Saturday, 11 March 2017

Fatima: sacrifices for souls

The Collects at Mass during these early days of Lent remind us very much of the character of self-denial that is a feature of this season. The recently adopted English translations appear to me to bring this out with a clarity that represents a strength of those translations.

The Collect for the Friday of the first week of Lent reads:
Grant that your faithful, O Lord, we pray, may be so conformed to the paschal observances, that the bodily discipline now solemnly begun may bear fruit in the souls of all.
In the course of the events at Fatima, a key message of the Angel whose apparitions presaged those of the Virgin Mary herself was that of offering sacrifices. At the first apparition, in Sr Lucia's account, the Angel invited the children to pray:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!".
At the second apparition, the Angel urged the children to offer prayers and sacrifices to the Most High:
"Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners."
In her memories of Jacinta, Sr Lucia repeatedly tells stories of how Jacinta made little sacrifices within her daily life, and encouraged the other children in doing likewise, in the spirit of the Angel's request. So, for example, during a day in the fields with the sheep, they might have given their lunch to those they met who were poorer than themselves.

In the spirit of my earlier post marking the Fatima anniversary, my literary investigation of this theme took me next to the life of St Edith Stein. Identifying with Queen Esther, Edith made a particular offering of her life for the Jewish people, as witnessed in a letter of 31st October 1938 ....
And [I also trust] in the Lord's having accepted my life for all of them [ie here own family]. I keep having to think of Queen Esther who was taken from among her own people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.
... and by the words that she was heard to say to her sister Rosa as they were both arrested by the Germans at the convent in Echt:
Come, Rosa, we are going for our people. 
My third step was to the story of Cassie Bernall, who died during the Columbine School shootings of 20th April 1999. Though some news reports suggest that Cassie's reported exchange with the student who shot her has in fact been mistaken for the dialogue with another student (who survived), nevertheless a key witness has remained certain of his attribution of the exchange to Cassie. Asked if she believed in God, Cassie is reported to have replied "Yes" before being shot. Cassie's mother has written the story of her daughter - a fraught and challenging teenager, who experienced a conversion to Christ - in a book She said Yes: the unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. In the book, Misty Bernall reports the words of a pastor who knew Cassie during the two years immediately before her death:
Cassie struggled like everyone struggles, but she knew what she had to do to let Christ live in her. It's called dying to yourself, and it has to be done daily. It means learning to break out of the selfish life ....It's not a negative thing, but a way of freeing yourself to live life more fully.
The world looks to Cassie's "yes" of April 20, but we need to look at the daily "yes" she said day after day, month after month, before giving that final answer....
It's not a question of doing great deeds, but of being selfless in small things. Cassie used to come with us to a ministry for crack addicts downtown. We'd eat with the guys, and play basketball, or just hang out with them. That's what it's all about..... Reaching out, being willing to make sacrifices for something bigger than your own happiness and comfort.

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