At Fatima, Our Lady Warned of Darkness — and Offered Light

The woman who held her son’s body below the Cross has a far greater understanding of sin’s great cost than we will ever grasp.

Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima (photo: Prierlechapelet / Pixabay / CC0)

The 1917 apparitions of Our Lady to the three children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, at Fatima is one of history’s most dramatic Marian events. Arguably any vision of Jesus’s mother is a scene of melodrama, but at Fatima, during the sixth apparition, the Sun danced and thousands witnessed Christ’s power through his mother. Further, the words of Mary at Fatima were mysterious and ominous. She spoke of Hell and eternal torment, and she warned of a coming world war — which would occur merely a generation after the world war that was ravaging Europe in 1917 — and the great evils that would spread from Russia in the guise of Communism.

Yet for every horror she mentioned, Our Lady revealed her Son’s great mercy and revealed herself as being truly the hope of Christians everywhere. She showed the three children a glimpse of Hell, where they saw souls suffering in agony, but immediately she gave them a task to help others from falling to such a fate.

“Pray, pray a great deal and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to Hell because they have no-one to make sacrifices and pray for them,” Our Lady exhorted the children.

Our modern sensibilities are no doubt more than a bit tempted to question Mary’s judgment in showing three sweet children the greatest horror they could imagine, but the woman who held her son’s body below the Cross has a far greater understanding of sin’s great cost than we will ever grasp. United as her will is with Christ’s, Mary’s every action is intended for his glory, and this was no different. She showed the children Hell, not to frighten them into obedience, but to show them the pain from which they could save others. They were not to feel helpless or scared. Instead, they were asked to recognize their own role in the mystical body of Christ, called to pray for their sinning brothers and sisters so all could join in heaven’s joy one day.

Our society today, which is fully enmeshed in the snares of relativism, demands we tolerate — and even  affirm — that which we know is evil, all in the name of individual autonomy. Warnings of eternal punishment are no longer in vogue. Yet how can we claim the notion of Hell makes us too uncomfortable to discuss, when Mary, whose own Son descended into its depths for our redemption, is able to face its darkness? Are we more cowardly than three small children who saw its horrors and were filled with resolution rather than terror?

I hardly think Our Lady is encouraging us to run about, threatening Hell to those we disagree with, but I can only imagine the tears she sheds when we blithely ignore its existence, repeatedly rejecting the price her Son paid for our escape from fiery torment. Perhaps even more tragically, if we do not recognize that this place of suffering is real, how are we to pray for all those souls in Purgatory, or those still alive but ensnared by sins?

Our Lady’s messages at Fatima were filled with images of pain and suffering, but even as the darkness she foretold grew around the world, so too did the grace and hope she provided. Mary prophesied much suffering at Fatima, but she also made great promises. And ultimately, she promised victory.

“In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” she vowed to the children, and to all of us who read her words. Pain and suffering do not have the last word. But this May 13, we are called to remember that though the battle has been won for us, we cannot sit idly by and wait for the end of our earthly days. There are sins to repent of, our brothers and sisters to pray for, our God to adore, and his mother to love.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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