Sister Lúcia and Our Lady of Fatima Explain Fasting and Sacrifice
Fatima visionary Sister Lúcia explains how our Christian tradition of asceticism can help us grow in love of God and neighbor.
We would do well on Good Friday and Holy Saturday to consider what Sister Lúcia of Fatima has to say about fasting and sacrifice. She has a way of making palatable what some think unpalatable, so let’s begin with a little foundation, then look at some clear and simple suggestions.
Sister Lúcia starts by reminding us that must “offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” This emphasizes a message of Our Lady of Fatima that tends to be passed over: the request for sacrifice. In her book, ‘Calls’ From the Message of Fatima, Sister Lúcia explains that Our Lady wants 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.”
Recall that Our Lady told the children:
Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, this is for love of thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’
Lúcia lays this foundation, then she gets into some specifics.
She reminds us that the sacrifices can be physical, spiritual, material, intellectual or moral undertakings. We’ve got to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities we see before us. We should be particularly ready to make sacrifices “when this is required of us in order to fulfill our duty to God, to our neighbor and to ourselves.” This counsel comes from her second memoir in which she tells Bishop José Alves Correia da Silva:
The good Lord himself … bitterly and painfully complains about the extremely limited number of souls in grace who are willing to resign themselves to what is required of them in observance of his law.
Think how much that has deteriorated in today’s times.
Sister Lúcia explains, “Many persons feeling that the word penance implies great austerities, and not feeling that they have the strength for great sacrifices, become discouraged and continue a life of lukewarmness and sin.” Then she says Our Lord told her:
The sacrifice that all people have to impose upon themselves is to lead a life of righteousness in the observance of his law … because many judge the meaning of the word penance in great austerity, they do not feel the strength and pleasure to do it and are discouraged in a life of weakness and sin. … 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.”
Think about that. We all have duties in life, and we all have to observe God’s laws.
How about when we do our duties complaining or with a face long enough for our chin to touch our toes? Lúcia points out that one of our sacrifices will sometimes be “the cross of our daily work.” Maybe at times it’s repetitious and monotonous. In that case we can remind ourselves that St. Joseph had to plane wood over and over for years. And think how many meals Our Lady cooked for the Holy Family, and with no modern conveniences like an electric stove or even running water in the house. She had to haul it from the well. Would we think they complained even a single time?
Lúcia’s guidance? These difficulties “we must accept with serenity, patience and resignation.”
Forget fidgeting and impatience when we’re caught waiting in a long line in the supermarket, post office or traffic. Offer it up in the spirit of sacrifice. Do it a few times, and it will start coming naturally. Offer that grace toward reparation for sins or to help someone struggling with sin. Our Lady knows perfectly well where and how to use that sacrifice.
During a conversation Lúcia reminded a questioner, “By ‘sacrifice’ Our Lady said that she meant the faithful fulfillment of one’s daily duty.” Lúcia added that the Rosary was important “because we must pray if we are to be able to fulfill our daily duty.”
How Big Must Our Sacrifices Be?
To counter any wrong notion about the size of the sacrifices, Lúcia explains:
The fact that they are small in themselves does not make them any less pleasing to God and also very meritorious and advantages to us, 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.
Sister Lúcia echoes the Doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and teaches a master’s course in sacrifice that anybody and everybody can follow and succeed.
St. Thérèse says that little sacrifices, the tiniest ones that seem even insignificant, have a great impact. She said, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
Sister Lúcia also stresses that sacrifice is all the more necessary so we may avoid transgressing God’s Commandments to avoid sin. “Renouncing anything that might cause us to sin is the way to salvation,” she says.
Where to Begin
Lúcia writes about several things on which to concentrate: Prayer, temperance, modesty and charity.
Prayer. Pray with faith and attention. Avoid distraction as much as possible. We’re speaking to God, so 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.
This can mean sacrificing “a little of our time for relaxation,” Lúcia said. Maybe get up a little earlier in the morning to attend Mass daily or an extra couple of days. Turn off the TV or radio and pray the Rosary. Or set aside another time to pray the Rosary.
And don’t forget to begin every morning with the traditional Morning Offering, because through it we offer to God all we do and endure throughout the day.
Food and Drink. Lúcia counsels us 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.” Moderation is the answer.
Lúcia gives some starters. Pick a fruit, dessert or drink that we may not particularly like instead of our regular top picks. Put up with thirst for a little while longer before taking a drink. Avoid drinking to excess or abstain from alcohol. At a meal, don’t take the best parts — leave them for others.
So we don’t become Pharisees blowing our own horn, Lúcia cautions in these cases:
But if we cannot avoid doing so without drawing attention to ourselves … take it with simplicity and without scruple, thanking God for spoiling us. … 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.
Clothing. Lúcia begins with an unexpected take on sacrifice in terms of clothing, which she said 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 prefer.
Dress modestly and decently. Don’t become a slave to the latest fashions. Refrain from fashions that don’t align with or agree with the virtues of modestly and decency. This is very important, Lúcia explains, “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.” In order to avoid these temptations, we must be ever cautious about what we see on television and movies, in ads and magazines.
Remember, when Jacinta was sick in Lisbon, it was revealed to her: “Fashions will much offend our Lord. People who serve God should not follow the fashions. The Church has no fashions. Our Lord is always the same.”
Lúcia again cautioned, “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 as alms to help those in need. We can opt for simple, less costly clothes over expensive ones.
Behavior. Don’t complain. Put up with little annoyances on our daily path. Maybe it’s an unpleasant word to us, or irritating or disagreeable. Or maybe it’s being passed over, ignored, forgotten or rejected.
No matter what it is, says Lúcia, just drop it. Offer it to God as a sacrifice. We must let these things 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.” Lúcia says “seem” because “in reality the one who prevails is the one who knows how to keep silent for the love of God. Cheerfully let others occupy the first places. Let them enjoy and take credit for the fruit of our labors, of our sacrifices … of things that have been taken from us.”
Lúcia even prompts us to go a step further. 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 to these people? “Let us repay them with a smile, a little kind deed done for them, a favor forgiving and loving, with our eyes fixed on God,” Lúcia taught. “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.”
Which brings us again to prayer to God, where we gain the grace and strength needed to make the sacrifices required of us in our daily lives. In doing so we fulfill the Fatima request 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.”
As we offer these things day by day, notice how our sacrifices lead to blessings for us too. Gluttony gives way to moderation and temperance. We advance in modesty, patience, perseverance, humility, endurance, hope and charity. The virtues grow — and we grow closer to God, with whom we will be happy forever in the next life.