The Cost of Heaven – Lucia’s offering

Sister Lucia

Sister Lucia.

We return now to Lucia, whose age, at the time of Jacinta’s death, was one month less than thirteen years. Any opportunity for normal, unspectacular adolescence had already been denied her. She was, at least in Portugal, a nation-wide celebrity. Subject to the overwhelming and ceaseless attention of those who believed in her, she was also the target of skilful enemies who most emphatically did not believe, and were, moreover, determined to expose her as a fraud.

In Aljustrel the circle of affection was narrowing. Lucia’s father had died, and although Senhor Santos had been neither a model parent nor an heroic defender of the faith, there is no mention of his failings in his daughter’s recollections. “My dear father” it is her charitable choice to say, because she loved him. Properly and most decently forgotten are his bouts with the bottle, and forgiven, if not entirely forgotten, his frequently obscene references to the business of the apparitions.

Lucia writes:

How sad I felt when I was left alone. Within a short time I lost my dear father, and then Francisco and Jacinta. Whenever I could, I went to the Cabeco, and there, hiding behind the rocks and alone with God, I poured out my heart in tears to Him.

Lucia must be judged in the light of an almost faultless charity and modesty. She is not the heroine of her own memoirs, having deliberately assigned that role to Jacinta. She emerges from her memoirs as a true personality only where obedience to the bishop has obliged her. But there are things that we who have known the adult Lucia can affirm so easily: her wholesome gaiety and lack of pietistic sham, her practicality and unobtrusive gifts for leadership, her homely face and the joyous, searching eyes that have looked on Christ our Lord. But truthfully, in this excellent friend of our Lady, there is no mystical pretension.

Naturally she was saddened by the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta. Even though their deaths had been foreordained by the Lady in Light, Lucia’s loneliness was bleak and hard to bear. She had no other confidants. The tremendous secrets imparted by their Lady were more difficult to carry alone. Lucia was, and of necessity remains, a strange citizen of the world, for the reason that she has seen so clearly beyond our natural boundaries, and knows from intimate and live experience what others know only through faith. How great have been the privileges of this nun who is now in the middle years of her life? Surely we can’t say, because it is impossible to know. How great, we might ask with equal wonder, were those gifts enjoyed on a mountain top by Peter, James and John?

The Church understandably, in those first years of emotional and spiritual excitement at Fatima, remained aloof, if not officially hostile, to the claims of the children and the clamour of those multiplying thousands who believed the phenomena observed above the Cova da Iria to be the unmistakable work of God. But slowly, and with mounting effect, the pressure of continuing evidence obliged the Church officials to observe events more closely.

The diocese of Leiria, of which Fatima is a part, was restored in 1918, although the first bishop to establish his episcopate there was his Excellency Dom Jose Alves Correia da Silva, consecrated May 15,1920. He took office in August of that year.

Dom Jose, a just man, didn’t quite know what to make of Fatima. It was hard to resist one’s own persuasion to believe. The sincerity of the children, both living and dead, was difficult to doubt, since they had stood with almost supranatural bravery in the storm of hostile ridicule and cross-examination. Any fair assessment of their testimony and behaviour carried a fair man to that one inescapable conclusion regarding them: crazy, perhaps, but surely not insincere. And the evidence of October 13,1917, witnessed by 70,000 men, women and children of mixed emotion and religious conviction? One was obliged to await respectfully and even reverently further evidence, in prayerful prudence, and in hope of our Lady’s direction, without, of course, imperilling the dignity of the Church, or committing its official hand.

One thing clear to the bishop was that Lucia, the surviving witness, should be removed from Aljustrel. This would facilitate not only a more thorough investigation of those great events in which she had played the leading role, it would as well relieve the beleaguered child of the endless questioning and badgering to which she was being subjected almost daily. The bishop hoped further, that his measure would test the sincerity of the ever-increasing line of pilgrims who were making their way to the Cova da Iria, since it was suspected by many that the prestige of this child alone, rather than any fair measure of true faith, was drawing the crowds to the shrine. If the child’s mother would agree, the bishop decided, it would be wise to place Lucia in some boarding school where she would not be known, and where, for this very reason, no one would speak to her of Fatima.

Lucia’s mother, hearing of this proposal, was avid for acceptance. Lucia herself – though with certain understandable misgivings, was equally willing. They went together to the bishop’s house in Leiria.

“This is entirely secret,” said Dom Jose to Lucia, “and for that reason you must tell no one where you are going.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“In the college you must not tell your identity to any one.”

“No, my lord.”

“And you must not speak again about the apparitions of Fatima.”

“No, my lord.”

It was June 13, a day of pilgrimage. Returning, along the steep road from Leiria, Lucia could see the tired, glad faces of the faithful who had been that day to the Cova da Iria. She drew her kerchief more carefully around her face, and unknown to them, she wept – not in distressed or stifled resistance to the bishop’s disposition of her case (for in all honesty she welcomed and approved the solution) but because her youth was over, and a curtain was falling rapidly on this scene of her remembered joys.

There were cruel details attached to her departure. Obedience to the bishop required that it be revealed to no one, not even to her closest relatives and friends. Even Maria da Capelinha, the gallant champion of the children and their Lady from the day of the first apparition, was excluded from her confidence. For this reason Lucia was obliged to say goodbye to places, instead of to people.

On her last day in Aljustrel she walked the brief distance to the Cabeco, where first the angel had appeared to Jacinta, Francisco and herself. She climbed the slope past the olive trees and the crooked oaks in oppressive heat. The field was wild with beauty. Rock roses were fat with bloom and the throb of the crickets filled the day. Lucia did not stop for sight or sound, but hastened into the shade of the rough, tall-standing stones where an angel had fed them the living Christ from a chalice that he was able to leave suspended in the air. She fell on the ground and remained there for an hour, repeating with whispered love, and in the rhythm of a sobbing she could not control, the angel’s prayer:

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love You.

And then, with equal fervour, the angel’s prayer to the Holy Trinity:

Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. and by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ANGEL’S PRAYERS

Here in these paragraphs, if we pause for just a moment to reflect, is the essential meaning and purpose of Fatima. It should be kept in mind that this is a simple, and, we sincerely hope, an unpretentious book that should be of equal value to people of vast or little education. These two paragraphs of prayer are for rulers and beggars, philosophers and illiterates; they are for popes and peasants, cardinals and clowns. The question to ask is simply: who is speaking? And unless this story of Fatima is an unspeakable sham and a hoax, it is God who speaks!

Why is it God?

Well, because, by basic Catholic definition, an angel is a messenger of God. It was an angel who said to a Jewish maiden in whose womb reposed the living Christ, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” almost two thousand years ago. It is an angel now, in the span of our own time, who brings to the children of Aljustrel an equal gift, and underlines with almost commanding emphasis that Jesus longs to be not only with Mary, but with any and all of us who will have Him. There in terrifying clarity is the infinite breadth of His charity.

The message of Fatima is as plain as it is profound. Search these paragraphs of prayer again, and mark their powerful simplicity. The angel, as you will recall, is teaching the children to pray in a manner pleasing to God. The first of these prayers begins with the declaration, “I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You” – simple and yet complete acts of faith, hope and love, or charity, if you will, since the two are the same. That is how one becomes a friend of God, by believing in Him and serving Him, by hoping in Him and loving Him. There is no obligation here for a man to build bridges or write books, or slay dragons or rip the skin off his toes. This, quite simply is the formula for Christian friendship: to believe, to hope, and to love. And having attained God’s friendship, we are invited to share with Christ our Lord the redemption of the world by asking the Father to pardon those who neither believe, nor hope, nor love.

The second prayer, addressed to the Trinity, alerts us to a decent humility, as it repeats the fundamental teaching of the Church that Christ alone is an offering equal to the majesty of the Power we have offended by sin. As God has given Himself to us, we give Him back to the Father in love and reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He has been offended. And the angel asks us to pray, not through our own merits, but through the merits of the Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of all poor sinners.

What interpretation can there be, except that this is what God wants of us? We must not expect Him to jump on our toes and shriek His message into each of our faces. We must provide at least some minimum of faith as a token of co-operation with Him. In considering the evidence of Fatima, let us not seek to be smart in any sophisticated way, for it will only defeat us. Let us seek instead, with Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, to be obedient and good, and the wisdom of God will cling to us then, whatever our talents may be.

It was this intimate presence of God that Lucia, lying prostrate on the rough ground of the Cabeco, felt most clearly. Her joy therefore has ever since been deeper and more durable than any passing trial or momentary sadness. She rose slowly, almost reluctantly from the hallowed earth, and walked from the Cabeco to that other field close by, that is known as Valinhos, where in August of 1917, as a reward for their constancy in prison, the Virgin had appeared to Lucia and her cousins. She paused here for a while in reverent recollection of her Lady’s unwavering friendship, and then, on this last of her days within the area of home, she walked on to the Cova da Iria. At this rather late hour the small white chapel was deserted. It was June now, in the year 1920. Only days before had the faithful been emboldened to place within the tiny chapel an image of our Lady. Of course it was not dressed in the light of heaven. It was just a statue made of stone – senseless and cool as a ten-cent brick. Its value, for Lucia, was in its reverent, if totally unsuccessful, imitation of a beauty beyond comprehension. It spoke of faith and of love – and that was, really, all that any one could ask. She continued to pray.

At two o’clock on the following morning, while the village slept, Lucia Santos left Aljustrel and the parish of Fatima, to which she would not return for many years. Her mother went with her as far as Leiria to meet the morning train bound for Oporto, on the north coast of Portugal. It would be a journey of perhaps one hundred and fifty miles, and from Oporto, it was no distance at all to the convent at Vilar, where a new life would begin.