Sunday, December 25, 2016

Simbang Gabi 4 (Fatima Centennial): Penance


The angel appeared to Zechariah and revealed to him God’s gift of a son. His son, John the Baptist, is to be the last prophet of the Old Testament whose role is to “prepare a people fit for the Lord.” This he shall do by preaching a baptism of repentance. He will be the voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. John’s preaching will be accompanied by a lifestyle of penance and prayer. The angel said: “He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.” The Lord Jesus himself will say: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘he is possessed by a demon.’” John the Baptist would feed on locusts and wild honey.

Similar to the life and message of John the Baptist, the most important aspects of the Fatima message are prayer and penitence (pagpapakasakit). “Would you like to offer yourselves to God, to accept all the sufferings which he may send you in reparation for the countless sins by which he is offended and in supplications for the conversions of sinners?” thus Our Lady asked the children on the first time they met. To her, Lucia consented, speaking for all three. Our Lady nodded her approval and said: “Then you will have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”

The place of penitence in the Fatima messages will only be understood in the light of sin as an offense against God. “Fatima discovers for us the true sense of sin; sin as an offense against God, as a negation of love, of adoration, of faith and of hope…The idea of the offense made to God by sin was engraved forever on the children’s minds, and it was this that prompted them to make so many sacrifices as reparation and expiation.  They wanted ‘to console our Lord.’ ‘Does he still remain so sad,’ Francisco would say, ‘I am so sorry that He is sad like this.’
“In the message of Fatima, sin exacts a temporal suffering that must be undergone on earth or in Purgatory, or eternal punishment for those who die as enemies of God…For the whole of their lives, the little seers made sacrifices for the conversion of sinners, in expiation and reparation for the sins of men.” (Cardinal Dofner, 1975)

The children were shown by Our Lady a vision of hell on July 13, 1917. Our Lady said to them: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go.” The vision of hell made a very strong impression on the children, most especially Jacinta.  Lucia said, “The vision of hell filled her with horror to such a degree that every penance and mortification was as nothing in her eyes, if it could only prevent souls from going there.” After seeing it, the three children undertook the most severe penances for the salvation of sinners. They wore a rope tightly round their waists, they gave their lunches to the poor, or even to their sheep; they did not drink during the furnace-like heat of August 1917.

The vision of hell would often move Jacinta to pray the prayer Our Lady taught them: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” She would say to her brother Francisco, “We must pray very much to save souls from hell. So many souls go there! So many!” Added to the message of penance, the message of Fatima requires a life of prayer, prayer understood as a personal and intimate conversation with God. The prayer of the message is a gratuitous prayer, that is to say, disinterested, not seeking personal advantage; but only for the conversion of sinners and for peace. The prayer of the message goes hand in hand with sacrifice. In the 2nd angelic apparition, the children were told: “Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. In every way you can, offer sacrifices in reparation for the sins which offend Him, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”

“The apparitions of the angel produced immediately in the seers a compelling need for silence. The silence of Fatima, a silence so desired by the little shepherds, is a call to encounter with God in grace and love. This is the 1st and the deepest meaning of the word penance in the message of Fatima, the anguished cry of the Mother delivered to all the children of the Church and to all of humanity. Fatima has sounded the call of universal metanoia, interior conversion, renewal, and the transfiguration of the sons of men into children of God.”

As we hear today of the vocation of St. John the Baptist, let our reflection of the message of Fatima bring us into the wilderness of prayer and penance. Let the constant cry of penitence save us from our frantic rush along the broad road of having, of unbridled enjoying, that leads fatally to the abyss of destruction. Let the messages of Fatima lead us back to our interior home, to the most intimate depths of our inner selves where the great transfigurations take place. Like the prodigal son who “entered into himself” (Luke 15:17), we shall recognize our tattered condition, our wasted self, and thereby come to the saving decision: “I will rise and return to my Father’s house.”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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