By Cliff Garvey
In 2018, I visit Fatima for the fourth time. It is a short visit, just a few hours. Like most pilgrims, I enter the crowded Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. I kneel in prayer at the tombs of Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta Marto. I am blessed to experience a moment of peace and consolation beside the tomb of Little Francisco. I feel a sense of presence; a sense of calling; and a sense of insight that the real treasure of Fatima can be discovered through the lives of its children.
Francisco Marto. Jacinta Marto. Lucia dos Santos. These children are real people: flesh and blood, holy and imperfect. They are the little holy ones who keep watch for the miracle of Our Lady’s appearances in our sick and suffering world. Their eyes and ears are open. Their hearts and minds are open.
Francisco and Jacinta are very different but somehow complimentary. Francisco is quiet and introverted. He is focused and serious. He does not play games or sports. He is an old soul in a child’s body. He likes to spend time alone, walking in the fields and hills around the village. He prefers to pray alone, apart from even his cousin and sister who share in the miracles. Jacinta, however, is outspoken and extroverted. She is bright, active, and playful. She likes playing with other children. She likes playing games; and she likes to win. When separated from her brother and cousin, she looks for them, longs for them, and cries out for them. Taken together, these two children give witness to the two halves of the spiritual life, the both-and of Christian spirituality: quiet and vocal, active and solitary, contemplative and apostolic.
The Blessed Mother tells the children that their lives will be hard and short. She promises to take them to heaven. Both children are afflicted with the Spanish Flu, a deadly pandemic that infects about 500 million people all around the world. More than 50 million people die. That’s three percent of the world’s entire human population. In Portugal alone, 133,000 people die. Among these are Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Unlike their cousin, Lucia, they are not blessed with long lives or with the opportunity to reflect on what happens in Fatima.
Francisco and Jacinta simply respond to Our Lady’s call. Call and response. The essence of discipleship; certain discipleship; simple discipleship. And profound trust. It is the kind of trust that only children can teach us. For the Children of Fatima, there is no need and there is no time for an institutional discernment or ecclesiastical approval. There is only Our Lady’s call and their response: Pray the Rosary for peace in our world. Pray for others. Sacrifice for others. Devote your life to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, because through this devotion, we learn about joy, sorrow, service, and love: love for God and love for neighbor.
Francisco and Jacinta suffer for many months. But they insist on walking to their parish church where they pray before the Blessed Sacrament as the angel instructs them: on their knees with their heads pressed against the floor. Francisco dies first. On April 13, 1919, he declines treatment and dies at home on the next day. Jacinta is not so fortunate. In an effort to save her life, she is moved from hospital to hospital. She develops pleurisy and undergoes an operation that results in the removal of two ribs and agonizing pain. She believes that her prayers and suffering will save many souls. On February 19, 1919, her doctors predict a recovery, but Jacinta asks for a priest so that she can receive the sacraments. She predicts that she will die the next day. And she does.
The Children of Fatima suffer like Job. Like him, they make peace with the blessing and brevity of life on earth and with the promise of eternal life in heaven. We can imagine them saying: “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb and naked I will return; the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).” And like Job, the Children of Fatima make peace with their afflictions and illnesses. They accept that their lives will be short and punctuated by suffering. We can imagine them saying: “We welcome good days from the Lord, why not the bad days, too (Job 2:10)?”
Francisco and Jacinta trust in God. They trust like Saint Paul, who writes: “Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking in food or clothing, or being threatened or even attacked. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us (Romans 8:35, 37).” In the Message Bible, the passage read this way: “None of this phases us because Jesus loves us. We are convinced that nothing — nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus, our Lord, has embraced each and every one of us.”
The Children of Fatima teach us that prayer and healing are like water and wetness, sunshine and daylight, little dogs and the meaning of life. We cannot understand one without the other. We cannot be healed in body, mind, or spirit without acts of love and perseverance in prayer. And we cannot be truly prayerful without being open to the Lord’s presence in our lives; open to the Lord’s active and effective movement in our lives; and open to the Lord’s hard and amazing grace in our lives. Healing does not exclude suffering, but healing can happen in the midst of suffering.
The connection between prayer and healing is transactional. When we pray and love, when we forgive and reconcile, when we suffer for God’s sake or for the sake of someone else, we make progress on the journey home, on the journey home to the Lord. It is not about offering it up. It is about offering it all. It is about offering our whole body, mind, and spirit as a gift of love to God and God’s family. For Francisco and Jacinta, the question is not if we should answer God’s call, but when and how we do. God calls, so we go. God calls, so we love. God calls, so we pray. God calls, so we serve.
Prayer is our relationship with God. This loving relationship manifests itself in the world. It comes alive in our hearts and in our interactions with others. Healing happens when we respond to God in our lives. Healing happens when our prayers have strong legs and broad shoulders. Healing happens when our prayers carry us and carry others closer to the Lord. Our pain and suffering, then, is like the pain and suffering associated with exercise or hard work. It is the labor of living well, loving deeply, and giving ourselves completely over to God’s plan for our lives, no matter how long or how short our lives may be.
Francisco and Jacinta lived as instruments of the Lord’s peace during troubled times. They prayed for peace. They offered themselves for others. They are born again into eternal life to pray for us, now and always, from the choir of angels and saints. By their prayer and example, we learn so much about healing God’s family and rebuilding God’s church.
Pope Francis consecrates his entire papacy to Our Lady of Fatima. He knows that discipleship is not easy. It is never easy. It is the work of holiness. It is the work of sacrifice and redemption. It is the work of everyday saints and sinners like us. In a beautiful prayer that he writes for the centennial celebrations in Fatima, Pope Francis encourages us through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. He writes:
Hail, Mother of the Lord,
Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary,
Blessed among all women…
Prophecy of the Father’s merciful love,
Teacher of the Son’s Good News,
Sign fo the Spirit’s burning power,
teach us, in this valley of joy and sorrow,
the eternal truths that God reveals to the little ones.
Show us the strength of your protective mantle.
In your Immaculate Heart,
be the refuge of sinners,
and the pathway that leads to God.
United with our brothers and sisters
in faith, hope, and love,
we give ourselves to you.
United with our brothers and sisters,
we consecrate ourselves to God.
And at the last, wrapped in the light
that comes from your blessed hands,
we will give glory to the Lord
forever and ever.
Amen, Holy Father. Amen. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francisco Marto, pray for us! Saint Jacinta Marto, pray for us! Servant of God, Sister Lucia of Fatima, pray for us! Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and for our suffering world!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Praying Fatima, Part 2. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at email@example.com. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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