Sunday, April 23, 2017
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
On May 13, 1981, an assassin’s bullet struck Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. The pope survived, but he always credited Our Lady of Fatima for having spared his life. May 13 is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima and this year May 13 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of a series of Marian apparitions to three shepherd children at Cova da Irid in Fatima, Portugal. These apparitions have had a tremendous influence on Catholic popular piety throughout the last century.
In coming months, beginning May 13 and ending Oct. 13, when in 1917 the “Miracle of the Sun” took place, there will be commemorations of these apparitions in the archdiocese and throughout the world including in Fatima, Portugal, where the events took place.
In her appearances to the three children, Mary, whom they saw as a woman “brighter than the sun,” confided to them certain “secrets” that over the years provoked no little speculation and controversy. But perhaps more importantly, Mary asked them to pray. She asked them to pray the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and an end to war.
The recitation of the rosary has been, for generations, an integral part of Catholic piety. The famous “Rosary Priest”, Father Patrick Peyton, encouraged families to pray the rosary together at home by telling them that the family that prays together stays together. In recent years, however, many Catholics — to their spiritual impoverishment — abandoned the practice of praying the rosary. Some found it “too old fashioned,” and others found it just too hard.
Yet, in the contemplative prayer that is the recitation of the rosary, Mary has given us a simple yet powerful weapon for the spiritual warfare that is part of our daily life in this “valley of tears.” It is not a weapon of violence or intimidation but rather one of peace and healing, for praying the rosary leads us to a more intimate relationship with Mary, the Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope. In a world still threatened by weapons of mass destruction, we have in the rosary — as Mary indicated to the shepherd children of Fatima — a weapon of mass conversion.
Indeed, the rosary sustained many of God’s faithful caught behind the Iron Curtain during decades of communist oppression and atheistic indoctrination. Deprived of freedom to practice their religion openly, and oftentimes impeded from assisting at Mass, these faithful Catholics found in the rosary the strength to persevere. And should we not recognize in the unanticipated events of 1989, when the Berlin Wall was taken down and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe dismantled, the evidence of Mary’s powerful intercession?
The rosary, then, as a prayer that has us gaze upon Jesus through the eyes of Mary, can help us embrace life: to understand that life is not a burden to be endured but a gift to be shared. In this way, the rosary is a powerful antidote against the “culture of death” of our contemporary society — a culture in which the dignity and the right to life of the unborn, the disabled and the aged is increasingly discounted.
The rosary was Pope John Paul II’s favorite devotional prayer; and in 2002, he added the five luminous mysteries to the 15 traditional joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. We should not let the observances of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions pass without heeding Mary’s main message at Fatima: that we pray the rosary to bring peace and the end of war.
The mysteries of the Rosary present us with a veritable summary of the gospel message — and even the unlearned and unschooled can learn through the praying of the rosary the fundamentals of the faith. The rosary, once understood properly, is neither “old fashioned” nor “too hard”: it is accessible to all, in any place and at any time. These 20 mysteries which we contemplate as we pray the “Hail Mary’s” are our instruction and hope. They should also be, for us, our rule of life and the pledge of eternal salvation.