Tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which commemorates the visits Mary paid to three shepherd children – Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta – in Portugal in 1917. During her visits with them, the Blessed Mother warned them about the world’s state, the consequences of unrepented sin, and what would happen if people continued to offend God. She also communicated concrete actions the faithful can take to change the trajectory of the world. Even though these visions occurred at a specific time in history, the message of Fatima is still relevant today, and it is even more dire than when it was first presented. Therefore, it is a good idea to reexamine Fatima’s message through the lens of our current times and learn how to engage in some of the battles we see going on around us today.

During Mary’s visit with the children on July 13, 1917, she gave them a brief vision of hell. The vision was so terrifying that witnesses reported the children screaming and crying out. Here is Lucia’s description of the vision:

As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the fames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.

Lucia reported that they probably would have died of fright had Mary not already assured them they would be going to heaven. If they had already been assured of their salvation, why were children shown this terrible place? The vision was not given to the children for their own sake but because it was the foundation for the rest of the message. Through them, Mary was communicating that hell is real, is eternal, and that many souls were going there as a result of the profound sin in the world. There is motivation in knowing the consequences of what can happen when you don’t listen and take action.

It’s an unavoidable fact that humans are broken and we all sin. Scripture tells us that even good people sin, saying, “Though the just fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble from only one mishap (Proverbs 24:16).” So, if even the just person can fall seven times, how is it possible for anyone to go to heaven? The answer is in how a person responds to one’s sins. The soul on the path to heaven recognizes his or her sin, understands the offense it causes God, experiences conversion, repents of the sin, offers reparation for the damage done, and strives to do better. The soul on the path to hell does not recognize the offense to God, is unrepentant, and persists in whatever sins the person is unwilling to change. While the concept is simple, it is hardly easy because we are still human, and Satan and his demons work very hard to tempt us every day. Because the Blessed Mother loves us as a mother does, the heart of her message is to call us all to conversion, giving us practical advice on how to do that to spare us a tragic and painful eternity. Mary provides us with more reason for joyful hope when she tells us that not only can we affect change in ourselves by taking action, but we can also affect change in others and even the entire world because we are all interconnected members of the body of Christ. The two keys are prayer and penance.

Prayer is a powerful weapon and arguably one that needs to be utilized more. When we ask God for help, he will help as a loving father does. It is not always in the way we may expect, or according to the timeline we desire, but whether we recognize it or not, he is dispensing his grace and mercy and assisting us when we ask. Therefore, when we are struggling with a particular sin and continue to stumble, it is advantageous for us to call upon the Lord for help because it is only through his grace, not our own strength, that things can really start to change. Furthermore, Mary tells us to pray for other souls and the world to help facilitate additional conversion from sin. If you look around and wonder why our world is worsening, you can be sure that people are not praying enough for anything to change. Imagine for a moment the entire world falling to its knees and calling out to God for his grace and mercy. The results would be indescribable.

The second key to conversion is penance. Penance “makes satisfaction for or expiates our sins” (CCC #1459). It recognizes the harm sin causes and allows us to participate in repairing the damage. We do this by offering our sufferings back to God for the conversion of sinners and by choosing to make sacrifices to increase the suffering, if even just a little, in honoring the suffering Jesus offered for us on the cross. Mary said to the children:

Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make any sacrifice:

O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Again, if you look at the world around you, it is not difficult to see that there is little intentional self-sacrifice, as self-indulgence only increases.

One of the biggest reasons we are not seeing much prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners is that fewer and fewer people believe in God, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the reality of eternal life. If there is no God to care, what is the point of praying or offering sacrifice? This means it is up to those of us who do believe to increase our prayer and sacrifice even more to bridge the gap and make up for those who lack faith. It may seem unjust, but remember that your eternal reward will increase and that you will see souls in heaven who would not have been able to get there without your help. I imagine the heavenly reunion of sinners will be quite a sight, and no one will be keeping score at that point.

This week, think about your life and how you can incrementally increase your prayer and penance in your regular day-to-day activities. When each of us offers even small sacrifices, they can add up to an abundance of mercy and grace, so be encouraged that the smallest things matter. Prior to Mary’s visits with the children, the Angel of Peace came to prepare them, and he taught them to say this prayer: My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee! I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee. Memorize this prayer, join it to your sacrifices, and say it as many times as possible for the conversion of the world.

Click to pray the Fatima Chaplet of Reparation and Adoration.

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