You can’t do better celebrating Mother’s Day than when it falls on a feast of the greatest mother of all — our Blessed Mother. That’s exactly what happens this year on May 13, when Mother’s Day coincides with the 90th anniversary of the beginning of our Blessed Mother’s apparitions at Fatima.
It’s a perfect occasion to reflect on what Mary teaches and models about motherhood through Fatima.
“Mary demonstrates the ideal of motherhood, a person who gives life and who nurtures life,” says Father Mark Moretti, president of the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA. “She consistently reminds us that her motherhood and the motherhood of all Christian mothers is to be centered in the sanctity of life — giving life, recognizing its sanctity, then nurturing life through prayer, reparation and growth in the spirit.”
In this way, the Blessed Mother shows what should be every mother’s greatest concern for her children: their eternal destiny.
“She talked about the salvation of our souls and how we can save the souls of others,” says World Apostolate of Fatima Executive Director Michael La Corte of Mary’s 1917 appearances. “As a mother, she told the visionary children, indeed all her children, the importance of living in a way that’s pleasing to God — and warned of the results that would follow if we didn’t take her loving advice.”
At Fatima, Mary also shows that mothers should point out to their children the path to sanctification.
“One of the basic messages of Fatima was of personal conversion,” explains Barnabite Father Julio Ciavaglia, director of Our Lady of Fatima National Shrine in Lewiston, N.Y. He notes that Fatima marked the only time our Blessed Mother ever spoke of political considerations: In expressing her desire for world peace, she warned of the looming dangers of communism.
Her prophecy proved true, as the Russian Revolution was about to unfold. It lasted from 1917 to 1920 and led to the creation of the oppressive and deadly Soviet Union in 1922.
“She was reaching out to her children,” says Father Ciavaglia. “She told us that, through personal conversion, we achieve peace with God and then peace in the world.”
Speaking at Fatima on May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II reminded the Church that, in that place, Mary had spoken to three poor shepherd children — Jacinta Marto, Francisco Marto and Lucia dos Santos — as a way to call the whole world to personal conversion and repentance.
“Can the Mother who, with all the force of the love that she fosters in the Holy Spirit, desires everyone’s salvation keep silence on what undermines the very basis of their salvation? No, she cannot,” said John Paul. “And so, while the message of Our Lady of Fatima is a motherly one, it is also strong and decisive. It sounds severe. … It invites to repentance. It gives a warning.”
The Holy Father explained the call to repentance is always linked with a call to prayer. “[T]he Lady of the message indicates the Rosary, which can rightly be defined as ‘Mary’s prayer’: the prayer in which she feels particularly united with us. She herself prays with us.”
In this way, Mary shows that a mother prays with and for her children, points out Father Moretti.
“She said, ‘Pray the Rosary daily.’ That’s a direct quote from the Mother of God,” says the priest. “It can’t get more emphatic than that.”
In Portland, Ore., Marie Ostermann, who’s home-schooling her two youngest, both teens, as she’s done all seven children, knows in surprising ways the results of putting that motherly advice into practice. The Ostermann family prays the Rosary daily, but sometimes when the schedule gets hectic and the Rosary seems forgotten, “The kids remind us: ‘Don’t forget, we haven’t said our Rosary today,’” she says.
Mary shows a mother teaches right from wrong, especially by example.
In Signum Magnum (Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary) on the 50th Fatima anniversary in 1967, Paul VI taught us about the influence of example and imitation.
“It is … the duty of all Christians to imitate in a reverent spirit the examples of goodness left to them by their heavenly Mother,” the Holy Father said. “It is, in fact, a natural thing that the children should have the same sentiments as their mothers and should reflect their merits and virtues.”
According to Father Ciavaglia, by revealing her Immaculate Heart at Fatima, Mary was inviting all people to be completely honest with themselves and God. One specific lesson was on purity and modesty. “She warned in 1917 that there would be fashions that would offend Our Lord,” he says. “Many people enter hell because of sins of the flesh. The Immaculate Heart was trying to emphasize that our minds should be on nobler thoughts.”
Mother of eight, grandmother of 36, and great-grandmother of 28, Grace Greiner of Midlothian, Ill., well remembers fighting popular trends when her children were teens. It was then she learned of Our Lady of Fatima and her motherly message of modesty and purity.
“She helped me to be braver and stronger with my family to fight clothing and music fashions,” says Greiner. “Her modesty has always been a big influence on my family. All my girls learned to sew, made maxi dresses, wore them to church, and weren’t afraid. Our Lady was inspiring them. And they all put their scapulars on. It’s another of Our Lady’s ways to get us to remember about modesty.”
Father Ciavaglia emphasizes this power mothers have by emulating Mary through giving example. Many come to the national Fatima shrine, he says, weeping for their children who’ve left the faith.
“I tell them: ‘Give the example.’ Children will never forget the good spiritual example the parents set for them,” he says. “The child will always remember a parent practicing their faith.” He regularly hears children tell him, “I remember my mother saying the Rosary and how peaceful she was.”
For her part, Ostermann has taught her children to say the “Sacrifice Prayer” our Blessed Mother taught at Fatima:
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, It is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Likewise, Ostermann has instructed her kids to write “JMJ” with a cross at the top of each page of work. “I teach them: Do it for Jesus, do it like Mary, do it your best,” she says. “It makes everything we do a sacrifice.”
So it is that, through Fatima, Mary shows us all the way to make every day a Mother’s Day.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.