When I turn my calendar to the month of May, I am reminded about the Marian traditions that are associated with May. In my family home and during my Catholic school years, May was Mary’s month. At home and school, we decorated May Altars in honor of our Blessed Mother. We participated eagerly in the honored tradition of the annual school May Crowning. Inevitably, the Sisters recounted the apparitions of our Blessed Mother, especially at Lourdes and Fatima. We all knew the stories of Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France, and of Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia from Fatima, Portugal.
Pope Francis plans to visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s appearances at Fatima and canonize two Portuguese shepherd children who saw the visions of the Virgin Mary. The Marto siblings, Francisco and Jacinta, died of pneumonia two years after the apparitions. Lucia, the third child to see the Virgin, died in 2005. Recently, Portuguese church officials turned over testimony and documentation to the Vatican for review to determine if Lucia can be declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue, the first step in the canonization process.
The Blessed Mother appeared six times to the three children between May 13 and October 13, 1917. For many of us of a certain age, the story of Fatima includes the miracle of the “dancing sun” and the “three secrets” passed on to the children by our Blessed Mother. More important than these considerations, however, is the message Our Lady delivered: She encouraged prayer, especially the rosary, and conversion through sacrifice and penance.
The message of Fatima “is a call to faith, a call to conversion, and to peace and hope. … The Pope goes to Fatima to remind today’s men and women of those four calls that we should never forget; if we want to live in peace, we have to live as brothers and sisters. … Our Lady prophesied wars and persecutions and a wounded Church because of sin. Yet she also conveyed a message of hope, because God does not abandon the world” (Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints). The message of Fatima is a message of God’s providential care for us through the Immaculate Heart of His mother. When we remain close to her maternal heart, she brings us to her Son. In Him, we find the fullness of life and hope.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, we recall the words of Pope Francis: “Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima, with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed. … Guard our life with your embrace: bless and strengthen every desire for good; give new life and nourishment to faith; sustain and enlighten hope; awaken and animate charity; guide us all on the path to holiness” (Act of Entrustment to Mary, October 13, 2013).
May is also the month of our earthly mothers. I think it is fitting that Mother’s Day occurs during May when nature celebrates new life. A mother shelters life in her womb, gives birth, cares for and guides her offspring from infancy to adulthood, and continues to provide love and support throughout their lifetime. For many of us, our mothers played a key role in our faith development. They awakened us to the sense of God and guided our first steps in prayer. They helped to develop our moral consciences and formed us in a true awareness of human love, understood as a reflection of God’s love. From them we learned the first lessons in trust, in faith, and in being open toward one another.
Motherhood is a treasure. We remember in prayer our mothers living and deceased. May this Mother’s Day be an occasion to express our gratitude to the mothers who brought us into this world and to our Blessed Mother who watches over us and accompanies us our journey of life and faith.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.