The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades to the diocesan pilgrims in Fatima on Sunday, July 30, on their journey to World Youth Day in Lisbon:
What a blessing that we begin our World Youth Day pilgrimage here in Fatima! We come to this holy place where our Blessed Mother appeared to the three shepherd children, embraced them with her love, and entrusted them with an important message for the world, for the Church, and for each one of us on our life’s journey. Fatima is a place of pilgrimage which millions of people visit each year. Many lives have been changed through their experience of our Blessed Mother’s love and through the example and the intercession of Saints Francisco and Jacinta, and of the recently-declared Venerable, Sister Lucia. Here and throughout the world, people encounter Our Lord’s grace, mercy, and love through and within Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. I hope and pray that our pilgrimage here today will bear much fruit, not only as a preparation for World Youth Day in Lisbon, but throughout our lives.
I encourage you to bring your prayer intentions to the Lord through Mary today here in Fatima. In the first reading today, we heard God inviting King Solomon in a dream to ask something of Him and promised that He would answer his request. Humbly, Solomon asked God to grant him “an understanding heart to judge (His) people and to distinguish rights from wrong.” The king could have asked for many other things. He could have selfishly asked for riches or for a long life or for victory over his enemies. No, he asked for an understanding heart so that he would govern his kingdom as God willed.
King Solomon recognized that he was God’s servant – his number one priority was to serve God faithfully. There is a very human, but sinful, temptation to put ourselves at the center of everything, to live selfishly, to make money or material things, like our smart phones, the focus of our lives, our first priority. Doing so does not make us truly happy. We are left unfulfilled.
King Solomon got it right – he put God and His will first in asking for an understanding heart. Speaking of which, here at the apparitions of Fatima, we learn about the most understanding heart any human person ever possessed – the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the most pure heart of the Queen of heaven and earth, the compassionate and merciful heart that was totally synchronized with the heart of the King of the Universe, the Sacred Heart of her Son, Jesus. God granted King Solomon an understanding heart. He granted Mary the most beautiful heart by preserving her from the stain of sin and making her truly full of grace.
Mary’s heart is full of love for God and for all people. It is full of love for you and me. She is truly our Blessed Mother – she desires to comfort us with her maternal love. At the same time, she wants our hearts also to be filled with love for God and for others. She teaches us this love, just like she taught the children of Fatima. To be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to embrace Mary’s attitude of heart, her total dedication to God and His will.
The center of Mary’s life choices was her “fiat” – her faith-filled response to God at the Annunciation: “Let it be done to me according to your will.” This was the secret of her heart – her loving obedience to God. This obedience changed the history of the world because it resulted in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The “fiat” that she spoke with her mouth came from her heart, and thanks to her, the Savior came into the world, Jesus, her Son. God Himself took a human heart and, in His humanity, conquered sin and overcame death.
Mary was and is an integral part of this story of salvation. She cooperated fully in it, even to the foot of the cross. Mary kept in her heart all the mysteries of the life of her Son. She invites us to do also by praying the rosary where we meditate on these mysteries. Here in Fatima, she identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary and she requested of the children and of us that we pray the rosary. Why? Because it deepens our bond with Jesus through her. The rosary helps us to know God more deeply and to become more like Jesus and Mary, to grow in holiness.
Mary’s Immaculate Heart appears or is referred to in the three apparitions of the angel to the children and also in several apparitions of Mary to the children. The Heart of Mary is presented in union with the Heart of Jesus. Mary’s heart is always united to the heart of her Son. The angel said to the children: “The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” He also said to them: “The Heart of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you.” And he taught the children to pray for the conversion of poor sinners through the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In Mary’s first apparition to the children on May 13, 1917, she asked them: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He will to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” They answered “yes.” Our Lady replied: “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.” As we know, the children did suffer. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was their refuge in the midst of their sufferings.
The appearances of the angel and of Mary transformed the three children. They were surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from the Blessed Mother. They were filled with His love. God’s light penetrated their hearts, their interior lives. Their lives were changed forever. Immersed in that light, little Francisco saw how sad Jesus was because of the sins committed against Him. As a result, Francisco became focused in his short life on consoling Jesus and making Him happy. He devoted himself to prayer and to sacrifices for sinners. God’s light also penetrated little Jacinta’s heart. She felt and personally experienced Our Lady’s anguish and offered herself heroically as a victim for sinners, enduring much suffering for the conversion of sinners. By God’s grace, these two young children reached the heights of perfection because they learned from the Immaculate Heart of Mary to devote themselves with total generosity to the Lord: to make reparation for the sins that offend Him.
When they made sacrifices, Venerable Lucia and Saints Francisco and Jacinta prayed with the words Our Lady taught them: “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.” Reparation is an act of love. It is to participate in Christ’s work of redemption, the reconciliation of humanity with God, the building up of God’s Kingdom, and overcoming evil with good, and the reconciliation of humanity with God. Our Lady calls us as she called the shepherd children to take up the mantle of reparation by our prayers and sacrifices, especially the prayer of the holy rosary and the First Saturday Devotion.
In today’s second reading from his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote: “Brothers and sisters: we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” It’s quite an assertion that Saint Paul makes – that all things work for good for those who love God. We can think – well, I love God, but bad things happen in my life. Yes, bad things can happen: tragedies and sufferings. We see this in the lives of the children of Fatima – they experienced mockery, ridicule, and rejection. Saints Jacinta and Francisco suffered and died young due to the Spanish flu epidemic. But because they loved God, all things worked for good – for others who learned from them and benefited from their prayers and sacrifices, and for themselves since they are now in the glory of heaven! Think of Jesus and His passion and crucifixion. All worked out for good – the salvation of the human race and His resurrection from the dead. So, all human pain and suffering, united with that of Christ, and endured for the love of God and others bears good fruit.
God is always with us in our suffering and so is Mary. That is what brought such beautiful comfort to the shepherd children in their suffering. They loved God. Pope Benedict XVI once said: “The Lady who came from heaven, the Teacher who introduced the little seers to a deep knowledge of the love of the Blessed Trinity and led them to savor God himself as the most beautiful reality of human existence. This experience of grace made them fall in love with God in Jesus.” Yes, Our Lady here in Fatima helped the children to experience God as the most beautiful reality of human existence, and, as Sister Angela wrote in her wonderful book titled “Inside the Light”: this is what Our Lady wants to do with each one of us: to experience God as the most beautiful reality of our lives.
Isn’t this what today’s Gospel parables of Jesus teach us? The man who found the treasure buried in the field and out of joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. And the merchant who was searching for fine pearls and found the pearl of great price. He too sold all he had to buy that pearl. Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth every sacrifice. The treasure or pearl is actually Christ Himself, who offers us His love and friendship. This is what our Blessed Mother led the shepherd children to discover. They fell in love with God in Jesus. They offered their whole lives to Him and shared their lives with others, including sinners, out of love for God.
May Our Lady of Fatima, our Blessed Mother and our Queen, plant in our hearts the love of God and others that burns in her Immaculate Heart! And let us continue on this pilgrimage and on our life’s pilgrimage with joy, trusting in our Blessed Mother’s promise that “in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
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