Pope John Paul II once again surprised the world. During his pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, last Saturday (May 13) Cardinal Sodano read a text on the mysterious Third Secret. I would like to comment on this prophecy and relate it to today's Gospel. But first an important disclaimer: The Catholic Church has consistently taught that "revelation ended with the death of the last apostle."* Vatican II stated, "we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." (see Dei Verbum 4.)
Even tho the Bible contains all the truths necessary for salvation, it is possible that a "private" revelation might help focus on some neglected aspect of biblical revelation. The Catechism puts it this way:
"Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church." (Catechism #67)
Considering that the message of Fatima may assist a Christian "live more fully" his faith, how can we specifically relate it to todays Gospel? I would like to mention a couple of possibilities.
First, there is a verse we easily gloss over. In giving the beautiful image of the vine and branches, Jesus makes a statement which should give us pause: "Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." This is not just a gardening detail - it is terrible possibility for you and for me. Our Lady did not hide this from the children of Fatima. While not all the imagery is intended literally, still for those who have become over-complacent, it is salutary to read their vision of hell.
We must take seriously the threat of hell, but that is not the heart of the Fatima prophecies. It is rather the prayer and penance which make us fruitful members of Jesus. Jesus today speaks about penance in terms of "pruning." I am not a great one to discuss penance. My own attempts at fasting and self-denial have been pretty small.
I have, however, received a certain amount of pruning from the "vine grower." I could mention the most obvious - the death of my mom and dad, but that is something the majority must face. There have been sufferings which are more particular to my vocation as a parish priest. Still, on a whole, I have suffered little, especially compared to people I served in Peru - and to many parishioners at Holy Family. God's pruning sometimes seems inexorable. I hesitate to tell them, "accept the cross" or "bear trials," yet they themselves will often sense that mystery.
Our Lady of Fatima can aid us to glimpse God's design, even in the face of terrible events. Her stark prophecies were given to children who scarcely could have invented them. When told to pray for the conversion of Russia, they did not know about the country, but assumed Russia was a woman! Moreover, the marian apparitions took place between May and October of 1917. Even astute observers did not imagine the coming revolution which would define the twentieth century. Now that this century is at its close and we finally will know the full text of the "third secret," it will be interesting to examine the past decades in light of the message of Fatima. Understanding recent history in that light can help us prepare for the great challenges facing us. The Fatima secrets may well hold a key for unlocking that future. The Holy Father evidently gives them much weight.
What I most take from Fatima is what I also take from today's Gospel: an invitation - come to Jesus. Apart from him we simply dry up. Joined to him, we not only bear lasting fruit, but receive the answer to our prayers. Once again we are reminded of Mary's great role in bringing her spiritual children to Jesus.
*"Christians have always understood that at the close of the apostolic age--with the death of the last surviving Apostle, John, around the year 100--public revelation ceased." (from Can Dogma Develop?)
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