who receive It with indifference.
In her first apparition, Our Lady asks the little shepherds to accept the arduous mission of atoning for sinners and foretells they will have much to suffer.
In the second apparition, she urges them to pray and sacrifice to diminish the great number of lost souls. For this purpose, she teaches them an ejaculation. She also shows Her Immaculate Heart crowned with thorns due to the sins committed today.
In the third apparition, She makes them see hell with the unspeakable torments of those thrown there by God’s justice and insists on the need to atone for sins.
In the fourth vision, Our Lady teaches another reparatory prayer and says that many souls are lost because there is no one to make reparation for them.
In the fifth apparition, Our Lady moderates some of the little shepherds’ excessive reparatory fervor but insists on the need to sacrifice themselves for sinners. She affirms that men need to turn from their sins and stop defying God’s justice so the world will not be punished.
Finally, appearing to Sister Lucia in Thuy, Our Lady speaks precisely in the same sense.
We see, therefore, that this is the constant thought of all messages: The world is in the grip of a terrible religious and moral crisis. The countless sins committed are the real cause of universal desolation. Prayer and reparation are the best way to remedy their effects.
The Messages of Fatima and the Voice of the Popes
The popes have been saying the same. For example, in his Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, of May 8, 1928, Pius XI stated that “these things in truth are so sad that you might say that such events foreshadow and portend the “beginning of sorrows,” that is to say of those that shall be brought by the man of sin, “who is lifted up above all that is called God or is worshipped.” He adds: “And thus, even against our will, the thought rises in the mind that now those days draw near of which Our Lord prophesied: ‘And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold’ (Mt 24:12).”
More recently, the gloriously reigning Holy Father Pius XII affirmed that the work of demolition of Christian civilization, taking its negative action to a climax, is now building the anti-Christian City in this world. The promoter of this work, he writes, “has become more and more apparent with an absence of scruples that still surprises: Christ yes; the Church no! Afterward: God yes; Christ no! Finally, the impious shout: God is dead and, even, God never existed! And behold now the attempt to build the structure of the world on foundations which we do not hesitate to indicate as the main causes of the threat that hangs over humanity: economy without God, law without God, politics without God. The ‘enemy’ strives to make Christ a stranger in universities, schools, the family, the administration of justice, legislative activity, the assemblies of nations, wherever peace or war is decided. He currently corrupts the world with a press and shows that kill modesty in young men and women and destroy the love between spouses; it inculcates nationalism that leads to war” (Allocution to the Men of Italian Catholic Action, December 10, 1952).
False Optimism and the Fatima Messages
These wise and realistic words contrast with a tendency not very rare among Catholics, as we know well. Out of a spirit of accommodation, opportunism, or a childish desire to agree with this world on everything in the chimerical hope of leading it to conversion, they think, feel and act amid this crisis and collapse as if they were in the thirteenth century—with Saint Louis reigning in France, Saint Ferdinand in Castile, and Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bonaventure illuminating the Church with their splendid science and virtues. While only very young people are still unaware of the apparent gravity of the crisis we are going through, some Catholics, often forty or older, frantically join the carefree farandole by praising a situation that makes others groan with anguish and pain. Even more, they get angry if anyone tries to open their eyes. Tolerant of everything and everyone, they cannot bear to be shown the seriousness of our situation.
Will the word of Our Lady, will the word of the pope suffice to convince them? It does not seem likely. But at least their words can immunize those who might feel inclined to adhere to the wave of crazy optimism.
The Message of Fatima and Short-sighted Catholics
Abulia is yet another defect to consider alongside this feverish optimism whereby some would like to turn the apostolate into a perpetual party for teenagers, an eternal picnic. Their piety abhors everything that can evoke the idea of pain or crucifixes with the Divine Victim pouring out His redeeming Blood, or black vestments for funeral masses.
False piety diverts men from considering all major problems. Is Christian civilization dissolved? Is the world crumbling, the earth convulsed? A person intoxicated by this piety sees nothing, feels nothing, perceives nothing. His is just a little life in which he correctly and peacefully fulfills his small duties or acts of piety exclusively to solve his small questions of conscience. His zeal goes no further than his horizons, which, it pains us to say, barely go beyond the tip of his nose. If you talk to him about politics, sociology, philosophy, theology of history, or apologetics, he withdraws with fear: the fear termites have in the sunlight. Fatima contains a great lesson for him as well.
Our Lady descended to earth to stir up zeal in souls about this immense panorama. She wants piety and reparation, but her desire is based on a broad vision of God’s leading interests throughout the vastness of the earth. Within the boundless perspectives of Fatima, it is not a question of saving only this or that soul. It is about seeing higher and further. We must fight for the salvation of all humanity because one of the most severe crises in history is threatening to lose not just this or that person but legions of souls. Our Lady is not asking for one Cyrenean but phalanges of them for this immense task.
Fatima appeals not only for the three little shepherds to do penance. That appeal is addressed to the whole world. All contemporary piety must have a strong reparative and expiatory hue.
The Messages of Fatima and the “Heresy of Works”
Let us note yet another point. No one can doubt the importance of the works of the apostolate. The popes call the faithful to them daily. However, in its extreme brevity, Fatima tells us nothing about this. Is it because Providence does not deem them necessary or urgent? Who could admit such an aberration? So, why is Fatima silent about it? It is because we live in an era dominated by the senses, in which people easily recognize the need to act. After all, action is something that our senses perceive and whose effectiveness can often be evaluated by figures, statistics, and tangible results. That is why it is not so difficult to attract the attention of truly zealous souls to the importance of action. But it is and continues to be very difficult to attract them to what is spiritual, interior, invisible. That is why it is more difficult for people to understand prayer and the interior life, to which they devote less time and interest. Quite understandably, at Fatima, Our Lady insisted on the need for prayer and penance to make this the essential element of her message. What a beautiful benefit Dom Chautard [author of the famous work The Soul of the Apostolate, ed.) would have drawn from it if, at his time, the whole Fatima issue had been as clear as it is today.
Jacinta, Lúcia and Francisco, shortly after the third apparition of Our Lady, in which they saw hell with the unspeakable torments afflicting those thrown there by the justice of God
Praying Is Not Enough: It Is Necessary to Atone
Finally, another essential point is that Our Lady speaks not only of prayer. She wants atonement, sacrifice. Was there an epoch when people ran away from pain the most? Was there a time when there was less talk of the need for mortification? Was there an era when people were less aware of the importance of sacrifice? That is the point to which Our Lady especially calls our attention.
In the great centuries of piety, atonement was frequent in people’s lives. They made many pilgrimages to atone for sins. In caves, forests, and cloisters, legions of souls devoted themselves to a life of expiation. People willed entire fortunes for pious or charitable works to atone for sins. Some confraternities were especially devoted to encouraging penance and promoting expiatory processions, in which entire cities took part.
While there is no lack of collective manifestations of piety today, what role does atonement play in them despite the Church’s repeated urgings to repentance? What role does atonement play in our private life? It is small, even tiny. It seems indisputable that Fatima also gives us precious lessons on this point.
We will return to this subject.