Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Lent is a ready time to see how Fatima’s Sister Lucia explains sacrifice. It’s what she names “The Seventh Call of The Message” in her book, “Calls” From the Message of Fatima. Of course, she means Fatima’s call to sacrifice is meant not for the 40 days only, but throughout the year.
Naturally, so many people and places in today’s world don’t want to hear what she has to say. Sort of like walking around with hands tightly covering the ears. But looking back over the years as a Carmelite, Lucia reminds us we’re called to “Offer prayers and Sacrifices constantly to the Most High.”
Then she calls us to listen to the 7th Message which calls us to “make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
That should sound familiar. It was the direction given by the Angel who visited the children to prepare them for Our Lady’s appearance.
Lucia lays the foundation before she gets into some of the very specific things she suggests that in ways look like a vision of what’s ahead as she was writing this in the later 20th century. First, she reminds us the sacrifices can be physical, spiritual, material, intellectual, or moral things. We’ve got to be ready to take advantage of all the opportunities we see before us.
We should be particularly ready to make sacrifices, she tells us, “when this is required of us in order to fulfill our duty to God, to our neighbor and to ourselves.” This caution she gives goes right back to her second memoir which she wrote in the first half of the 20th century. She told Bishop Correia da Silva: "The Good Lord complains bitterly and sorrowfully about the small number of souls in His grace who are willing to renounce whatever the observance of His Law requires of them. This is penance, which the Lord now asks: the sacrifice that every person has to impose upon himself to lead a life of justice in the observance of His Law. For many, thinking that the word penance means great austerities and not feeling in themselves the strength or the generosity for these, lose heart and rest in a life of lukewarmness and sin. Our Lord said to me: 'The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My Law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.'"
That’s very important. Let’s stop and read it again. And again.
Lucia then reminds us that sacrifice is all the more necessary so that it helps us avoid transgressing one of God’s commandments. And. Avoid. Sin. “Renouncing anything which might cause us to sin is the way to salvation,” she directs. Didn’t Our Lady come to Fatima to show us that way to salvation?
One of those first sacrifices, Lucia tells us, will be “the cross of our daily work” at times. And the “difficulties of life which occur at every step we take, and which we must accept with serenity, patience and resignation. At yet other times, it will be the humiliations which happen all of a sudden and which we must accept, with confidence in God, who always helps souls who mean to raise themselves up to a better and more perfect life.”
Every day we come across the opportunity to make sacrifices. Lucia picks the example of gluttony — which in most cases is obligatory sacrifice such as “to abstain from alcoholic drinks taken in excess.” She points to the many cases where not abiding by this one example brings so much family discord and abuse.
Lucia has no long, sad face about this example or other sacrifices. As she adds about this one, “God, like the good Father that He is, has placed such a wide variety of good and delightful things in the world which his children may, and must use as their food and even take delight in, but always in accordance with the Law of God and without forgetting to practice self-denial of moderation which we must offer to God in thanksgiving for so many benefits and also for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.” Moderation is the answer and antidote.
Then there’s striving for moderation to avoid “gluttony” of goods. Plenty of examples vie for attention right in our consumer culture — which wasn’t present to this degree when Sr. Lucia was writing.
Little Can/Must Sacrifices
Lucia hones in on a series of little sacrifices that we can do and, she says, to a “certain extent, must offer to God.”
To counter any wrong notion about the size of the sacrifice, Luca has this strong explanation: “The fact that they are small in themselves does not make them any less pleasing to God, and also very meritorious and advantages to ourselves, because by means of them we prove the delicacy of our fidelity, and our love for God and for our neighbor. Making such little sacrifices enriches us with grace, strengthens us in faith and charity, ennobles us before God and our neighbor, and frees us from the temptation to egoism, covetousness, envy and self-indulgence.” Sounds like St. Therese the Little Flower is a standout model.
Lucia captures it in this truism: It is generosity in ordinary little things that are constantly happening; it is making perfect the present moment.
Lucia guides us to some categories as a fine start. In some cases we don’t think of them as sacrifices, or have forgotten that they are ones. But they are.
Four Ordinary Things
1 — PRAYER. No matter where we are, God is everywhere. He listens to our praise, thanksgiving, and petitions.
Pray with faith and attention. Avoid distraction as much as possible. Remember we’re speaking to God. Pray with confidence and love. Why? “Because we are all in the presence of someone who we know loves us and wants to help us, like a father who takes his small son’s hand in order to help him to walk: in God’s eyes we are always small fragile children who are weak in the practice of virtue, who are constantly tripping and falling, which is why we need our Father to give us His hand to help keep us on our feet and walking in the ways of holiness.”
Which often can mean a sacrifice of our own likes, such as sacrificing “a little of our time for relaxation,” Lucia says. Maybe we have to get up a little earlier in the morning so we can attend Mass. Or before going to bed at night, we can turn off the TV or radio, and pray the Rosary. Or set aside another time to pray the Rosary.
2 — EATS. Lucia counsels to “offer to God the sacrifice of some little act of self-denial in the matter of food, but not to the extent of impairing the physical strength we need in order to do our work.”
She offers a couple of tips. Choose a fruit, dessert, or drink that we don’t particularly instead of one that’s on our usual “like” list. Put up with thirst for a little while before taking a drink, and then make it one of those we don’t especially like. Abstain from alcohol or avoid drinking it to excess.
She continues the list. When serving ourselves at a meal, don’t take the best parts. She adds this caution lest we become Pharisees blowing our own horn in the marketplace: “But if we cannot avoid doing so without drawing attention to ourselves…take it with simplicity and without scruple, thanking God for spoiling us,” because we don’t want to think “that God, Good Father that He is, is only pleased with us when He sees us practicing self-denial. God created good things for His children, and likes to see us making use of them, without abusing them, and then fulfilling our duty of working to deserve them, and making use of them with gratitude and love for the One who heaps gifts upon us.”
3 — CLOTHING. Lucia begins with an unexpected “take’ on clothing which she says we not only can but must make: Put up with a little heat or cold without complaining. If other people are in the room with us, let them open or close windows and doors as they want to.
Next, dress modestly and decently without becoming a slave to latest fashions. Refrain from adopting fashion whenever it doesn’t align with or agree with these two virtues of modestly and decency. She explains the importance of why. “So that we ourselves may not be, by our way of dressing, a cause of sin for others, bearing in mind that we are responsible for the sins that others commit because of us.” That is an excellent reason to sacrifice not only in clothing but in what we watch on television, in movies, in ads, magazines etc.
Lucia makes clear “we must dress in accordance with Christian morals, personal dignity and solidarity with others, offering to God the sacrifice of exaggerated vanity.” She suggests doing away with loads of jewelry and using the money to help those in need. The same can happen when simple, less costly clothes are the choice over expensive adornment.
4 — BEHAVIOR. Don’t complain. Put up with little annoyances we come across on our daily our path, says Lucia. Maybe it’s an unpleasant word spoken to us, or one that’s irritating or downright disagreeable. Maybe it’s a scornful glare. Or maybe it’s getting passed over, ignored, or forgotten. Maybe it’s a rejection. Maybe it’s ingratitude.
Let them drop, says Lucia. Offer this to God as a sacrifice. Let them pass “as if we were blind, deaf and dumb, so that we may in fact see better, speak with greater certainty and hear the voice of God.” Let others “seem to have their way. She says “‘seem’ because in reality the one who prevails is the one who knows how to keep silent for the love of God. Cheerfully to allow others to occupy the first places, whatever is best for them, let them enjoy and take credit for the fruit of our labors, of our sacrifices, of our activities, of our ability, of things that have been taken from us...”
Then Lucia with yet more clear guidance prompts us to go one step further in sacrifice in these cases. She encourages us to “endure with a good grace the company of those we do not like or whom we find disagreeable, of those who go against us, upset us and torment us with indiscreet or even unkind questions.”
How should we react? “[L]et us repay them with a smile, a little kind deed done for them, a favor forgiving and loving, with our eyes fixed on God.”
Easy to do? Her answer: “This denial of ourselves is often the most difficult for our human nature, but it is also the one most pleasing to God and meritorious for ourselves.”
Didn’t St. Paul say the same in the passage we all love so from 1Corinthians 13, using the words “patient, kind, not pompous, not inflated, not rude, not seek its own interests, not quick-tempered, not brood over injury, endures all things?”
The Heavenly Bonus
We meet God in prayer, Lucia reminds. There he gives us the needed grace and strength to deny ourselves and offer up.
Notice the heavenly bonuses for the sacrifices. We’re fulfilling the Fatima requests to “make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.” While we’re doing that, notice how all these sacrifices lead to some gifts for us too. Gluttony gives way to moderation and temperance. We grow in modesty. Patience. Perseverance. Humility. Endurance. Hope. Charity. And the list of virtues grows.