Today, the Church finishes the Octave of Christmas with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
And as we all know, like any good and caring Mother, Mary is still very much involved in our lives — the lives of her children.
She cares for us and provides for us, even as she cared for and provided for the baby Jesus, lying helplessly there in the manger. And because she loves us with a love that is so full of divine grace, she has chosen to appear to us over the course of many centuries, out of a deep concern that we as a Church stay on the path to Heaven.
The path to her Son.
One of the most astonishing and most famous examples of these visits has to be her series of apparitions in Fatima, Portugal just over 100 years ago in the year 1917.
I’ll be sharing more about this beautiful story of Fatima and how it impacts us today starting this morning (the first Saturday of the month) and continuing over the course of the next four consecutive First Saturdays, as part of a particular devotion Our Lady of Fatima herself requested that we pray.
Part of the Fatima story that is perhaps less well known, however, is that before Our Lady ever appeared to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco — those three little shepherd children — an angel was first sent to prepare the way for Mary, the Mother of God.
In Spring of 1916 — the children reported seeing a beautiful Angel appeared to them — an angel filled with light and beauty.
“Do not be afraid.” The angel said. “I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.”
Again, just as in the gospel we heard today, an angel came with beautiful news… to shepherds! This time, three little shepherd children in the little town of Fatima, Portugal.
Isn’t that beautiful? God’s grace often rhymes!
And just like those Shepherds of Bethlehem on Christmas night — who after the Angel announced the coming of Christ, went and “made known the message,” the Three Shepherd Children of Fatima were also about to be entrusted with a great message from Our Lady for the entire world.
A message of peace!
God always promises us peace when we are in union with Him and His Son Jesus.
That first reading we heard from the book of Numbers happens to be how the Old Testament priests were instructed to offer blessings to the Israelites:
“The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!”
“So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them,” says the Lord.
Over and over, God pursues His people, and looks to bless them with peace. The prophet Isaiah said that the future messiah would be Prince of Peace. Micah also said that “he shall be peace.” St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said: “Jesus is Himself our peace.” When Jesus is raised from the dead, the first word out of his mouth is: Peace.
The Angels sang a hymn of glory after sharing good news to the Shepherds about the birth of Christ — “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE to people of good will.” We sing this same song almost every Sunday of the year!
Why? Because as our Gospel recounted: “All who heard [this message] were amazed.” We are amazed by our God, who comes to give us peace in Jesus Christ, His Beloved Son.
All who heard… were amazed.
The same would be true for Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco — All who heard their message were amazed. Some people responded with derision and skepticism. Some reacted even with violent rejection!
But many listened with faith burning in their hearts! Millions of people have heard — through the witness of these three little kids — the Voice of Heaven urging them on to holiness, to redemptive suffering, and to a deep peace the world could never offer.
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
This verse in the gospel of Luke gets repeated several times. And it reveals something profound about Our Lady, the Holy Mother of God.
It reveals that Her heart keeps things. It receives things. It is… vulnerable to things. The word vulnerable means — wound-able! To be wound-able means above all, to be available and receptive. Mary savors and cherishes the beautiful, true, and good things that God reveals to Her and she receives them into herself — heart, mind, and will. Her Heart is a sanctuary within which the Light of God can dwell safely and be forever contemplated.
In fact, she is so wound-able, so available, so receptive — that the Word could take up residence in her womb. God Himself could take flesh within Her!
But we must also remember — that this glorious fact about Mary’s Heart — that it can “keep things” and “receive things” — also brings with it great suffering.
Because the fact of the matter is that she also keeps and ponders all of the atrocities and offenses we commit against God. She sees how dark and forlorn our fallen world is, and her Immaculate Heart grows sorrowful.
Because her Heart loves her children so much!
She sees with terrible clarity how we offend God by our pride and resentment. Our envy and greed. Our judgmentalism and our lusts.
An indifferent heart, a heart hardened by apathy and self-love — would not be wounded by the darkness in others. It is never pierced by the spiritual sickness in those around us. It doesn’t care… It doesn’t love.
Think about your own heart.
How often we wander through life, focused only on what affects us, and our plans and our desires?
Our hearts are so often hard and unyielding. We try hard NOT to keep things there. We do our best to keep things at arms length. We try NOT to be “wound-able.” We do our best to be impervious. Buffered against anything that could hurt us or upset us.
But even so, our hearts are wounded. In each of our lives, there have been events, encounters, addictions, betrayals, and sins that we keep deep in our hearts, whether we like to admit them or not. Whether we ask the Lord for healing and freedom or not…
But Mary’s Heart — Her Immaculate Heart — gives us hope.
Because she opens her Heart up to us and says: “I’ve kept all these things here. I’ve kept YOU here. Let me be your Mother!”
That’s at the heart of the Fatima apparitions — a loving Mother who begs an indifferent world to pray and offer sacrifice for those who don’t care about God anymore. Who have sinned grievously against God and against their compassionate Mother’s stainless Heart.
In one apparition, she says to the three children: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say often, especially when you make some sacrifice, “O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Will we listen to our Mother’s plea? Will we keep these things, these words from a concerned, and deeply affected Mother in our hearts?
That’s what the Five First Saturdays devotion, which we begin together as a parish today, is ultimately for — On the first Saturday of every month, we offer ourselves, our own hearts — weak and broken as they are — in reparation for all of the sins of the world.
We offer reparation especially for the offenses against our pure, and all-loving Mother — the Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The instructions for this devotion, given to Lucia of Fátima from Mary herself, are pretty simple:
First — We come together in worship for the Holy Mass on the First Saturday of Five consecutive months, receiving Holy Communion as an act of reparation for all the terrible sins and offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This intention is key!
Second — We are asked to make a good, sincere Confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation shortly before or after the First Saturday, again with the express intention of offering up reparation. We have Confessions scheduled later today from 3:30 until 5, and then again on Monday directly following daily Mass at noon. Either of these opportunities would work to meet this request from Our Lady!
Third — We are to pray five decades of the rosary, again with that same intention, on the First Saturday itself. Many of you prayed a rosary already this morning!
Fourth — We are asked to meditate on the Mysteries of the Rosary for at least 15 minutes. I’ll be offering this meditation shortly after Mass for those interested in completing this component of the devotion together.
When we humbly obey and listen to Our Mother, God’s grace is unleashed in our world, and sinners hearts are converted. We can believe and trust this is true. In fact, our personal act of faith is mysteriously connected with whether or not real conversions and real transformations take place. Do you have faith that can move mountains? That can melt hardened hearts?
Our Lady of Fatima’s words are clear: “Pray, pray much, and sacrifice for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice and pray for them.”
Imagine! You can help someone be saved today, the very first day of the year 2022. That is amazing.
So on this Solemnity of the Mother of God, let us turn confidently to Our Lord, thanking Him for His love and His mercy for us poor sinners. He is so good to us. We can’t help but pray the words of the Holy Angels at His birth:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”