Monday, 9 July 2012

"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God?"

For the second year in the programme of preparation for the celebration of the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, the chosen focus is the first apparition of the Virgin to the three young visionaries. The theme is taken from the words of the Virgin to the children: "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God?"

The home page of the official website of the shrine at Fatima introduces this theme. It strikes me that this choice of theme has a resonance with the Year of Faith that will begin in October 2012. Particularly interesting to read in this regard is the (long) interview with the President of the organizing committee of the Theological-Pastoral Symposium held in June, theologian, professor and researcher from the Portuguese Catholic University, Isabel Varanda. The idea that it is Christ who both fully reveals God to man and reveals man to himself, that man is the "way of the Church", as expressed in this interview, is one of the fundamental insights of the Second Vatican Council, an insight to which Pope John Paul II was a key contributor. Some extracts follow, but it is worth reading the whole:
Yes, I believe that Jesus is the foundation. 
Jesus Christ, true God – entirely divine and true man – fully human, is the fullness of revelation: total revelation of God and total revelation of the human being. As John Paul II writes in his first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Jesus Christ reveals Man to Man himself. Through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, we enter the depth of the mystery of life and of the ultimate vocation of each one of us, which is to be children in the Son. Isn’t it true that, without this dimension of filiation, the ideal of fraternity has no basis nor does it have support?.....  
The offering of oneself is not quantifiable; it is not measurable; it is not subject to be valued by the concrete effects or results of the offering. It has to do, fundamentally, with each one’s discernment regarding the understanding of oneself as a gift for himself and for others. During the Symposium, we will be able to reflect, with the help of a doctor, of a priest and of an officer of Caritas, specifically in the first panel of the program, on the “possibilities and equivocations” of the offering of oneself. The problem will be retaken by a second panel, but through the prism of education, meant here not as synonymous of instruction, but rather as the “integral development of the person: which challenges the offering of oneself places in education, be it in the family, the school, the Christian community or in the social milieu? ....  
The question ["Are you willing to give yourselves to God?"] runs the risk of being left without an answer at a time when God isn’t appreciated, but, on the contrary, is forgotten and even abandoned. The God of Jesus Christ has been left abandoned; abandoned by the world, abandoned by His closest family, the Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ herself, often and in many ways, seems to have abandoned God when she supposedly spends her energies with the things of God, but forgets God in the process. I would dare say that the Church of Jesus Christ is going through a process of secularization of herself. This secularization of the Church, although it is an extraordinary source of dynamism and incarnation, can lead to the dilution of the identity of the Church of Jesus Christ, by not taking sufficient care of her foundation and by not being sufficiently attentive to the possible atrophy of her heavenly and eschatological dimension. If we leave the perimeter of security and comfort of our usual places of celebration – already with a marginal faith – it is worth to take a look at the outside, at those who stay outside, at those who do not want to come in. Then, wandering around, we are struck by the same shock: God has being left abandoned.  
The time has come for believers to take care of God. If not the believers, who will do it?
This is the context of the urgent invitation to a new evangelization. As you well know, next October there will take place in Rome the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The central theme of its agenda is symptomatic: The new evangelization for the imparting of Christian faith. Also in October, on the 11th, there will take place the official beginning of the Year of Faith. These are two important events for all Christians to tune in. Who knows if these two great ecclesial events won’t be a new wake-up call for our spent and tired faith to listen to the Gospel? Who knows if we aren’t then apt to announce to the young a “faith that makes us live”?  
There come to mind those words of Benedict XVI in his homily during the inauguration of his Pontificate, reminding us of John Paul II: “Be not afraid of Christ! He doesn’t take anything away; He gives everything”. I can’t pass up either the words of John Paul II, in 1979, in the first Encyclical of his Pontificate: “the fundamental task of the Church of all times and, particularly, of our time, is to direct the look of human beings and the conscience and experience of men towards the mystery of Christ, to help everybody to be familiar with the depth of the Redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Redemptor Hominis, n. 10).
 As in the first year of preparation, the shrine has prepared a "pilgrim itinerary" for those who visit the shrine during the year. It centres on the square (as it is now, but not as it was at the time of the first apparition) built at the site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. It moves from the nativity scene facing the chapel of the apparitions, by way of the tombs of the visionaries to the chapel of the apparitions itself, suggesting prayers and reflections for each place in the itinerary. The leaflet for the itinerary can be downloaded from the shrine website.

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