|"You, at Least, Try to Console Me": Our Lady of Fatima & the Devotion of the Five First Saturdays.
The Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 13: 44-52.
• Psalm 98: 1-4.
• John 14: 7-14.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Corinthians 4: 5-14.
• Matthew 10: 23-38.*
A Post-Festive Day of Mid-Pentecost; and, the Feast of Our Holy Father Athanasius the Great.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the typicon of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite:
• Acts 12: 1-11.
• John 8: 31-42.
6:23 PM 5/2/2015 —
[At the Talk.]
It was December 10th, 1925. I was in my room, when suddenly the room lit up and it was the light of my dear Mother in Heaven who came with the Child Jesus on a luminous cloud. Our Lady, as if wanting to instill courage, rested her hand on my shoulder, and as she did so, showed me her Immaculate Heart encircled by thorns which she was holding in her other hand. The Child Jesus said: “Have compassion on the Heart of your most holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.”
Then Our Lady said: “Look, my daughter, at my Heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite one decade of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
After this grace, how could I take myself away from the least sacrifice that God asks of me to console the Heart of my beloved Mother in Heaven, happy that Mary depletes the bitter drops of the Chalice.**
Now, if you know anything at all about the life of Sister Lucia and the devotion of keeping the First Five consecutive Saturdays of the month, you will know that quote; but, given that this is the first time, here at the Shrine, that we're observing these First Five Saturdays in a major way, we should presume nothing.
When Lucia was granted this particular vision, she had just entered the convent of the Dorothean Sisters at Pontevedra, Spain; she was not yet a Carmelite—that wouldn't happen until much later—and, being the last survivor of the three children to have seen the Mother of God at Fatima, she was already a famous person; so, her identity was hidden behind a religious name: she was known as Sister Maria das Dores. This was totally proper: in many religious communities even today, it's common for someone entering the convent or monastery to take a new name to signify the complete change of life that consecrating oneself to God requires; in Lucia's case, it served a double purpose, as it allowed her to settle into her new life without being distracted by the attention her baptismal name would have caused.
The Dorothean Sisters were a quiet and reserved community of nuns, not well known, not very large; the convent at Pontevedra was off the beaten track, the perfect place for Sister Maria das Dores to pray and reflect on the great things the Mother of God had said and shown to her and her two cousins at Fatima; so, it was the perfect place for the Mother of God to visit her again, and give her the mandate which is our reason for gathering here today: to entrust her with the task of transmitting to the world Her request for what we know today as the devotion of the First Five Saturdays.
Now, we are at something of a disadvantage, given that this talk is scheduled for only a half hour; it would require several hours to look at this devotion in all of its theological aspects, and we can't do that. And, between Father Murphy and myself, who will be presenting to you this year the various aspects of this devotion and leading you in making it properly, I have been given the more difficult task, since I not only have to introduce the devotion to you, but also present to you the first of the five reasons the Mother of God gave Sister Maria das Dores this devotion to spread. But we have to begin somewhere, and the best place to begin anything is at the beginning, and the beginning of our consideration of this devotion is simply to recognize the significance of our Blessed Lady in asking that this devotion take place on Saturday.
Why is that significant? Because Saturday was, at the time Sister Maria was given this mandate, already a day the Church had set aside for prayer to the Mother of God. It had been for centuries, and was formally confirmed as such by Pope Saint Pius X in a decree he issued in 1905, in which he offered several indulgences for doing so, long before Mary ever appeared at Fatima. And the reason that's significant is because it reminds us that everything Mary has told us through her servant Lucia was said always in obedience to—and under the authority of—Christ's Holy Church. Some of us sometimes forget that. Sometimes we imagine that the veneration of the Mother of God and the messages of Our Lady of Fatima constitute some sort of religion unto themselves, with the Church being an entity of officialdom which we judge as worthy or unworthy of our Lady's favor to the degree that the Church conforms herself to what Mary says. And there have always been, and will always be, agitating people who will insist on passing judgment on the Church based on what they think Mary said. How many of us have heard it said, for example, that the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was not done by Pope Saint John Paul II the way Mary required, because he didn't mention Russia by name? What a stupid argument that is. It's also an argument that I regard as seriously sinful: the Church, according to the Blessed Apostle Paul, is the Body of Christ, which is the same thing as saying the Church is Jesus. To disobey the Church is to be an enemy of Jesus and Mary. I'll repeat that, just so there's no mistake: to disobey the Church is to be an enemy of Jesus and Mary.
I don't want to spend too much time on this matter of the significance of Mary's request to Lucia being centered on Saturday as it pertains to our devotion to the Church, except by giving you this one illustration, which I probably shouldn't because it concerns an alleged apparition of the Mother of God which is still under investigation and has not yet been approved; it's not a recent one—it's many, many years old, and no one personally involved still lives—and, while the Church is looking very favorably on it, they have kept it very secret and no pilgrims have ever gone there, so please don't think you've heard of it, because I know you haven't; and, please don't ask me later where it was or “Was it this one?” because I will not answer you. Mary supposedly spoke to a young girl from a statue of the Mother of God which was in a corner of the child's parish church, and had arranged with this child to meet Her there every week at the same time. The child reported this to her parish priest, who was somewhat skeptical, as you can imagine, and decided to test her by forbidding her to enter the Church at the time the Mother of God said she wanted to meet the child there. So, this girl is sitting at home considering what she should do: Mary told her to be at a certain place at a certain time, but her parish priest told her not to go there. So, she decides in her mind that the Blessed Virgin Mary outranks a mere parish priest, and decides to go to the Church anyway; and, as she's walking up the steps toward the front door of the Church, Mary appears, holding her hand out, blocking her path, and says, “How dare you disobey one of my Son's priests!”
Now, as I said, the Church is currently looking very favorably on these alleged apparitions, and if they are ever approved, then you will be told about them;—if they are not approved, then you will be told nothing—but, the bottom line is that Mary does nothing apart from Her Son and His Church, and this is illustrated so beautifully by the fact that our Blessed Mother inaugurated this devotion we come here today to practice on that day of the week that the Church had already set aside for prayer to the Mother of God.
Now, moving along more quickly than we should for the sake of time, the first Saturday devotion is comprised of four basic elements, and this most of you already know: Confession, Holy Communion, the Holy Rosary, and a meditation on at least one of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary and the promise of salvation; but, all of this—and this is the difficult part—must be done in a spirit of reparation, and this is what so many of us often fail to understand. Our Lady indicated five consecutive First Saturdays to Sister Maria das Dores because she wanted particularly to be consoled over five specific ways in which people offend her Immaculate Heart; and this you also know: blasphemies committed against Her Immaculate Conception, blasphemies against her Virginity, blasphemies against her Divine Maternity, blasphemies committed by those who try to poison the hearts of children against her Immaculate Heart, and blasphemies done by those who profane and insult her sacred images. They are not arbitrary. God willing, when we look at each of these in detail as the summer progresses, you'll be able to see how these five offenses strike at the very heart of pretty much everything that's wrong with the world today. It's hard to see that simply by listing them, as they sound very esoteric; but, everything that upsets us when we turn on the news is right there in these five offenses; it simply remains for us to train ourselves to see them.
But recognizing them is not enough: our Lady wanted this devotion to be done in reparation for these things, and reparation is a difficult concept, because when we see our Lord and our Lady being offended in these particular ways, our human reaction as people of faith and devotion is to want justice and revenge. These blasphemies, when we see them, enrage us; they make us angry; that's a purely natural reaction for someone of faith. When we see these blasphemies, deep down inside we want to see justice, we want to see revenge, we want those who offend our Lord and our Lady to be punished. And that is exactly the opposite of reparation. And that's why reparation is such a difficult concept for us.
I think the best way to look at the concept of reparation is to consider the incarnation and the passion of our Blessed Lord. In the Book of Genesis, man, who had been created in grace and in the image and likeness of his creator, offends God and is stripped of sanctifying grace (cf. Gen. 3). What was the offense that man committed? He ate an apple. It wasn't because God was opposed to fruit. How is the tree in the Garden of Eden described? It is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2: 9); it's a metaphorical tree. The fruit on that tree symbolizes the authority of God to decide the difference between right and wrong: things are right and wrong, good and bad, because God says so. By eating the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man attempts to take that authority away from God and give it to himself, so that he, man, becomes the one to decide for himself what's right and what's wrong. That's why it's called the Original Sin: because all other sins are derived from it. Every sin that we can commit is basically the same: it reflects a desire on our part to decide for ourselves what's right and what's wrong. When Adam eats the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he's trying to become God. He is saying to God, “You will no longer tell me what's right and what's wrong; I'll do that for myself.” Every time we commit a sin, we are saying to God, “It's none of your business, God, to tell me that this is wrong. I have decided that it's right for me, so I will do it anyway.” We are trying to be God (cf. Gen. 3: 22).
That's why I never fail to tell people how wrong this whole idea of conscience is that they think came out of Vatican II. “The Church teaches that contraception is wrong,” they say, “but Vatican II says I can follow my conscience, so I'll pray about it and decide that it's not a sin for me, and I can still go to Holy Communion.” Some people have even been told that by priests. But that's not conscience. That's Original Sin. That's trying to be God, deciding for oneself what's right and what's wrong.
And the Book of Genesis is very clear: the penalty for wanting to be God is death (cf. Gen. 2: 17). Man tried to be God, so man must die. But God doesn't want to kill man; he made man because of love, and must find a way to save him in spite of his sins. So, what does God do? He can't simply let man off the hook, because that would completely obfuscate the whole concept of God's justice. What does He do? He becomes a Man Himself, and allows Himself to be punished with death so we can be spared. That's reparation. Reparation is sacrificing ourselves in order to spare someone else from being punished, even if that person doesn't know or even admit that they've sinned. It's difficult because it means that we do not want the sinner punished, and that means that we can't make reparation if there is even a hint of bitterness and hatred in our hearts.
We watch the news, we see offense after offense against our Lord, our Lady, the Church, the Faith; it seems, at times, that the whole world exists to offend the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God. If we harbor in our hearts the desire to see the guilty punished, we cannot make reparation, and we cannot do as our Lady asked. The First Five Saturday devotion requires that we offer our confession, our Holy Communion, our Rosary, our meditation, for the specific intention of appeasing our Lord and lifting from sinners the punishment their sins would otherwise deserve. We can't do that if we are obsessed with justice; we can only do that if we are obsessed with mercy.
Look, my daughter, at my Heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite one decade of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.
Confession, Communion, Rosary, meditation, “with the intention of making reparation…” There it is, summed up on one simple sentence, what the Mother of God wants from us. Very simple instructions to obey.
But there's an aspect of this that often escapes us—at least I've not seen it mentioned in any of the Fatima literature that I've read—and that's how none of this is new. Maybe it had not been said before in these words until Mary spoke those words to Lucia; but, remember, that all valid and authentic apparitions of the Mother of God never give us any new revelation; they only present to us what has been revealed before by Christ through His Church; that's how the Church judges an apparition as authentic: that it reveals only that which has been revealed, simply giving it a new emphasis for the needs of a new age. And what is revealed in our Lady's words to Lucia here is what we all know from our childhood catechism as the Communion of the Saints. Why do we pray for the souls in Purgatory? Why do we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us? Why do we pray for one another? Because the Church Triumphant, the Church suffering and the Church militant are all one Church, linked together in prayer and sacrament to the Lord who rules them all. We make donations to the priest so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass may be offered for our deceased relatives and friends; we pray for those who are sick and suffering; we implore the saints to make our needs known to God with the increased clout, as it were, that we presume they have before the throne of God. Why? Because of the Communion of the Saints. What our Blessed Mother asks of us by means of reparation in keeping the First Five Saturdays is an extension of the Communion of the Saints, repackaged, as it were, for our needs in these troubled times.
How many of us here today have children who are living in sin? How many of us are married to someone who does not share or practice the Catholic Faith? How many of us live and work day to day with people who do not know God, or who have fallen away from the faith, or are married outside the Church? These are people we love, and the fact of their sins doesn't cancel our love for them; and, more often than not, we find ourselves walking that emotional tightrope of knowing that our Lord's justice demands the punishment of hell for these sins, but we can't bring ourselves to even think of it because these are people whom we love. Any priest will tell you that, particularly when he's hearing the confessions of the elderly, half of the confessions made to him are of somebody else's sins: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My daughter-in-law refuses to baptize her baby…” Sometimes the priest actually has to tell people, “I'm sorry, but I can only absolve you of your sins; I can't absolve your daughter-in-law's sins unless she comes in here herself.” And we try—God knows, we try—to persuade those we love to abandon the life of sin and return to the love of God; but, more often than not, the more we say to them, the more intransigent they become, until we realize that the more we try and persuade them, the more their hearts become hardened. In these kinds of confessions, the most common phrase a priest will hear is, “Father, I don't know what to do.”
But, we do know what to do. Mary told Lucia, and Lucia faithfully told us: we make reparation. We imitate the passion of our Lord, and accept upon ourselves the sacrifices that the sins of those we love demand. We kneel before the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or—better yet—before Her Son in the Tabernacle, and we say, “Lord, punish me instead. Accepted this confession, this Communion, this Rosary, this meditation as if the one who has offended you is doing it. As I pray before you, see not my face, hear not my voice, but see and hear this person whom I love, and accept these prayers as if they are coming from him or her.”
When a man is ordained a priest, he typically has printed up a set of Holy Cards to give out to people with his name and the date of his ordination printed on it, so that they can put it in their prayer books and always remember to pray for him; and, I chose as the image for my ordination card the Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney. On the surface it seemed to many of my friends an unimaginative choice: Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests, so it was certainly appropriate, just not very original. But there was a particular reason why I chose him as my particular patron: Vianney spent most of his time in the confessional, and people came from great distances to confess to him, even though they could have just as easily gone to confession to their own parish priests. And one of the reasons everyone wanted to confess to Vianney was because he always gave very light penances. Someone could come into confession and confess that he committed adultery nine times, stole four million dollars from his employer, murdered his uncle for the inheritance, blew up the local IRS office, poisoned the local water supply, all since his last confession two weeks ago, and Vianney would send him to say one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Why was Vianney giving such light penances? Because he knew that, if he imposed the kind of penance that the penitent's sins actually deserved, the penitent would never be able to do it; so, he would impose a token penance, then, when confessions were over, he would go and do that person's penance himself. And that person would never know that the priest was doing his penance for him. By doing this, Vianney was imitating his Lord, who suffered and died for sins on the Cross; it's the primary reason that we call a priest alter Christus—“another Christ.” What he was, in fact, doing was reparation.
But you don't have to be a priest to make reparation. Anyone can make reparation for anyone else; and, by giving us, through Sister Lucia, the devotion of keeping the First Five consecutive Saturdays, our loving Mother Mary has given us an easy way to do it. And while we are invited to do it for those whom we love—even for ourselves, if need be—the Mother of God also transmitted to Sister Lucia five particular sins for which She asked us to make reparation, which is why She asked us for five Saturdays; and these we've already mentioned: blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception, against Her perpetual virginity, against Her Divine maternity, against those who try to turn the hearts of children against their Immaculate Mother, and those who blaspheme Mary by desecrating Her sacred images. The first of these, the blasphemies committed against Mary's Immaculate Conception, I'll try, as best I can, to explain further in the homily during Holy Mass; but don't let that deter you from using this day to make reparation for whomever you love who may need such reparation.
Now, I'm going to ask the children who have been chosen today to assist with the crowning of the statue of our Immaculate Mother to come forward, and we'll conclude this little talk with that crowning. We've already had many confessions, and you will have another chance to confess this afternoon in the Holy House chapel, so you can make sure you fulfill that part of the First Saturday devotion. After the crowning, we'll recite together the Holy Rosary, fulfilling that part of Our Lady's request, and we'll do it along with some meditations on the mysteries, thus fulfilling another of Our Lady's First Saturday requests. After the Holy Rosary, I'll go below to prepare for Holy Mass, so that we can receive Holy Communion worthily, and thus complete all that the Mother of God has asked of us. At the end of Holy Mass, we'll expose our Blessed Lord and, in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we'll recite our Fatima prayers and renew our Fatima Pledge, and those who have not yet been enrolled in the Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel may have that service performed for them. And the rest of today's program is there before you.
So, please stand for the crowning.
[At Holy Mass.]
To make reparation for blasphemies committed against the Immaculate Conception. That is the first of the five blasphemies for which the Mother of God asks us, through her servant, Sister Lucia, to make reparation. So, how does one blaspheme against the Immaculate Conception? To answer that question, one must first know what the Immaculate Conception means; and, while everyone here is a faithful Catholic, bound by the infallible decree of Pope Blessed Pius IX, to accept and believe in Mary's Immaculate Conception, how many of us, if asked, would be able to give a clear and concise definition of the dogma? At the conclusion of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, we all pray with great self-assurance, speaking of the Mother of God: “Blessed Her holy and Immaculate Conception”; we will do it again today.
Believe it or not, I've found—and perhaps you have, too—that many Catholics make the mistake of thinking the Immaculate Conception has something to do with the conception of our Blessed Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary. But the Immaculate Conception does not refer to our Lord's miraculous conception in the incarnation; rather, it refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of Her mother, Saint Anne. In fact, in the Byzantine Church, where I served as a Catholic priest for many years, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is actually called the feast of the Conception of Saint Anne. Why is Anne's conception of the Blessed Virgin considered Immaculate? What exactly does that mean? After all, Anne's conception of our Blessed Mother was not miraculous, at least not as to how it came about. Unlike her Son, the Blessed Virgin Mary had a real human father; there was nothing supernatural about how She was physically conceived, and you need no explanation from me about how that process works.
… Though, believe it or not, you can't presume anything nowadays. I remember one year, back when I was a pastor, I had four couples in my parish who all got married around the same time, so we did all the marriage preparation classes together as a group, so all these couples became friends. And within a year of performing all these weddings, I had baptized the babies of three of them. One of the girls who got married that year was a girl I had, in fact, baptized, which not only pointed to the fact that I had been the parish priest there much too long, but also made me feel very old; and, this was the girl who had not yet had her first child after a year of marriage. And it wasn't because these two young people were modernized with some sort of contraceptive mentality; I had known her since she was a child, obviously, and the young man she married was also something of a babe in the woods, both very devout and both very innocent; but, you don't usually think, when doing marriage instruction, that you actually have to tell them everything. But, after I prodded them a little and told them that it was time to do their duty for Christ and His Church, they did, and had a beautiful little girl, whom I baptized, which made me feel even older. Then I figured it was time to move on before I ended up baptizing that child's children.
The Mother of God was conceived in exactly this way. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary does not mean that the physical act of her conception was miraculous in any way; unlike our Blessed Lord, who did not have a human father and whose Mother conceived Him without losing her virginity, the Blessed Virgin did have a human father, and Her mother, Anne, was not a virgin. What was miraculous about the conception of our Lady in the womb of Her mother, Anne, was not how it happened, but the fact that she was conceived without any stain of original sin. And here is where people's eyes start to gloss over and they get confused, because, even though every one of us here, being faithful Catholics, would all swear to a man (or woman) that we believe in the doctrine of Original Sin with all our hearts—after all, it's why we have our children baptized—we so often live our lives as if we don't believe it. Why does evil seem to always thrive in the world? Why do decadence and debauchery seem to hold sway over our society, lead our children astray, even tempt and entice ourselves? Why have we stopped to wage the spiritual combat that came second nature to saints and martyrs of previous generations? Because we have forgotten our fallen nature. Because a misguided catechesis, born from a misinterpretation of a great ecumenical council, has fooled us into forgetting that we are born at war with the world.
So, to understand what it means to say that the Mother of God was conceived without Original Sin, we first have to understand what it means to say that everyone else is conceived with Original Sin, which means that we must understand what Original Sin is. What is Original Sin? I can give you the Baltimore Catechism answer, which many of you probably know:
Baltimore Catechism, original 1861 edition:
44. Q. What befell Adam and Eve on account of their sin? A. Adam and Eve on account of their sin lost innocence and holiness, and were doomed to misery and death.
45. Q. What evil befell us through the disobedience of our first parents? A. Through the disobedience of our first parents we all inherit their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful.
47. Q. What is the sin called which we inherit from our first parents? A. The sin which we inherit from our first parents is called original sin.
We all had to memorize this stuff as kids. We didn't understand what it all meant at the time, but we weren't supposed to; we memorized it so that we would remember it after we had grown up, no longer under the influence of a nasty nun armed with a ruler, so that we could recall it as adults and live our lives by it. And for the most part, it worked.
But then what happened? Some bright person comes along and decides that memorizing things isn't a good way to learn anymore, and it's wrong to wrap children on the knuckles when they get the answer wrong; that we need, instead, to keep telling our children how wonderful they are, and how special they are, and how much God loves them no matter how stupid they are; and give them coloring books with Jesus blessing farm animals and teach them how to make the Holy Spirit out of balloons. And don't forget the pretty posters they make now for Earth Day, because, after all, learning about Original Sin isn't nearly as fun as learning how to recycle.
And there's the irony of it: we dutifully bring our children to be baptized because we know, instinctively, that they need to be baptized to be cleansed of Original Sin so that the gates of heaven can be opened for them; and, we can't, most of us, even say what Original Sin is.
So, let's say it now. What is Original Sin? I actually gave you the answer to this question in the talk I gave you before Mass, so, let's hear it again: In the Book of Genesis, man, who had been created in grace and in the image and likeness of his creator, offends God and is stripped of sanctifying grace. What was the offense that man committed? He ate the fruit of the tree forbidden to him by God. How is the tree in the Garden of Eden described? It is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit on that tree symbolizes the authority of God to decide the difference between right and wrong. By eating the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man attempts to take that authority away from God and give it to himself, so that he, man, becomes the one to decide for himself what's right and what's wrong. That's why it's called the Original Sin: because all other sins are derived from it. When Adam eats the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he's trying to become God; and, this disposition to rebel against our Creator and reserve for ourselves the measure of morality is passed on to us.
And even though the sacrament of baptism restores the grace lost by our first parents in the Original Sin, we are still infected with its effects, which is why, even after baptism, we are tempted, and we sin. It would be nice if baptism would simply restore everything to the way it was before the Original Sin was committed, but it doesn't work that way. We are rational creatures, created with a free and open will, which means that our souls, once robbed of Sanctifying Grace, while they can have that Grace restored to them, still suffer from the effects of having been deprived of it.
When I was nine years old—sometime during the presidency of Millard Fillmore, I think it was—I had scarlet fever. Obviously, I survived. About three years ago, I was in the hospital preparing for surgery—not to perform it but to receive it; I do not moonlight as a surgeon—and someone decided to take a chest x-ray. It's always an adventure when I have a chest x-ray because, right in the middle of the upper quadrant of my right lung, is a big, white spot the size of a golf ball. I know what it is; I've had it since I was nine, but nobody ever believes me, and always thinks I've got some kind of cancer. So, they inject me with all this radioactive stuff and put me inside all these incredibly loud machines, the upshot of which is to confirm what I already told them but which they refused to believe the first time, which is, that's it's scar tissue left over from when I had scarlet fever. If I ever do get cancer it will be because of all the radioactive stuff they keep pumping into me to take these goofy pictures. What scarlet fever did to my right lung is kind of like what the Original Sin does to our souls even after being cleansed in baptism, except for one important difference: the thing in my lung doesn't effect me in any way; were it not for a chest x-ray now and then, I wouldn't even know it was there. But the Original Sin with which we are born scars our souls in such a way that, even when the disease of the sin is taken away by baptism, we still feel the symptoms of the disease. We are still tempted to sin. We are still subject to the whim of the devil. We do not enjoy the friendship that God had with Adam and Eve before the fall.
Look at it this way: a dear friend of yours betrays you, or perhaps even your husband or your wife, and the two of you become estranged for a long period of time; then, you both come to your senses and, filled with love and forgiveness and Christian Charity, you make up and restore your friendship; but, in the back of your mind you know that you will never fully trust that person again. The relationship is restored, the friendship is resumed or the marriage is preserved, but it won't be exactly as it was before; it will always be different. The Original Sin separates us from the friendship of God, and baptism restores that friendship; but, no matter how close to God we may become through prayer and the Grace of the Sacraments, we can never fully trust in God again, and will, instead, always look to ourselves. When we read the book of Genesis, and envy the relationship that Adam had with God before the fall, walking together side-by-side in the cool of the evening, we know we will never have that, just as Adam never had it again after he ate the apple, after he ate the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When God became a Man and died to pay for that sin as a Man, Adam, like the rest of us, had his disease cured; but, like the rest of us, he never had it exactly the way it was before because, even though the disease was cured, the scar never goes away.
Which brings us back to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her own mother, Saint Anne. God cured the disease of the Original Sin by becoming a Man and dying a real death; but, to become a Man He had to have a mother; but, even as a Man, He's still God, which means that the mother who gives Him birth will be giving to Him her own flesh and blood. Which poses a problem: as Man, God must have a human mother, but as God, that human mother cannot have flesh that carries the scar of the disease of the Original Sin. So, what does God do? He prepares His way to earth by causing to be conceived, in the normal way, a Woman without the scar of the Original Sin: the only human person, besides Himself, ever conceived in this condition. The Immaculate Conception was necessary because Jesus is God.
The first blasphemy, therefore, against the Immaculate Conception is denying that Jesus is God. The Protestants say, most of them, that Jesus is God; but, they deny the Immaculate Conception, claiming that they can't find it in the Bible. It's there, of course: it starts with the Book of Genesis and ends with birth of our Lord. It is impossible to deny the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and still believe that Jesus is God. In fact, when you think about it, a person who doesn't believe in the Immaculate Conception isn't really a Christian.
And, of course, it's not surprising that those who deny the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary also deny the very existence of the Original Sin. Oh, they don't deny that Adam committed the sin; they just deny we carry the scars. This usually comes from taking a fundamentalist approach to the Bible, believing that there actually was an historical person named Adam, with an historical wife named Eve, who gave her husband an historical apple off of an historical tree that God, for some purely arbitrary reason, decided he didn't want anyone picking fruit from. The irony in all this is that people will fall into taking a fundamentalist approach to the Sacred Scriptures out of an exaggerated love and devotion for the Bible, but it's that very fundamentalist approach that ends up causing them to deny the basic truths of the faith that God inspired Moses to write the Book of Genesis to teach us.
So far, the Protestants are not fairing very well as we examine how the Immaculate Conception is blasphemed. How 'bout we take a look at ourselves? We may not deny the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, we may not deny the doctrine of the Original Sin as revealed in Genesis, at least not with our lips. But don't we do it almost every day in our actions? I mentioned this a little bit in the talk before, as well. What was the great misunderstanding about conscience that came out of the Second Vatican Council? That we don't have to obey what God says is right or wrong; we can pray about it, and just decide for ourselves. Not only does that peculiar teaching never appear in any of the documents of Vatican II, not only has it never been the teaching of the Catholic Church at any time, not only have Popes from Peter to Benedict condemned that idea, but what does it remind you of? Talk about taking a bite of the apple! Or are we to presume that, if Adam had prayed about eating the apple before he ate it, and decided, after talking to his confessor, that it was OK to eat the apple because he was just following his conscience, then Original Sin would have been avoided, man would never have lost God's friendship, God would never had had to come to earth to die and rise again, so we would need no Christ, no Church, no Cross, no Mass, and we'd all be living fat, dumb and happy in the Garden of Eden right now? Don't be ridiculous! As much as I admire her—and the reading of her new biography, just published by us, by the way, has caused me to admire her more and more—I doubt that Sister Lucia could have understood everything that was on the mind of the Mother of God when She asked for reparation for blasphemes against Her Immaculate Conception; because, one of the most heinous blasphemes against the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance and the archetype of the very essence of selfishness, separating soul after soul after soul from the Grace of God, is the mortal sin of artificial contraception. And I will say this only once: if you have ever confessed to a priest the sin of your marital acts not being open to human life, and told that it's OK, that you can pray about it and “follow your conscience,” never go to confession to that priest again. He cannot help you to get to heaven.
Irony! That's the third time today that I've used that word. And now we come to the biggest irony of them all, because today is the Memorial of that great Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Saint Athanasius. As we were preparing for this first major observance of a First Saturday here at our beautiful Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, one of the people involved in preparing for it asked me if it was possible to set aside Saint Athanasius' feast so we could celebrate the Votive Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and I said, “No.” Not only is it not allowed, but I have to believe there is a touch of Divine Providence in his feast falling on this day. In the fourth century, when Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, Northern Africa and the Middle East were almost entirely Catholic. In fact, the Roman Provence of Northern Africa was the most vibrant and active part of the Church, more so than Rome itself. And, as we know from our own experience here in America, when a local Church becomes large and prosperous and rich, it easily falls into sin. Alexandria was the biggest diocese in the Catholic Church—the Chicago or New York of its day—and was the home of the biggest heresy that ever threatened the True Faith. It all started with a priest of Athanasius' own diocese, named Arius. Like many priests of his time—perhaps even of our time—he was looking for a way to make Christianity more palatable to the pagans around him; and he concluded that, if the Church could only see her way clear to present Jesus in the same way the Greeks presented their philosophers—like a philosophical teacher without all this religion stuff getting in the way—people would be more inclined to accept the Church’s message. If we could just leave out all that stuff about morality, and all these complicated rituals and liturgies, and just preach Christianity as a philosophy of brotherly love, then all kinds of people would flock to the Church. Needless to say, Arius became very popular; and, for a while, his heresy, which became known as Arianism, was so popular that, at one point, most of the world’s bishops and priests believed and were preaching it. In fact, from the latter part of the third century right through to the middle of the fourth, every single bishop of the Catholic Church in Northern Africa, the largest province of the Church in Catholicism, was preaching that Jesus was a very nice and grace-filled man, but not God—every bishop, that is, except one. Athanasius stood alone. The Pope was on his side, but the Pope was far away in Rome, and could do nothing to help other than write letters, which were all, of course, politely ignored. For seventeen years, Athanasius was exiled from his diocese, unable to care for his flock, while heretics in his own diocese led countless souls away from the worship of Jesus Christ as Lord and God. When the Emperor, who himself had been an Arian heretic, called an ecumenical council of the Church at Nicea to try and heal the Church's divisions, Athanasius, still just a deacon at the time, stood in the middle of that assembly and shouted loud and clear words that would forever become engrained in the hearts of Christians for centuries: that Jesus Christ is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten and not made, con-substantial with the Father, and through Him all things were made. The Church took those words, and put them into a creed, and commanded that every Christian for all time would be required to recite those words, and believe them, as a condition for receiving the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Athanasius probably never heard the phrase “Immaculate Conception,” but he certainly would have understood it. For just as one cannot deny the Immaculate Conception without denying the Divinity of Christ, so is it just as impossible to believe in the Divinity of Christ without also believing in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a fact that would be confirmed by the Church a couple of hundred years later at the Council of Ephesus, when it declared, for all time, that Mary is truly the Mother of God.
Replace the Mass of Saint Athanasius because it's First Saturday? Not a chance! He is the perfect saint to celebrate on this day. And so, as we continue now to offer this Holy Sacrifice of our Blessed Lord's Body and Blood, let us fulfill that most important condition of successfully making our First Saturday devotions, by praying in a spirit of reparation for all those who offend the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, and reaffirm for Her our own certain faith that Her Son, Jesus Christ, is indeed, in human form, the one and only God.
* In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, from Easter Saturday until the end of Paschaltide, the Gradual Psalm is omitted.
** Carmel of Coimbra, A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary, 2015, World Apostolate of Fatima, p. 158.