Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
One issue I keep struggling with has to do with one of the Fatima message: "many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them."
Why would an all loving and merciful God let souls be lost forever because of the lack of charity from others?
I realize God wants to share the credit for salvation with everyone of us, but to let souls go to Hell because of our inaction is difficult for me to reconcile with God's infinite love for all souls.
Your views would be appreciated as I very much respect and appreciate your blog.
There's a couple of things to understand about private revelation.
First, of course, is that it is binding on nobody. Those who attempt to elevate some private revelation to the status of de fide teaching or, dumber still, try to elevate it above the teaching of the Magisterium are out of line. All an approved private revelation boils down to is that the Church says that it is "worthy of believe". In other words, the Church says, "Looks like Mary really appeared at Fatima" and you can believe that if you like. But you don't *have* to.
Second, if you do find the devotion to the private revelation to be credible and want to incorporate it into your spiritual life, knock yourself out. Conversely, if it doesn't do anything for you, it could well be because it's not intended for you. (This is hard for zealous devotees of particular private revelations to buy, but it's still true. I don't think anybody has ever cultivated a devotion to every approved private revelation because there are too many to count.)
Third, private revelations, even approved ones, are not inerrant and infallible. So, for instance, St. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue with God the Father, reports that she was told the Virgin Mary was not immaculately conceived. This does not make her a fraud and a charlatan. It makes her a typical medieval third order Dominican following St. Thomas Aquinas, who also rejected the Immaculate Conception. Turns out he and the Dominicans dropped the ball on that one. Also turns out that private revelations get filtered through minds, emotions, and assumptions of the seer.
Finally, all private revelation is ordered toward one end: call us back to the public revelation and toward obedience to Jesus. They are supposed to speak to us, not that guy over there, if they speak at all.
So, with respect to the warning about hell, the paradox is that Mary warns of souls falling into hell like snowflakes, but then commands us to pray "Lead all souls to heaven". Her purpose, of course, is not to give us post-mortem populations statistics, nor to say that God is helpless to save people if we don't pray for them. It is to put the burden on us of realizing our personal responsibility to pray and bear witness. The insistence of the gospel is that we are bound by the sacraments, but God is not bound by the sacraments. He can do as he pleases, but we can't. We must assume the responsibility to pray that he lays on our shoulders. And that is because we really are sacraments of grace to other people.
The point of the warning is not to paralyze us with fear but to impress upon us the seriousness of our task as evangelists. Not only do people depend on us to hear the good news, they depend on us to exist. Make one choice and a child is conceived. Make another and that person never existed. As C.S. Lewis put it in "The Weight of Glory":
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.
We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.