Fulton Sheen on Our Lady of Fatima, the Atom and Islam

The May 13 anniversary is a good time to look at some insights Archbishop Fulton Sheen had about Our Lady of Fatima.

Our Lady of Fatima (l) and the book cover of ‘The World’s First Love’
Our Lady of Fatima (l) and the book cover of ‘The World’s First Love’ (photo: Shutterstock / Ignatius Press)

Among the dazzling treasury of more than 70 books he wrote, Venerable Fulton Sheen considered The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God, to be his favorite. Reading it you can hear Sheen, probably the greatest preacher in the 20th century, shed light on Mary’s life and role in salvation history.

Considering the precarious position of the world and even, in too many instances, the faith in many parts of it, for this 107th anniversary of our Blessed Mother’s appearance at Fatima on May 13, Sheen’s words about Mary on Fatima, the atom and Muslims remain timely.

Naturally, he leaves a very wide door open for hope in such circumstances. But he is not shy about problems because “before giving reasons for hope, it is well to inquire why there is so much apprehension today,” according to Sheen, who writes:

Man is living in fear, but it is different from any fear in the past, first, because man used to fear God, with a filial fear which made him shrink from hurting the One Whom he loved. Later on, man feared not God, but his fellowman, as the world shuddered under two World Wars in 21 years. Now we have come to the last and most awful of all the fears, in which man trembles before the littlest thing in the universe, the atom!

He wrote this in 1952. No one needs to be reminded of the arms race and saber rattling that followed. He continues:

It is not that God has abandoned the world, but that the world has abandoned God and cast its lot with nature divorced from nature's God. Man throughout history has always become wicked when, turning his back on God, he identified himself with nature. The new name for nature is Science. Science rightly understood means reading the Wisdom of God in Nature, which God made. Science wrongly understood means reading the proofs of the Book of Nature while denying that the Book ever had an Author. Nature or Science is a servant of man under God; but divorced from God, Nature or Science is a tyrant, and the atom bomb is the symbol of that tyranny.

Today it should be simple to name additional or companion tyrannies coming from science and nature. A pandemic is only one on the long list. Is there anything, he asks, in nature that is unspoiled and can help us get back to where we should be? And so what has this got to do with Fatima anyway?

Sheen answers:

There is one thing, which Wordsworth called our ‘tainted nature's solitary boast.’ That hope is in The Woman.

And we know who that is.

“The beautiful revelation of Our Blessed Mother at Fatima in Portugal from April to October, 1917, was another proof … that, when the world would fight against the Savior, He would send His Mother to save us. And her greatest Revelation took place in the very month the Bolshevik Revolution began,” Sheen wrote, referring to the October apparition.

Here we jump for a moment from May to October as Sheen gives various ways of interpreting the “Miracle of the Sun.” First, it is a “warning of the atomic bomb, which, like a falling sun, would darken the world.” He continues:

On the other hand, it could be seen as a sign of hope, namely, that the Woman who came out of nature is mightier than the forces of nature. The atomic bomb explodes through fission, or one atom rending and tearing another atom. But atomic fission is the way the sun lights the world. God put atomic fission in the universe; otherwise we would not have discovered it. At Fatima, the fact that Mary could take this great center and seat of atomic power and make it her plaything, the fact that she could swing the sun ‘like a trinket at her wrist’ is a proof that God has given her power over it, not for death, but for light and life and hope. As Scripture foretold: ‘And now, in heaven, a great portent appeared; a woman that wore the sun for her mantle’ (Rev. 12:1).

Archbishop Sheen also explained that the Miracle of the Sun can be regarded “as a miniature and a cameo of what may yet happen to the world, namely, some sudden cataclysm or catastrophe which would make the world shake in horror as the 70,000 [people] shook at Fatima that day. This catastrophe would be a precocious or uncontrolled explosion of an atomic bomb which would literally shake the earth. This is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

So what is the safe way out of this? Listen to Our Lady, he says:

Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is actually a petition to a Woman to save man from nature made destructive through the rebellious intellect of man. At other moments in history, she was a Mediatrix of Her Divine Son for man; but here she is a Mediatrix for nature. She seizes the original atomic power which is the sun and proves it is hers to use for peace. And yet it is not apart from man that she would save him from nature, as it was not apart from her free consent that God would save humanity from sin. Man must cooperate through penance.

This was not the first time our Blessed Mother called for that solution:

At La Salette, Our Lady asked for penance. At Lourdes, three times the Blessed Mother said: Penance, penance, penance. At Fatima, the same penitential antiphon is struck time and time again. The atom will not destroy man, if man will not destroy himself. An atom in revolt is only a symbol of man in revolt. But humanity in repentance will purchase a nature in complete control. Like the threatened destruction of Nineveh, the threat of another World War is conditional.

Sheen reminds us that at Fatima, our Blessed Mother revealed that World War I would end in another year, and if men repented there would be a great era of peace for the world. “But if not, another World War, worse than the first, would begin in the reign of the next Pontiff (Pius XI).”

She asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, which would not happen for decades. She asked for the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturdays. Still, even today, few are doing that. Even though before his Ascension, Our Lord told the Apostles, “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47).

Sheen also reminds us that Our Lady also said, “In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.”

He repeats: “Repentance, prayer, sacrifice — these are conditions of peace, for they are the means by which man is remade.”


Mary and the Muslims

Archbishop Sheen strongly builds on Fatima as a foundation to explain Mary and the Muslims. He said:

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: ‘Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary.’

Sheen continues:

This brings us to our second point, namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this twentieth century, should have revealed herself in the insignificant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima'? Since nothing ever happens out of heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.

He refers to the time in history when the Muslims occupied Portugal:

At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus, the very place where Our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima (the persons).

“The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world,” he says. And if they are encouraged to expand and to develop to her, Archbishop Sheen affirms:

Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her Divine Son. She … will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her Divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the Divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.

So to for everyone who needs to heed and respond to Our Lady of Fatima, her messages and her directives, while there is still time.