On Wednesday, May 13, the Church Universal celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. This year’s observance at the apparition site in Fatima, Portugal, will be a virtual pilgrimage. Yet, what a wonderful opportunity to participate in an event one might not have been part of, since people can join in it wherever they are in the world!
This ability to be present at events or places that I might not have ever thought of seeing or of partaking in is to me one of the great blessings of the livestreaming that is taking place in this time of pandemic. Sadly, there are those who feel that we are less of a Church today because we have not been able to gather together physically for prayer and worship. However, I feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has given the Catholic Church an even greater platform to evangelize; that is, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the importance of the Church and its teachings and practices. It has challenged us in our outreach to parishioners and the community at large to bring faith, hope, and love to a sickened world.
For so long, both clergy and laity alike may have just taken the Church for granted and gotten into a comfortable rut with the expectation that all was well or at least tolerable in our spiritual life. The events of the last 80+ days have jarred our comfort levels and routines and invite us to consider what is of real importance in our lives and why. Some of us might wonder, could not an apparition of our Lord or of the Blessed Mother or another saint have had the same effect? Yet such things have happened in the world — and have they really made a difference to you and me?
I think of the vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, which is one of the more familiar Marian apparitions, and its call to prayer and repentance. How many of us have really paid attention to it? We might recall the famous “Three Secrets” to Sister Lucia; or the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917; or the names of the other children visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco, but has this occurrence really left an impression on us? How much is the rosary a part of our prayer life?
Jesus’ encounter with the human family left an impression on him in the form of his wounded hands and feet and side. These wounds would be visible even after his resurrection from the dead because he took our woundedness upon himself. Interestingly, even those holy men and women who shared Christ’s stigmata (wounds) in life on earth had them disappear when they died (e.g., Padre Pio, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis of Assisi, etc.). Such physical transformation by sharing in the living, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ begs the question of you and me, “What difference does my relationship with Christ Jesus have in my life, and in turn, in the lives of others, especially those around me?” Maybe another way we could ask this question is, “What impression do I make on those I encounter in life?”
Next Thursday, we will celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, the 40th day of the Easter Season. What I often reflect on this day is the question posed to the disciples gathered: “Why are you standing there looking up at the sky” (Acts 2:11)? In my own thoughts, I think of the times I cast my eyes to the heavens in the daytime or to the night sky and see great beauty. Yet, I recall too the occasions when I cast my eyes someplace else to avoid God’s creation nearest to me.
Again, as I write at this particular time in human history, I can’t help but wonder what message God wants us to get. Reform our lives… Yes! Repent of our sins, of our selfishness… Yes! Love our neighbor as ourselves… Yes! But ultimately for me, it comes down to words that Jesus spoke to his disciples after washing their feet in what have come to be known as the “Last Supper Discourses” in the Gospel of John: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (14:23).
For me, the ultimate significance of the pilgrimage you and I have been on since mid-March is whether God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has found a place within us to dwell in a more real and substantial way. Have these days made a real impression in our lives or have we been all talk, all opinion, leaving little room for God or neighbor?
I am reminded of the lyrics of the song “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs, which speak of the miracle of the month of May and end with this line: “Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.” In this month of apparitions directing us to new heights, may you and I not forget their message of where God wants to dwell most with us: right here and right now!
“Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home shed a ray of light divine! Come, Father of the poor! Come source of all our store! Come within our bosoms shine… Amen. Alleluia” (Pentecost Sequence).