“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Those words of Jesus, opening today’s Gospel, for many people, are precisely that, troubling.  When you’re sharing your bad news; when you’re weighed down with fear and anxiety;  when the depression is deep; when the evil behavior and attitudes of others are seemingly on the march where the wicked prosper, the greedy succeed, and the arrogant increase their power and influence… In the face of any of these things, when we’re reminded of Jesus’ words – “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” it can be troubling if we sense that those words are being, on some level, dismissive.  That we’re being told to pretend things are okay when they’re not.  Or if we allow lies born out of guilt and shame to say to ourselves, “Well, my faith must be too weak” because I’m troubled.  Or if we turn it on God, it becomes anger and indifference where we tell ourselves, “God must not care about me.”

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER -MAY 7, 2023, which also was the occasion that the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima visiting our congregations.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

Since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden first listened to the voice of the serpent inviting man and woman to doubt God’s love, His care, and His providence…. from that moment, they grasped the forbidden fruit as they fell for the temptation to become gods themselves – that original sin, the effects of that original sin has affected and afflicted humanity in every age since.  It has left many around us looking at the world’s Creator with suspicion.  Seeing things that are happening and wondering if God exists, where is He?  Hearing these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” and saying, “How could our hearts not be?”

One particular time this occurred in the not-so-distant past was early into the 20th Century.  Europe was experiencing the “Great War,” as it was called before we sadly started marking “World Wars” numerically.  This type of conflict was unprecedented.  At that moment in history, the advancements humanity had made, with different modes of transportation on land, air, and sea; the means of mass production that had been invented; discoveries in science now were being deployed in means of warfare in a way that people had never experienced.  What was the progress of humanity was being turned against fellow human beings as Tanks, Submarines, Fighter planes, Machine guns, grenades, and poison gas were created and used for the first time.  The advent of new ways of communication from film, telegraph, and phones which had brought people closer together, also became the means by which these horrors of war that may have never been seen before could be captured and shared around the globe to people far removed from battlefields.  Which only amplified the terror and the trauma.  In 4 short years, over 14 million people were killed, and 23 million people wounded, unleashing poverty, devastation, and disease, including a global pandemic.

The central stage of all this occurred among countries whose populations claimed to be Christian… at least nominally in that the vast majority of the people had been baptized.  In these lands of Christendom, it was brother against brother far worse than Cain and Abel had experienced in the first recorded act of fratricide.  In that incident, Cain lets the heat of anger and jealousy get the best of him, and he attacks and kills Abel.  This evil of men’s hearts to conceive and develop plans of warfare and bloodshed in the “Great War” seems far worse.

In the face of all this, there was no way for the faithful to pretend things were okay.  So those looking and wondering about God’s presence and activity would be left with those other alternatives.  Some thinking their faith must be too weak.  But far more turning their anger towards God, believing He must not care, not be listening to stop this insanity from continuing.

At such a time in history, in a desolate town that most of the world was not paying attention to in Fatima, Portugal, something phenomenal occurred.  Three innocent, poor children named Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, ages 10, 9 & 7 were out playing in the fields after doing their daily chores.  They see a flash of light and encounter a supernatural occurrence where a Lady dressed in white, described as more brilliant than the sun, appears to them.  The Lady asked the children to pray for peace, pray for the reparation of sins, and the conversion of sinners.  These innocent children not even fully aware of the horrors of World War I, nor of the blasphemies and insults being leveled at God on a widespread level by those in positions of power, nor the lukewarmness and indifference of people that had helped unleash such evil that had never been seen or experienced before.  Three little children who had nothing to do with any of that, agreed to what the Lady asked them to do – pray for peace, pray for the reparation of sins and the conversion of sinners.  These three children promised to pray the rosary every day and to come to that spot on the 13th day of each month for six months.

Throughout the Old Testament, we have numerous prophets who God would send to His people at pivotal, consequential moments to remind them of God’s love for them.  Remind them that He had entered into a covenant where He would be their God and they would be His people.  Remind them that God has remained faithful, He is always Good, and He is always Faithful.  But the same could not be said about humanity.  But if they returned to Him, He would come and save them, restore them, deliver them and make them the means of salvation for the entire world.

After God had become one of us and one with us in Jesus, He fulfilled all the promises He had made.  Jesus was the Messiah who was to come and save all humanity.  Jesus had reunited the 12 tribes of Israel and established His Kingdom that would be the light to all the nations in a new way with the 12 apostles and Jesus founding the Church.  So in this last age that we’re in, this time of preparation for what is called “the End Times” of Jesus’ final coming we aren’t to expect any more prophets like that to remind us to look ahead for God to do any of those things.

Which is why Our Lady of Fatima is so remarkable.  Because in her, we find the only human being who loved Jesus perfectly.  Who Jesus loved and gave to all humanity from the cross, His mother, Mary, comes to us and speaks to us.  And what does she do?  She simply calls us to remember what her son has done and what He expects of us as His people.  People let their imaginations go off in all kinds of directions.  Some focus on crazy, conspiratorial theories.  Yet, the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and the words of the Blessed Mother are remarkably basic.  Pray – Go to confession – receive the Sacraments.  These three little children who were first entrusted with this message would face all kinds of incredibly troubling things from disbelief, scare tactics from family, government and Church officials.   The Lady would tell the two youngest that their earthly lives would be incredibly short.  But none of those things caused them to lose their childhood innocence or trust.  They would be more committed and faithful than some of the most influential clerics.

They listened to the beautiful Lady in white, whose last recorded words in the Gospel of John were “Do whatever He tells you.” Knowing that the apparitions themselves, the miracles that legitimately occurred, the spectacular things that thousands of people witnessed – all of them happened to get people’s attention.   Because none of them were in comparison to what Jesus has already said and done for us.  That’s why Our Mother, Our Lady of Fatima came.  To remind us that God sees our pain; God knows our fears; God hears our cries; God feels our anxiety.  He knows there’s much that troubles us and is troubling.

The problem of so many men and women is that they hear what they want to hear as they continue to do what they want to do.  They stop at the first sentence of “Do not let your heart be troubled” and forget the rest of what Jesus says “…have faith in God; have faith also in me.”  Faith is meant to reshape and reorient our entire lives.  They forget Jesus first spoke these words in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday as He gathers with His apostles for the Last Supper.  He’s about to enter into the most troubling of circumstances – where humanity will finally succeed in killing God.

But to those horrified by that proposition.  Those shuddering at the horror of evil.  Those who, upon hearing, seeing, experiencing troubling things as a result and looking for hope – Jesus continues on as He tells them, tells us – “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  When we look to Him, listen to Him, and receive Him in His body and blood – we can face troubling things and conquer them, just as Jesus has in rising from the dead.

Our Lady of Fatima, being a great Mother, coming to her children wasn’t bringing a new message.  Just reminding them of the presence and activity of God; the importance of them being genuine and sincere in their living faithful lives – is a message that speaks to every day, every age, and every people who encounter troubling things.  So the point of this pilgrim statue being here isn’t that it’s something magical that we’re making into an idol.  It’s to remind us of this apparition that happened at a particular moment in time.  It’s to remember the lengths God has gone and continues to go for us in sending us His only Son to suffer and die for us.  The great Christian author C.S. Lewis once said, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion….”  That’s the lengths that God has gone for us.  And Our Lady of Fatima quite simply begs us to heed that timeless, eternal message.

This statue is meant to re-awaken that message in our hearts and souls 106 years after Fatima and 2,000 years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As we continue to struggle with troubling things, like the threats of world war, like sickness, death, and fear from a pandemic, like the evils that are born in the hearts of men and women who continue to turn away from God, treat Jesus as “a way” that if it’s good for you – fine keep it, keep Him to yourself – Our Lady of Fatima’s words to the children are put to us now “Do you wish to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that He may be pleased to send you, as both an act of reparation for the sins with which He is offended and an act of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”  Our Lady pleads with us who find ourselves here today: “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

May Our Lady of Fatima continue to pray that we persevere in following her son Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.