Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide to Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, and Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com.
With the 100-year-anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima quickly approaching, many are wondering if it will be more than a simple anniversary, but that it might be connected to the world events we are watching unfold. The Fatima story is one that fascinates the mind and (hopefully) moves the heart, but there is much about it that remains unfinished.
As I came to find out when working on The Marian Option, Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima are part of a much larger story that spans the globe. In the apparitions, Mary spoke clearly about the lies that would overcome Russia and how, if we did not pray, these lies would spread beyond the Russian borders. Clearly, we have not held up our part of the bargain: the lies have abounded and covered the world over. Although the Soviet machine rusted out from the core, over 1 billion people worldwide still live under communism in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba.
The lies of Russia are not limited, however, just to communist regimes. Ryszard Legutko, a Polish philosophy professor with firsthand experience of Soviet communism, has made very clear in his new book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, that democracies are not immune to the poison of communist ideology. He writes, “If the European Parliament is supposed to be the emanation of the spirit of today’s liberal democracy, then this spirit is certainly neither good nor beautiful: it has many bad and ugly features, some of which, unfortunately, it shares with the spirit of communism.”
Legutko explains that both communism and liberal democracies idolize the modern at the expense of what they view to be outmoded, such human nature, tradition, the family, and especially the Catholic Church. Under communism and present-day democracies, he explains, everything “should be modern: thinking, family, school, literature, and philosophy. If a thing, a quality, an attitude, an idea is not modern, it should be modernized or will end up in the dustbin of history.” This is why so many former communists quickly found allies in the west, “where the struggle for progress animates practically every aspect of individual and collective activities.” Legutko’s argument is compelling when we see what has passed for social progress in the west over the last five decades – no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, and the normalization of every sort of sexual sin.
The communist lies have been sown in the four corners of the earth, replacing the Christian ethos of old with the shiny ideology of the new. These realities are behind a spate of new books about how Christians should respond to our new post-Christian world, such as The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, Out of the Ashes, by Anthony Esolen, or Strangers in a Strange Land, by Archbishop Chaput. All of these, of course, have their merits. But they also are missing something or, to be precise, someone: Our Lady.
The Marian Option is, at its root, the message of Fatima. While the savvy, erudite, and proud might scoff at it, the underlying message of Fatima – and the solution to all of our civilizational ills – is very simple: Pray the Rosary.
The human response to any crisis is often to try to think of something huge, dynamic, and sweeping to fix a given problem. These sorts of solutions are more often than not simply elusive, so when we can’t find them or can’t make them work as we wish, despair and hopelessness set in.
But Our Lady, who knows us through and through, is well aware of this weakness in human nature; she knows we want to reach for the stars, but when we can’t, we just reach for the remote—or some other mind-numbing reality. But she has given us a simple but powerful weapon in the Rosary. Instead of reaching for the stars, we just have to reach for some small stones – just like David did in the battle against Goliath. We just have to do something very small with much love—like St. Thérèse of Lisieux in her “little way” or Mother Teresa in helping the sick and the dying in the streets of Kolkuta and beyond. Over and over again, Scripture and the lives of the saints remind us that it is the very small that wins the day. “For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Yes, we live in harrowing times. Yes, our world is saturated with lies and shot through with strife, injustice, and innocent bloodshed, but we are not on a set course with a fixed destiny. The third part of the secret of Fatima said that a bishop in white would be killed. After Pope Saint John Paul II was shot, he believed he did not die from the bullets that came from Ali Agca’s gun because prayer changed the course of history. Here again, we can see the results of Mary’s weapon.
Sr. Lúcia, one of the child visionaries of Fatima, reported that Our Lady told her about the unique power that the Rosary has in our time. “There is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families ... that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you,” the future saint wrote, “no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
So, as the saints and Our Lady have made clear, if we really want to save the world, we need to pick up our beads and pray.