These days, I don’t do much driving, and so I listen to the radio very, very rarely. But in the last few weeks, it seems any time I happen to be in the car long enough to turn on Catholic radio, I’ve inevitably heard somebody talking about the 100th anniversary of Fatima, which Catholics will celebrate this year.
For those not keen to the Fatima story, in 1917, in a small village in Portugal, a mysterious woman made a series of apparitions to three young children as they were tending their flocks. The children, Lucia (age 10), Francisco (age 9) and Jacinta (age 7) were actually visited by this woman and an angel a few years before, but after immediately telling their family about the apparition, they were laughed at and their story was rejected as childish imaginings.
By 1917, they were able to maintain some secrecy and to follow instructions. In due time, the woman, who they said was robed in white and shining with a beautiful purity, who would later call herself Our Lady of the Rosary. She was from heaven, and had selected these three children to be the bearers of an important message. To borrow a line from Venerable Fulton Sheen, divinity seems to always be where you least expect it. And so it was with Fatima.
There are a ton of great books on the subject, but the best resource in my mind is the memoirs of Lucia, who later became Sister Lucia. Her account is available under the title “Fatima In Lucia’s Own Words.” The book can be purchased at Amazon, but is also available in PDF format for free
There are a lot of fascinating pieces to the revelations at Fatima, but my main concern here is the simple request Mary made to the children. In her words to the them, she asked, among other things, for them to pray the Rosary, and to do so every day. In fact, during the first apparition, Lucia asked if she and her friends would go to heaven. Mary replied that they all would join her in heaven, but that Francisco would have to say many Rosaries in order to get there.
I’ve had reason lately to do quite a bit of work and study on the apparitions at Fatima, and while I’m generally not one who generally gets super interested in private revelations (even approved ones), the experience of reading Lucia’s memoirs was a life-changing experience.
You see, personally, I haven’t had much success with praying the Rosary for most of my life. In high school, during a particularly intense tornado when we were all gathered in the hall for safety, a friend and I tried to pray the Rosary and we were so clueless we prayed groups of 10 Our Fathers and 1 Hail Mary. I never memorized the Hail Holy Queen prayer til I was in the seminary. Even then, I was busy learning the Liturgy of the Hours and going to Mass every day, so despite learning the basic prayers in Latin, the Rosary took a back seat.
Numerous times, I’ve decided “Okay, that’s it. I’m just going to pray the Rosary every day.” But I would always fizzle out. After reading Sister Lucia’s account, though, I finally was able to stick with it. To be sure, sometimes I might forget if I have a particularly long day or wake up later than I planned to. But for the last six months I’ve prayed the Rosary at least 5 times a week, and I can say it’s been the best prayer decision I’ve ever made in my life.
What helped to change me was essentially two major epiphanies. First, I realized that while not everyone is called to any particular form of prayer, there is something very universal about the Rosary. That is, it’s not like the Liturgy of the Hours where it takes a huge time commitment, and involves a fair amount of education to understand. The Rosary by its very nature is simple, and the repetition involved in it is meant to give us some time to really meditate on the mysteries of Christ’s life. If three young children could be asked by Mary to pray the Rosary every day, perhaps I ought not think that I need some more sophisticated prayer.
Secondly, the pure fact of Mary coming to ask us to pray, when I thought of it as a mother asking her children to do a simple task, really hit me in a profound way. Perhaps that’s because, as a parent, I often ask my children to do things that I know will benefit them, but which I know they’re not going to want to do. I struggle to get them to go to sleep, to eat their food, to put their toys away, to be nice to each other, etc. But I never am going to stop asking. I will keep pleading and asking them, showing them a better way.
Mary’s words at Fatima speak of how God has been so very hurt by the hardness of men’s hearts, how sacrilege was spreading and respect for the Eucharist was waning. She asks the children to pray the Rosary as a particular way of helping to turn around not only their own lives, but as a way of converting others. What really fascinated me about the whole story of Fatima, though, is how the three young children took so seriously this responsibility to pray. They didn’t see it as a burden for that was only for their own benefit; they saw it as a way of helping others and saving souls who didn’t even know to pray.
So, if you haven’t yet set any spiritual goals for the new year, or if you did and they were just way too difficult, please consider trying the Rosary. Mary did ask us to pray it and, having finally tried it for a few months, I can’t recommend it highly enough.