Back in February of this year Pope Francis gave the Church a new feast day. Every year the day after Pentecost is now the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has urged priests to make celebrating this memorial a priority and he said that the readings the Church chose for this feast “illuminate the mystery of spiritual motherhood.” So I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on these readings and discover what it means for Mary to be our mother and the Mother of the Church. (more…)
«For me it is a “sign of the times” the fact that the idea of the mercy of God should become more and more central and dominant — starting from Sister Faustina, whose visions in various ways reflect deeply the image of God held by the men of today and their desire for the divine goodness.
It is mercy that moves us towards God, while justice frightens us before Him.
In my view, this makes clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God.
He is waiting for mercy.»
The Sorrowful Mysteries
1 – Jesus is praying in the garden at Gethsemane
From General Audience (May 25, 2016):
Assailed by looming anguish, Jesus prays to the Father to deliver him of this bitter cup of the Passion, but his prayer is pervaded by trust in the Father and he entrusts himself entirely to his will: “not as I will,” Jesus says, “but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). The object of prayer is of secondary importance; what matters above all is his relationship with the Father. This is what prayer does: it transforms the desire and models it according to the will of God, whatever that may be, because the one who prays aspires first of all to union with God, who is merciful Love.
Catholics who are alive in Christ know that “in hope we are saved.” We know and trust that God is working, even in what appears to be chaos, to bring salvation to the world.
The beginning of Lumen Gentium contains this beautiful passage:
When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church, and thus, all those who believe would have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal. To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies. The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth. Uninterruptedly He renews it and leads it to perfect union with its Spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, “Come!”
Between these truths, there is a lot of room for human beings to screw things up and to sin. But even worse are those who reject the Spirit’s work, who only see chaos and sin, and as a result, despair.
Chaos in the Beginning
The ancient understanding of “chaos” referred to a lifeless void, a primordial unity of nothingness. From this “chaos” came life. Strands of the Jewish faith, in fact, describe creation not as an act of sheer “something out of nothing” but rather a separating of this original chaos: light/dark, day/night, sun/moon, waters above/waters below, oceans/land. God then filled the world with life.
One way to describe this initial phase of human existence is that it was dynamic or energetic. Day and night cycled in and out. A variety of trees and plants grew and produced fruit. Adam named the multitude of animals previously unnamed. God put the world into motion.
But here, in the Garden, there is no chaos, by the modern understanding of the word. Chaos implies a world that is out of sorts, spiraling out of control, entropic. Chaos was only introduced when the order of this dynamism was upended, when a created being chose himself over God. Only then did chaos enter into the world.
Yet from that first sin, through the cross, and to today, the Spirit has been working in the world to restore that order, by calling humanity to love God above all things and to live in accordance with his holy will.
«When asked: “Is the principal figure in the vision the Pope?”, Sister Lucia replied at once that it was. She recalled that the three children were very sad about the suffering of the Pope, and that Jacinta kept saying: “Coitadinho do Santo Padre, tenho muita pena dos pecadores!”(“Poor Holy Father, I am very sad for sinners!”). Sister Lucia continued: “We did not know the name of the Pope; Our Lady did not tell us the name of the Pope; we did not know whether it was Benedict XV or Pius XII or Paul VI or John Paul II; but it was the Pope who was suffering and that made us suffer too”.»
— Conversation between Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone and Sr. Lucia, about the Third Secret
As I have explained on my last article, the apparitions of Fatima have been misused by people who want to sow division in the Church, separating faithful Catholics from the Pope. This, of course, is not Fatima’s fault, since the seers always spoke with reverence toward the Holy Father. However, the propagation of these falsehoods makes it all the most urgent to dispel them, especially since there has been a disproportionate backlash against Fatima by those who are indeed faithful to the papacy.
There are 3 main ways Fatima is weaponized by dissenters:
- The Consecration of Russia
- The Third Secret
- The letter Sister Lucia (one of the visionaries) sent to Cardinal Caffarra
As far as points no. 1 and 2. are concerned, Mike Lewis has already expounded on them at length on this article (please check the section on Cardinal Burke). To summarize, Our Lady of Fatima had asked for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Hear (at a time when Russia was on the grip of Communist ideology) and also revealed to the little shepherds a secret in 3 parts, that should only be uncovered in due time. From Mike’s article:
«Unfortunately, this authentic and official apparition has been hijacked and distorted by conspiracy theorists, many of whom are radical traditionalists. The most prominent leader in what became a movement was the late Fr. Nicholas Gruner, a suspended priest originally from Canada who ran the Fatima Center in New Jersey. He and his followers campaigned for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the pope (as requested by Mary in one of the apparitions), as well as for the revelation of the contents of the so-called “Third Secret” of Fatima.
The Church’s position is that the consecration was successfully carried out in 1984 and the contents of the third secret were revealed in 2000 by St John Paul II. Yet even after these actions were carried out by the pope and affirmed by Sr. Lucia (the lone surviving Fatima visionary), Gruner and his followers refused to accept the consecration as legitimate or the third secret as revealed in its entirety. Up until his sudden death in 2015, Gruner continued to campaign for the consecration to be done using what he believed was the correct formula, and for the “full” third secret (which he believed to predict dark days for the Church and apostasy in the hierarchy) to be released.
The use of the word “apostasy” — especially when applied to the highest levels of the Church — is particularly relevant in this discussion of Cardinal Burke. While the term appears often in the claims and writings of the Fatima conspiracy theorists, the word appears neither in the Church-approved messages of Fatima or in any of the subsequent elocutions or statements by Sr. Lucia. The idea of an apostate pope is employed specifically by those who have bought into the conspiracy theories about the third secret. Indeed, the approved third secret speaks of the pope himself enduring the persecutions that the Church will face in the future, along with the faithful, not abandoning the Church. »
However, conspiracy theorists will not be convinced by the Church’s official stance on these matters. They will go on fostering the idea of an alleged and widespread Church apostasy, making them the only true remnant of Catholicism in an era where even the Pope is untrustworthy.
The division among certain Catholics that began with the election of Pope Francis and became pronounced upon the public release of the four cardinals’ dubia continues to widen.
Catholics, many of whom were close allies during the pontificates of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, find themselves looking across an unbridgeable and widening canyon between two dramatically different ways of how to understand the Church.
What appeared at first to be a debate over questions of moral theology related to some passages of the eighth chapter of the exhortation has become a division over the issues of the role of the papacy, doctrinal authority, and the nature of the Magisterium in the Church.
«I don’t know how it happened, but I saw the Holy Father in a very big house, kneeling by a table, with his head buried in his hands, and he was weeping. Outside the house, there were many people. Some of them were throwing stones, others were cursing him and using bad language. Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.»
— St. Jacinta Marto, as quoted in Sister Lucia’s memoirs
One day, a patient of mine told me during his appointment that he had been on pilgrimage to Fatima. He had an incurable tumor, so it made sense he would do so: Fatima is a place where many sick people find solace. So far, so good. There was a bit of a surprising detail, though… this man was a self-proclaimed atheist. Not of the kind an apologist is used up to… not an atheist which makes it a hobby to engage in endless debates in high intellectual circles, or even in fiery comboxes in social media and blogs. No. He was an atheist (so had he explained previously to me and other fellow patients) because he didn’t trust the Church… and also, he didn’t trust God, even if He existed.
I then proceeded to ask him, if he didn’t trust the Church or God, why would he trust Our Lady of Fatima? He replied he didn’t know… he simply trusted her. And so, even if he wasn’t expecting for a miracle, he decided to go there just to feel her maternal embrace.
A rigorist might claim that this man had a distorted image of Mary, if he kept distrusting God while venerating her. However, as Francis points out both in Amoris Laetitia and in Gaudete et Exsultate, we should not revile these small imperfect acts that move the soul toward God, for God may very well use them to bring about a more perfect conversion for the sinner’s soul. Who’s to say that the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, borne out of the imperfect piety from this atheist, might not be decisive for his salvation? We have it as a solidly established fact that Mary intercedes for the souls of sinners, especially those who are in most need of mercy…
«The Pope is the guardian of dogma and of morals; he is the custodian of the principles that make families sound, nations great, souls holy; he is the counsellor of princes and of peoples; he is the head under whom no one feels tyrannized because he represents God Himself; he is the supreme father who unites in himself all that may exist that is loving, tender, divine.It seems incredible, and is even painful, that there be priests to whom this recommendation must be made, but we are regrettably in our age in this hard, unhappy, situation of having to tell priests: love the Pope!.And how must the Pope be loved? Non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate. [Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth – 1 Jn iii, 18] When one loves a person, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to fulfill his will, to perform his wishes. And if Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself, “si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit,” [if any one love me, he will keep my word – Jn xiv, 23] therefore, in order to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey him..Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.»
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
– Mark 16:15
This key verse of the Gospel for the Ascension of the Lord was also the theme for Pope Francis in a recent address he gave to about 150,000 representatives of the Neocatechumenal Way. Some reports of this event suggest that much of the address was a subtle rebuke to a group that has not always been exemplary in the way it goes about evangelization. But this is a constant theme of Pope Francis: challenging us to rethink how we present the Gospel, because the hope of the New Evangelization has been thus far unfulfilled.
The Ascension marks the point where God turns over the great work of redemption in the world to us as His agents. The Body of Christ is found in the world first in us, the communion of believers. Only then can it be found in the Eucharist, for no one can receive the True Body without first having been taught and welcomed into this communion of persons. If we care about fulfilling the Gospel mandate to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ, we do well to listen to and reflect on these words from Pope Francis.
“Only a Church that renounces the world announces the Lord well. Only a Church free from power and money, free from triumphalism and clericalism, testifies in a credible way that Christ liberates man.”
“The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer,” writes St John Paul II in the opening paragraphs of Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
“In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. […] With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love,” the sainted pontiff continues.
It is not surprising that St John Paul II invites us in this apostolic letter to contemplate the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ through the eyes of His Blessed Mother. As she herself proclaims to her cousin Elizabeth: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” That is, as the first Christian and missionary, Mary makes God even more visible to us.
To help us deepen this understanding of the life of Christ, St John Paul II then proposed the five Luminous Mysteries alongside the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious. Pope Francis has continued in this tradition of his predecessor in asking us to contemplate the life of Christ through Mary. Here is Pope Francis’s teaching on the five Luminous Mysteries:
The Luminous Mysteries
1 – The Baptism in the Jordan
From the Angelus Address: Baptism of Our Lord (January 7, 2018):
We then understand the great humility of Jesus, the One who had not sinned, in lining up with the penitents, mingled among them to be baptized in the waters of the river. In doing so, He manifested what we celebrated at Christmas: the availability of Jesus to immerse Himself in the river of humanity, to take upon Himself the shortcomings and weaknesses of humanity, to share our desire to be free and to overcome everything that separates us from God and makes us strangers to our brothers and sisters. Just like in Bethlehem, along the banks of the River Jordan, God keeps his promise to take charge of the fate of human beings, and Jesus is the tangible and definitive sign.