By Fr. Joseph Mary, MFVA
In Alabama in the United States where I am from are two major sites associated with Mother Angelica (the foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network – a Catholic television network which now reaches more than 250 million homes in 140 countries.) The first site, located in the center of the State, is in Irondale, which is next to Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama having a population of over 200,000. Mother Angelica started a new foundation of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration here in 1962 and from it sprang the Eternal Word Television Network founded in 1981.
The second site associated with Mother Angelica is located 60 miles (100 km) to the North where is located the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament – which is located on 400 acres in the remote rural area of Hanceville.
Alabama is in the middle of the so-called “Bible Belt” where Catholics are in the minority and the vast majority of people identify themselves as Protestants with little churches of different denominations on practically every street corner – with names such as First Baptist Church and Saint James Methodist Church to newer Christian churches like the Faith Restoration Church and the New Rising Star Missionary Church.
And so when Mother Angelica built a 13th century style monastery there with a façade like the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, it got people’s attention. Some 30,000 people showed up for the open house in August of 1999, including the Governor of Alabama at the time, who flew in by helicopter. Mother Angelica greeted each and every person – standing at door near the end of the tour.
The Shrine continues to be a place of pilgrimage for Catholics who travel there from all over the United States, as well as, from other countries where EWTN is broadcast. A couple of groups have even flown in from Ireland to spend a few days of retreat there. But a large percentage of the visitors are Protestants who visit out of curiosity or who find it to be a place of peace and prayer.
We have Eucharistic Holy Hours for the groups who travel there and on one occasion I led a group from Louisiana in prayers, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. Afterwards a young father told me the story of taking his young boy and girl to Eucharist adoration in a chapel in New Orleans, where they stopped to make a visit. As they were driving there, knowing that his active children may have a hard time sitting still in the chapel, he instructed them that they were going to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and that they should just say “hello” to Jesus – that they would only be there for a few minutes to pray.
He told me, that when they arrived at the adoration chapel, he opened the door to the chapel for his children but when they reached the threshold of the chapel, they both immediately prostrated themselves on the floor. He said that his son looked like a young man being ordained to the priesthood with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross and his daughter looked like a nun with her hands folded in front of her. Embarrassed, he quickly knelt down and whispered “What are you doing? Get up! Get up!” But they didn’t move and he couldn’t budge them. Finally, after a few minutes, they did get up. Later, when he asked them why they did what they did – they said they didn’t know – they couldn’t explain what had happened to them. He told me that this event further strengthened his own faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament because of this experience with his children.
And so, today, I would like to discuss how the Message of Fatima and the experience of the shepherd children, in particular Saint Francisco, leads us to a greater personal love and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.
For the last years of his life, Fr. Robert Fox, founder of the Fatima Family Apostolate lived near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament where he offered the daily noon Mass. He, in fact, brought young people to Fatima annually and helped to build Russia’s first Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in St. Petersburg, Russia – having spent years raising funds for it and working with the local bishop. Fr Fox was there in St Petersburg, Russia, for the dedication in October of 1998. Pope St. John Paul II sent his blessing for the occasion.
For the Fatima Family Apostolate that he founded, Fr. Fox produced a little pamphlet on Fatima entitled Fatima, The Facts. In that pamphlet he relates a question he had addressed to Sr. Lucia. He wrote, “When I asked Sr. Lucia, through her priest nephew, Father Jose dos Santos Valinho, “What do you consider the most important part of the Fatima message?” Sr. Lucia answered that it was at the beginning, where the Angel appeared, and drew them to God, to the Real Presence in the Eucharist.”
So let us recall now the Apparition of the Angel – his 3rd and final apparition – which took place in the Fall of 1916:
When the Angel appeared to the shepherd children he was holding a Chalice in his hands, with a Host above it from which some drops of blood were falling into the Sacred vessel. The Angel left the Chalice and Host suspended in the air, and prostrated himself upon the ground with the children joining him and prayed the prayer: Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended, and by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners (The Angel and the children prayed this prayer three times).
The Angel then arose, and taking the Host he gave it to Lucia – and to Jacinta and Francisco he gave the contents of the chalice, saying as he did so: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.” Then he prostrated himself once more with the children and repeated the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity three times, then disappeared.
Lucia related the effects this last visit of the Angel had upon them. She wrote:
Impelled by the power of the supernatural that enveloped us, we imitated all that the Angel had done, prostrating ourselves on the ground as he did and repeating the prayers that he said. The force of the presence of God was so intense that it absorbed us and almost completely annihilated us. It seemed to deprive us even of the use of our bodily senses for a considerable length of time. During those days, we performed all our exterior actions as though guided by that same supernatural being who was impelling us thereto. The peace and happiness which we felt were great, but wholly interior, for our souls were completely immersed in God.
Lucia had already received her First Holy Communion, the year before – but this was the First Holy Communion for Francisco and Jacinta. Seven years prior to this, Pope St. Pius X had mandated that children who had reached the age of reason (approx. 7 years of age) should be admitted to their First Holy Communion. (Francisco, at the time of the Apparition of the Angel, was 8 years old and Jacinta was 6.) Pius X showed that this was Christ’s will: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mk 10:14). Pius X was most concerned, lest children, deprived of this Eucharistic embrace of Christ and so “destitute of this strong help, [and] surrounded by so many temptations, they [might lose] their innocence and [fall] into vicious habits even before tasting the Sacred Mysteries.”
The papal decree was very slowly being implemented in many places. In the case of Francisco and Jacinta, the Angel implemented it.
The children received two different species. (The Eastern Rites of the Church have always had Communion under both species – and some have suggested that that is perhaps, in part, because they have always suffered persecutions.) The Precious Blood especially symbolizes the sacrifice and death of Jesus – the “Blood which will be poured out for you and for many” as the priest says in the Eucharistic Prayers.
Thus the action of the Angel, on the eve of the Communist Revolution, was prophetic, for the godless atheism of the 20th century would spill more blood and send more martyrs to heaven than all the persecutions of all other centuries combined. The 20th century truly being the age of martyrs in the Church – which has continued into the 21st century. We can, however, look optimistically to the future – for the Blood of Martyrs is the Seed of Christians.
While the Children of Fatima are not martyrs, still in their heroic sufferings they manifested the courage of martyrs. Think, for example, of their willingness to die when they were threatened with a frightening and horrible death in prison.
During the Angel’s Eucharistic Apparition, Lucia received the Sacred Host – Jacinta and Francisco, the Precious Blood. Bread is a symbol of life, the staff of love, and of communion in the life of Christ; while the Blood, again, especially symbolizes the sacrifice and death of Jesus.
Lucia, who received the Host – was called to live on as a witness to the Message of Fatima and God’s appeal to return to Him – while Jacinta and Francisco, who drank the Blood of Christ from the chalice, were called in a special way to share in His victimhood.
Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 Apostolic Exhortation Sacrosanctum Caritatis = The Sacrament of Charity #6 wrote these words: Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people.
Think, for example, of the Franciscan movement, which has been called a movement of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. With Saints like St. Paschal Baylon, patron of Eucharistic Congresses (whose Feast Day was celebrated earlier this week); St Joseph Cupertino (whose Feast Day was also this week) who experienced remarkable levitations during Mass; St. Pio (Padre Pio) who, during his Masses, mystically entered into the Lord’s Passion; St Clare, who is most often depicted with a monstrance; or finally Venerable Solanus Casey, who may soon be beatified – you have a biography and prayer for his beatification in your bag.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, of happy memory, was a novice for a time at the friary where Fr. Solanus Casey, while living, was assigned. Fr. Benedict told me that one night he woke up in the middle of the night and so he decided to go to the chapel to pray. Turning on the lights in the chapel – he found Fr Solanus in ecstasy before the tabernacle. Fr Solanus, he said, didn’t even notice the lights being turned on or the young novice’s presence. Fr. Groeschel told me that he considered the moment a very private moment for Fr Solanus and so he quietly turned off the lights and left.
The Letters of Saint Francis of Assisi, too, are filled with exhortations for reverence and honor for the Blessed Sacrament. In his Letter to the Order #12 he wrote:
Kissing your feet, therefore, and with all that love of which I am capable, I implore all of you brothers to show all possible reverence and honor to the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in whom that which is in heaven and on earth has been brought to peace and reconciled to almighty God (LtOrd 12-13).
In his First Admonition (which is a compilation of the exhortations of St Francis to the friars) he admonished them that just as the Apostles could see before them the appearance of a man – Jesus – but by Faith could discern the Son of God, so the friars were to look upon the Consecrated Bread and the Wine and by Faith discern the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord.
And finally, one of his biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano wrote that St. Francis “burned with fervor to his very marrow and with unbounded wonder of that loving condescension and condescending love.” Friar Celano continued that St. Francis “received Holy Communion frequently and so devoutly that he made others devout” (2C 201).
Again, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that: Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people.
The Prostrations of the Angel and of the shepherd children – and the message the Messenger of God (the Angel) imparted, reaffirmed and continues to reaffirm the reality of the Real Presence of Jesus (His Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) being present in all the tabernacles of the world – and of the indifference and ingratitude, even sacrilege of so many. It is also a call for us all to make reparation – to “repair their crimes”, as the Angel said, and “to console Your God”, which became so burning a desire for, another St Francis: Saint Francisco Marto.
The Message of Fatima has helped so many to rediscover belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among us: those who were not catechized well or those who grew indifferent to the Treasure of the Eucharist.
If Catholics understood what we have – they would never leave the Church, no matter what happened, no matter what scandal may be in the news.
The events of Fatima has helped many to “rediscover belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among us” – and to reform their own lives and to be instruments of reform for others.
“Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people,” Pope Benedict wrote.
Now let us talk about the Apparitions of Our Lady
During the First Apparition, Our Lady opened her hands and Lucia wrote that from her hands was “[communicated] to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors.”
That light seems to be what made the greatest impression on Saint Francisco Marto. Listen to the hierarchy of his experience which he related to Lucia. He said:
I loved seeing the Angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much! But He is very sad because of so many sins! We must never commit any sins again.
In the July 13 Apparition, the Vision of Hell made a deep impression on Francisco, but even more the light communicated through Our Lady: He said to Lucia and Jacinta:
We were on fire in that light which is God, and yet we were not burnt! What is God?… It is impossible to say…. But what a pity it is that He is so sad! If only I could console Him!
Pope Saint John Paul II in his homily at the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco spoke of how Francisco’s father heard him sobbing one night – “I was thinking of Jesus who is so sad because of the sins that are committed against Him.” Francisco told his father. Pope John Paul said that Francisco “was motivated by one desire – so expressive of how children think – to console Jesus and make him happy.”
And, finally, we see again the force of attraction for Our Lord that Saint Francisco experienced after the last Apparition of October 13. An Apparition in which Our Lord appeared with Saint Joseph. Francisco said:
“I loved seeing Our Lord, but I loved still more seeing Him in that light where we were with Him as well. It’s not long now, and Our Lord will take me up close to Him, and then I can look at Him forever.”
The parish church was undergoing a renovation during this time, and the Blessed Sacrament was on a temporary altar behind the baptismal font. Francisco would squeeze in between, and remain all day next to the tabernacle, lost in prayer, comforting the Lord. He did this even when he was ill – as long as he could drag himself there. When he was no longer able to go because of sickness, he would tell Lucia:
“Look! Go to the church and give my love to the Hidden Jesus. What hurts me most is that I cannot go there myself and stay awhile with the Hidden Jesus.”
Lucia related another remarkable event regarding Francisco’s love of the Most Blessed Sacrament. She wrote:
Francisco came out of the house one day and met me with my sister Teresa, who was already married and living in Lomba. Another woman from a nearby hamlet had asked her to come to me about her son who had been accused of some crime which I no longer remember, and, if he could not prove his innocence, he was to be condemned either to exile or to a term of some years of imprisonment. Teresa asked me insistently, in the name of the poor woman for whom she wished to do such a favor, to plead for this grace with Our Lady.
Having received the message, I set out for school, and on the way, my cousins and I talked about it. When we reached Fatima, Francisco said to me: “Listen! While you go to school, I’ll stay with the Hidden Jesus, and I’ll ask Him for that grace.” When I came out of school, I went to get him and asked: “Did you pray to Our Lord to grant that grace?” “Yes, I did. Tell your Teresa that he’ll be home in a few days’ time.” And indeed, a few days later, the poor boy returned home. On the 13th, he and his entire family came to thank Our Lady for the grace they had received.
Francisco was not choosing be truant from going to school, but rather, as he said at other times, knew that he would soon be going to Heaven and thus is was more important for him to spend the time he had praying and consoling the Hidden Jesus.
Gospel of John 13:23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus.
Erat ergo recumbens unus ex discipulis eius in sinu Iesu quem diligebat Iesus.
In a recent book of meditations on the priesthood and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament (2016), In Sinu Jesu, On the Breast of Jesus – an anonymous Benedictine monk wrote these words as coming from Jesus:
The Most Holy Eucharist is not only My Sacrifice offered to the Father, although in a bloodless manner; it is not only the sustenance of souls, nourishing them with My very Body and Blood; it is also the Sacrament of my Divine Friendship, the pledge of My burning desire to remain close to all who seek Me, to all who need Me, to all who would spend time in My company.
In the First Apparition of Our Lady on May 13, 1917, Lucia wrote that when Our Lady opened her hands, that from her hands was:
“[communicated] to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light,…”
As I said, this was an experience that affected Francisco profoundly. It was also within that experience of intense light, that the shepherd children were moved by an interior impulse that moved them to fall on their knees and to repeat in their hearts, a prayer of adoration and love of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Most Blessed Sacrament:
“O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament!”
Within the very first Apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, the children are lead to adore and love God truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Francisco said after that Apparition:
I loved seeing the Angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much!
Mary always leads us closer to Jesus. Wherever you find genuine devotion to Mary, you will find devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The last words of Mary, recorded in the Scriptures are “Do whatever he tells you.” The last words of Jesus regarding his mother are: “Behold your mother.”
Mary teaches us how better to love Jesus – and Jesus tells us to look to Mary as our mother, which is why Pope Saint John Paul II, in his homily at the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco concluded with these words to the children there, many of whom had dressed like Francisco and Jacinta (words with which I conclude today):
Ask your parents and teachers to enroll you in the “school” of Our Lady, so that she can teach you to be like the little shepherds, who tried to do whatever she asked them. I tell you [and here he quotes St Louis Marie de Montfort] that “one makes more progress in a short time of submission and dependence on Mary than during entire years of personal initiatives, relying on oneself alone.” [The Pope continued] This was how the little shepherd became saints so quickly…. Devoting themselves with total generosity to the direction of such a good Teacher [Mary], Jacinta and Francisco soon reached the heights of perfection.
Yes, indeed, may dear people, as Our Lady herself said:
My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.