Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. It was on this day back in 1917 that the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to three children in Portugal and continued to visit with them on a regular basis over the subsequent months, concluding in October where there was what was witnessed by tens of thousands of people called “the Miracle of the Sun” – where the Sun appeared to dance in the sky, grow closer to the earth, and change in color and appearance.   Throughout the appearances, the Blessed Mother who initially the children simply described as a beautiful lady, in brilliant white who shone brighter than the sun told the children to share her message that people everywhere would devote themselves to the Holy Trinity – The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; pray for peace and an end to war; and to turn away from sin, to repent.

Some get wildly uncomfortable or unsettled when we talk about these events. It’s almost as if people think any supernatural events were only possible in the past – that God would not somehow still be active in recent history or in our very day and age.   Critics will argue that things like this demonstrate that Catholics focus more on Mary then on Jesus, and that we look at these extraordinary things with greater interest than on scripture itself.

But the Church gives great guidance in understanding the place of Fatima and Marian apparitions in general:

Throughout history there have been supernatural apparitions and signs which go to the heart of human events and which, to the surprise of believers and non-believers alike, play their part in the unfolding of history. These manifestations can never contradict the content of faith, and must therefore have their focus in the core of Christ’s proclamation: the Father’s love which leads men and women to conversion and bestows the grace required to abandon oneself to him with filial devotion. This too is the message of Fatima which, with its urgent call to conversion and penance, draws us to the heart of the Gospel. (“The Message of Fatima” – from The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

That is the heart of all these apparitions that the Church holds up as “worthy of belief” – what happened, what was being said is in one sense simply a renewal of the call to deeper conversion to Jesus Christ done in a unique way at a particular time and place.   The Blessed Virgin Mary is only continuing to do what she always has done, which is to point people to Christ – that whatever words she speaks now only amplified her last recorded words in scripture when she tells the listeners at the Wedding of Cana “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5) She, being a good mother only wants what’s best for her children – all of her children.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Fatima reminding us hat “A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity.” For us today, 103 years later, we recognize that the message of Fatima, remains urgent still. Mary urges us to deeper prayer, to repentance for our sins, for a greater recognition of our dependence on God alone and being attentive to His Word and His will in our lives. Learning, just as she did, when we do those things, receive His word and responding to it completely, that our souls will ring out in joy “through all generations” (Luke 1: 46-47).

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.