(This talk was originally delivered on April 29th, 2017.)
What you do not need from me this evening is to recount and summarize the actual sequence of events as they occurred at Fatima. Having just viewed the movie, you have a fairly good idea about it.
My purpose this evening, then, is twofold. I would like to situate the events and message of Fatima into the wider historical context; and second, to explain how these same events and this same message relate to the Catholic faith we live. I take this approach by way of an answer to an implicit criticism: namely, that Fatima is irrelevant. And this criticism is not an invented one. Sadly, the events and message of Fatima are not well known even among Catholics. And yet secondly, where Fatima is known, it is sometimes treated with a certain distain or skepticism, as if were some pious quirk. (Once again, I suspect nobody here is a skeptic.) But by the end of the evening, I hope to have conveyed that the message of Fatima is not a useless ornament to Catholic life, but that it is very worthy of our belief, that it is something to be taken with the utmost seriousness and readiness.
II. Of Fatima and History
First, Fatima as it relates to world history. There is no way to exhaust this point in so short a space as we have. And to do this, I am going to rely heavily on an excellent article I happened upon by the Italian historian Roberto de Mattei. I begin by quoting him to set the tone for how we ought to begin to think about our Lady of Fatima:
The first element to emphasize is that we are speaking here about historical facts. The apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, between May 13th and October 13th 1917, are an objective historical fact, not a subjective religious experience of Our Lady appearing to the three little shepherds. The Fatima apparitions were events that happened in a precise place at a particular moment in history. . . . Events verified by thousands of witnesses and a thorough canonical investigation, which ended in 1930.
Objective historical fact. Precise moments of history. Concrete events. Not subjective religious experience. Let all that ring in your ears for a moment.
But if that be true, then we might well follow-up with the question: why 1917? What significance could this date possibly have? Why did our Lady choose to appear then? To answer that question, I refer back to the article we’ve just been quoting. The author relates two other years ending in seventeen to the year of the apparitions: 1517 and 1717.
October 31st, 1517 was the date on which Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. This was the Shot Heard Round the World of what would eventually be called the Protestant Reformation. As a result, Christian life in the West would be torn asunder; religious and political orders would be shattered. Two-hundred years later, in June of 1717, the Grand Masonic Lodge of London was founded. Modern Freemasonry began. A study of the history of the French Revolution would reveal to us to full import of this event. Suffice it to say (and to say it almost too simply) the Masonic lodges were the breeding ground for many ideas that run directly contrary to the truth about God, man, and life in society.
1917 itself was a significant year. Our historian reminds us of a series of events that were taking place in 1917. First, certainly, was the First World War. The world was engaged in a complicated web of conflict, waged with the violence and destruction the likes of which had never before been seen. By the time of the armistice, some 18 million were dead. As if that were not bad enough, in April of 1917 Lenin was sent by the Germans into Russia in order to sow the seeds of Bolshevism. In January of 1917, Leon Trotsky came to the United States and, not long after, would return to Russia with an American passport and backed by American financiers to advance the revolution in Russia. We are not about to summarize the entire history of the Russian Revolution. But on October 26th 1917—thirteen days after the thirteenth of October, on which occurred the Miracle of the Sun—the Winter Palace was occupied and the Revolution had begun.
Why mention all this? Because we are dealing with far more than a list of historical accidents. These dates and events—and many others we cannot detail here—represent the foundation of so many other revolutions that would affect the modern period. It is not merely the story of warfare and Communism, but the story of a cascading procession of errors, which affect us to this day. Revolutionary ideas would spread to the sciences, like literature, history, psychology, philosophy, and theology. This matters, because ideas have consequences; action is founded upon principle. Our Lady understands this very well. And so, when we view Fatima in the context of history—which it makes no sense not to do—we see its full import. Russia and her conversion are indeed associated with the Secrets of Fatima; these are not unimportant. But it would be incorrect to fixate on them and thereby trammel the full power and scope of our Lady’s appeal. We ought to understand it in this way: our Lady’s message is not the interpretive key to the Communist Revolution or to this or that historical event; rather, events like the Revolution help us to understand the full import of her message. (That is, it is not that our Lady comes to say, “Let me help you make sense out of Communism;” but rather, “Return to my Son, so that you may be spared Communism.”)
Since the Protestant Revolution of 1517, an immense network of error and persecution has been building against the true Faith. But our Lady appeared in 1917, when the gloom of the modern period was gathering—indeed, it had already gathered. As de Mattei says, “Fatima directly opposes 1917, 1717 and 1517.” Dear friends, we need her presence now in 2017 as we have never needed it before.
III. Fatima: the Way of Tradition and Reparation
Now, second: Fatima as it relates to our spiritual life. First, it is important to understand that Fatima adds nothing to our lived Catholic faith—that is nothing in the sense that our Lady proposes to us some new way. There is nothing novel, nothing discontinuous with what the Faith is at its heart. And this is the central point of our Lady’s message: she calls us to a return. You heard her words dramatized in the movie this evening: that the loving Father is saddened by mankind’s flight from Himself; that therefore the world must return to Him, for the time is short. A rejection of sin, and a return to belief; there is nothing more fundamental to the Catholic faith. The Gospel itself bears witness: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God’s kingdom: The appointed time has come, he said, and the kingdom of God is near at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
But what does this return look like in practice? To quote another very reliable source on all things related to Fatima:
This is what Fatima is first of all: the most urgent reminder ever that the true religion that pleases God and saves souls, is indeed this traditional religion, still faithfully lived in the beginning of the century in many regions, where Christendom remained very much alive.
The traditional religion: it is really that simple—a return to what the Church has always taught; a return to how the Church has always prayed; a return to the way of life that the Church has always kept. We live in an age consumed by the hunt after novelty, and there is much talk of adapting Catholic truth in order to suit the tastes and comforts of the world. But our Lady comes with a message of great simplicity, as if she says to us: “Do not exhaust yourselves in the pursuit of something new; return to God in the way you already know how. Simply return to him.” This is why, for instance, the message of Fatima often appeals quite readily to traditionally minded Catholics. Our Lady comes with urgency to give aid to the good and graced instinct that serious Catholics often have.
But what practices are associated with our Lady’s appeal? They could not be simpler: the Holy Rosary and the spirit of reparation. Because of time constraints, I would like to leave aside for the moment extended comment on the Rosary, except to remind you of its worthiness. The Rosary speaks for itself in many ways. It contains all prayer, all mysteries. There are many forms of traditional prayer, all of them good. But our Lady has elevated the Rosary to a place of prominence. Please heed her call.
Reparation is not a word we often hear used today, and this is unfortunate. In a word, reparation simply refers to doing penance and making sacrifice as a way to bring about and solidify our purification from sin. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the salvation of world. When we live a sacramental life, and when we offer sacrifices according to our ability and state in life, then we enjoy the benefits of that Cross, and spread those benefits to the world. It is what St Paul means in that mysterious line from Colossians: “I am glad of my sufferings on your behalf, as, in this mortal frame of mine, I help to pay off the debt which the afflictions of Christ still leave to be paid”—“to fill up what is lacking,” as other translations say—“for the sake of his body, the Church.”
I do not think this spiritual attitude is very common today, and this is precisely why we need Fatima to remind us. The reparation that our Lady proposes is not some kind of morbid self-righteousness, but the highest expression of love of neighbor. We pray and do penance for sinners, not so as to put ourselves at a distance from them—for in praying for sinners we pray for ourselves—but so that we might have their company. We want every man, woman, and child to find the sure path back to God, and that pathway is through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. This is what we mean when we pray: “Oh my Jesus, forgives us our sins: save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy.”
IV. Conclusion: Maria Semper Maior
There is a phrase we use in theology: Deus semper maior. ‘God is always greater.’ As we end, we can adapt the phrase: Maria semper maior. The splendor of our Lady is always greater than we can imagine. Perhaps the most difficult part about seeing movies like the one you saw this evening is that we run the risk of trivializing. Movies about Fatima are by their nature difficult to produce: how does a director really depict the Miracle of Sun in any adequate way? It simply can’t be done.
And when we contemplate the Miracle of the Sun, consider this—how sad it is indeed that we would require so grand a miracle to heed the message of the Gospel. As we said earlier, the message of Fatima fits so easily and simply into the essence of Catholic life: why should there have been such unbelief and resistance? To be sure, none of us here can easily imagine being the recipient of such wonderful graces—but that is quite another thing than dismissing the possibility that such things should occur. For our part, we do well to offer our credence and devotion now, though we have seen no miracles
We see how Fatima speaks to human history; we see how Fatima speaks to our personal history. In the end, our Lady bids us to adopt a preeminently supernatural view of life. Our spiritual life will be alive and well if we are open to the fact that God is the primary mover of all things, and that his influence can break out at any moment and affect us, that is, draw us to himself. In truth, this happens at every moment. We call it the work of grace; it proceeds according to his benevolent Providence. (As a theological aside, it is why he has left us the priesthood and the Sacraments.)
This evening we have left out any mention of the Secrets associated with Fatima, if only for want of time. But as we said earlier: the message of Fatima reminds us of the urgency of our life today. I would like to end with an urgent question of my own. Since 1917, can we say that things have improved in the world? Our Lady did not come to make us fearful, but fervent; not alarmed, but faithful. Please God we may belong to her.
 Cf http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2017/03/de-mattei-shedding-light-on-todays.html . A lecture given at the The Cosmos Club, Washington, on 27 March 2017.
 Cf The Whole Truth About Fatima, vol 3: the Secret and the Church, Michel de la Sainte Trinité, (Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989), p 444.
 Mk 1:14-15, Knox translation.
 Cf The Whole Truth About Fatima, vol 1: Science and the Facts, Michel de la Sainte Trinité, (Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989), p 30.
 Cf Martin Mosebach, “Return to Form,” at https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/04/return-to-form ; accessed 27 April 2017: “This is one of the constants of church history, and it characterizes every unusual spiritual effort, indeed, every true reform, for true reform consists of putting on the bridle, of returning to a stricter order.”
 Namely, the RSV. The Douai-Rheims has, “fill up those things that are wanting.”
 Col 1:24, Knox translation.