We shall reflect on the words of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. When it comes to commenting on the words of Our Lord, every Christian who is careful about what he says or writes cannot help feeling a certain reverential fear. Might not what he will say miss the divine truth? Or will he be able to penetrate however slightly into a pre-eminently mysterious word? This apprehension also seizes him when it comes to commenting on the words of Our Lady. Yet it is also as normal to comment on the divine word as to reflect and meditate upon it. While the silence of love may be the most worthy homage (awaiting the eternal morning of vision), it is impossible not to speak, not to employ our discursive faculty before divine truth. Such an attitude has always been encouraged by the Church, who is as profoundly a theologian as she is a mystic. So let confidence outweigh fear, and may our reflection attempt to penetrate into the message the Queen of the Rosary confided to her humble privileged souls: Jacinta and Francesco, and especially Lucy.
One of the first ideas that occur to us upon reading this message is that world peace, political peace, is a gift of God and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “Say [the rosary] with the intention of obtaining the end of the war.”1 Peace is thus suspended from the intercession of Our Lady and the omnipotence of Him whom we hail in Christmas Matins as Princeps Pacis. There is no doubt that this is true of supernatural peace, the peace that abides within the secret of the heart, which proceeds from the love of God, within the holy Church, which is the Beata Pacis visio. For how could peace of this order, of its nature heavenly, a peace of this quality, properly divine and supernatural, not be a gift of God and a fruit of the intercession of the Virgin redemptrix? On the other hand, a certain political naturalism would lead us to think that the peace “of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” since it is a reality of a natural, perishable order, lies within the scope of nature abandoned to itself. There is no doubt but that some Christians have slipped on this slope. It is a slope of error. And this for two reasons: first of all, by virtue of the quite general principle that no good thing begins, continues, and comes to completion without the benevolence of the Almighty and unless God grants it His blessing; and secondly, for a very specific reason having to do with the essence of political peace.
It is, in effect, a fruit of justice–opus justitiae pax; now, there is no solid, integral justice without conversion of heart and thus without supernatural grace, that is, without a divine favor. Peace is the tranquility of a just order; but this just order cannot happen without the will of men. If the leaders and the people ordinarily abandon themselves to injustice, how can the tranquility of order be obtained? One may say perhaps: but isn’t it enough to have just institutions to be preserved from injustice, whatever form this may take: as, for example, to fail to recognize or to oppose the authority of the Church; to develop an unbridled economic imperialism; to oppress weaker nations? Certainly, appropriate institutions can and should remedy these crimes. But good institutions, while helping people to be good, are first of all created and supported by the justice of individuals. Now, this justice is quite weak and short-lived without God’s grace, in such a way that, without grace, the best of institutions are not enough to ensure peace.
To be sure, it would be grotesque to interpret the message of Fatima in the sense of a supernaturalism and to fail to recognize that world peace is a political effect partly linked to political causes. On the other hand, it is normal to interpret the message of Fatima as a reminder of the fundamental truth that politics is not enough, for the resulting political order is dependent on fallen and redeemed human beings. If individuals do not let themselves be healed by divine grace, the desired political effects will not follow. It is because the Church is deeply aware of this that she counts on the Lord first and foremost to obtain peace. Let us think rather of the commentary on the “Libera nos a malo” that the liturgy develops at the end of the Pater Noster before Communion; let us also think of the Good Friday prayers and the Exsultet of the Paschal Vigil. Peace is always presented to us as a gift of divine mercy. This lesson from the liturgy is also the first lesson of Fatima.
The second lesson is complementary: world peace is impossible without the conversion of Christians. This gift of God is not automatic, not only because it requires and fosters just politics, but at the same time because God cannot grant this gift without the conversion of wills: “Do penance,” said the Blessed Virgin. “If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace in the world.” Let us not be unrealistic. Let us not imagine that peace among nations and within nations will be obtained if all the Christians are not in the state of grace. But let us also understand that peace cannot be established if Christian people persist in lukewarmness: in other words, if they continue to make the comforts of technological progress the be all and end all of their lives.
The conversion called for by the Blessed Virgin and the peace of which she speaks are not ahistorical. They are specific to an era, to a precise period of human history, the time of the Communist Revolution in Russia and the worldwide expansion of Communist propaganda. World peace is not to be achieved in the state in which the world lay at the time of the Roman Emperors, when the nations as such had not been baptized and when the State had no notion of legislation enlightened by the Church or that took into account the coming on earth of the very Son of God and of His work of Redemption. The peace in question concerns a world in which a certain number of nations were baptized, and so it is of paramount importance that their subjects conduct their lives as baptized persons. Nor can peace in the modern world be achieved in the conditions prevailing at the time of the 16th century, when, in spite of the heretics and free-thinkers, no one envisaged that the State should be organized on the basis of materialism (and not just a doctrinal materialism to be preached, but dialectical materialism in the revolutionary activity that the State is compelled to adopt by means of perfidious cunning or under the pressure of terror!)
The conjuncture in which Our Lady called for conversion is assuredly very particular. It was at the time when Communism was spreading in one great land at one extremity of Europe that she appeared at the other extremity of the continent to urge our conversion. The war threatening the world was not a war like others, firstly because the methods of destruction have achieved incredible progress, but especially because dialectical materialism had insinuated its poison into the social fabric of the Russian State and was threatening to corrupt other States. “If my demands are not met,” our Lady told us, “Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution against the Church.”
It would be easy to capitulate at once and say, for example: “After all, does it really matter so much if a part of humanity is destroyed by nuclear weapons? The victims will not find themselves because of that in an absolute impossibility of saving their souls. Should we really fear worldwide domination by communism and the abolition of Christian nations so much? After all, the grace of God has no need of anything nor anyone, and those who desire it will still be able to save their souls.” Alas, these statements are not a fictitious objection that I’m addressing. This language of pre-emptive capitulation, which inspires indignation in every noble heart, has unfortunately been made by some Christians.
These are abject proposals that the instinct of natural generosity as well as the instinct of faith reject out of hand. This spontaneous refusal of the Christian heart which precedes its articulate justification might be explained this way: It is true that grace is strong enough and powerful enough to draw good from evil, to bring forth the holiness of the martyrs from the iniquity of tyrants and the cruelty of executioners. It remains that we ought not to do evil so that good may come of it and to do so is an abominable sin. It remains that we ought not to cooperate in evil by our complicity. We know that even during the apostasy and the general iniquity of the last times the power of God is still strong enough to save men. But we should do what we can to prevent injustice.
In some respects, it is true that Christian nations are not indispensable to the life of the Church. But since they exist we would be criminal to work towards their disappearance or to cooperate in their disappearance in any way. We ought not commit this injustice. It is very easy to say that the Church has no need of Christian civilization. This proposition is not understood correctly unless it is considered in light of the two following propositions: from the fact that she is a stranger on earth, the Church cannot avoid having an influence on terrestrial things that are in relation with the Faith; she cannot avoid affecting private and public morals and consequently she tends to form a Christian civilization.
The second truth is that Christian civilization constitutes for the Church a normal aid and support. We know the limits of Christian nations and how much they constantly need to be uplifted, corrected, and returned to the right path and that they are of another order than the Church. But to conclude from this that because these two orders are distinct they must therefore be separate is to fail, under pretext of purity, to take account of the fact that the Church develops on this earth.
The Church cannot be indifferent to the social conditions that foster respect for law, that is, a Christian social order. And it is such an order that God desires as support for His Church. When Christians commit the great injustice of allowing the abolition of this order, they know not what they are doing nor with what scandals they burden their consciences–for example, when, without any resistance, they allow private schools to be closed or allow state control of the economy. Although God can save souls through the worst of scandals, and even when the scandal has been codified and institutionalized, the Christians who favor or who at least do not prevent the scandal when they might have, are gravely culpable. Likewise, when Christians fancy that a Christian civilization can continue to exist without their conversion, they no longer understand what a Christian civilization is and the wrong they do to it.
To enable the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ to achieve its full stature and the number of the elect to be filled up, the social order is of no small importance. First, it is necessary for children to come into the world and for the human race not to be destroyed too soon; then it is necessary for men to be able to grow up in a society that accepts the Church at least partially, or, at any rate, accepts it enough so as not to become a perpetual and institutionalized incitement to apostasy, materialism, and the rejection of God.
Thus the spiritual kingdom posits a minimum of Christian social order; it helps such an order to be established, to endure, and to be renewed, but at the same time calls for it as a normal support.
If we consider the Incarnation from the angle where this mystery concerns the social order, we see immediately that the Blessed Virgin holds a unique and unequaled place. Whether it regards the coming of the Word of God in a passible and mortal flesh, or His birth at Bethlehem, or His preservation during the exile in Egypt, the education at Nazareth or the first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, the Blessed Virgin was involved in the temporal aspects of the Incarnation as only the Mother of the Word Incarnate could be. One begins to comprehend that she now continues to watch over the social order of mankind in the measure that it is in relation with the Mystical Body of her Son Jesus Christ. One comprehends that she intervenes for the sake of a Christian social order; there is a profound affinity between her current role in the life of the Church2 and the role she played in the accomplishment and the unfolding of the Mystery of the Incarnation.
To be sure, it is foretold that the social order will culminate in the abomination of widespread apostasy,3 but until that time, and even at that time, the Blessed Virgin will be maternally watching to insure that the Church has that part of mankind and Christian civilization without which it could no longer exist on earth.
This explains why the heavenly Father wanted the apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima to occur in 1917. While for the first time the nations of the world had just unleashed a war of total extermination, while a totally new revolution was developing that aimed less at regime change than at spreading throughout the world atheistic institutions and morals; in short, while Christian civilization, as imperfect as it may have been, was undergoing the most formidable assaults within and without, it was fitting that the heavenly Father should send to the world, for the purpose of helping it recover a Christian social order, the Immaculate Virgin whose consent had allowed the Incarnation of the Son of God and His temporal life. Now we can understand why the major apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, apparitions of global significance, only began after the unprecedented attack against Christian civilization by the great Revolution, and after the first organized attempt at integral secularism. From that moment the role of the Blessed Virgin for the salvation and renewal of a Christian social order became more urgent and appeared more clearly.
By our Lady’s intervention at Fatima to preserve us from communism, if we at least desire to be converted, she showed clearly that the peace she desires for us cannot have anything in common with communist peace, which is the tranquility of disorder maintained by means of technologically organized terror and a propaganda machine that does not shrink from any lie nor any violation of conscience. True peace is the tranquility of an order based on justice both public and personal, a justice moreover that cannot exist without love.
Communism speaks a great deal about peace, just as it speaks a great deal about freedom, liberation, and social justice. But since it has categorically and in principle rejected God and His Church, and since it reduces man to being nothing more than a certain variety of matter, its peace can only be a grimacing counterfeit. A peace that fundamentally contradicts the nature of man and society may indeed present an exterior of tranquility, but it is the tranquility of convicts condemned to the galley: they cannot leave their bench, and they work together because they live under the empire of terror and the whip. In the Communist galley the convicts still have the questionable privilege over the galley slaves of old of being able to listen to State radio broadcasts exalting the pleasures of their lot and the amenity of their guards while a hail of blows rains down without intermission on their skeletal carcasses.
There can be no communist peace, no more than there can be peace based on a comfortable, natural religion blessed by technological progress,4 or soft materialism, or revolutionary dialectical materialism, though the latter would otherwise be consistent and tyrannical.
The temptation to gain the whole world without fear of losing their souls threatens poor men more than ever. Technological progress offers them ever increasing opportunities to spend their lives without regard for eternity; to spend their lives without prayer, sacrifice, or love of God; to yield themselves without resistance to the plethora of anesthetics discovered daily by modern science. In the 17th century Racine bemoaned the vain pursuits of worldly people; his lamentation has become even more justified in our day than it was in the age of the stagecoach, the sailing ship, and strolling players. That is why the Blessed Virgin is urging Christians to be converted, that is to say, to awaken from the false peace of tranquil materialism under pain of becoming a prey to dialectical materialism and its intrinsically perverse order.
At Fatima the Blessed Virgin did not simply say that in the end she would triumph. She said: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” So saying, she wanted to remind us that her intervention in our unhappy history would be an additional proof of her love. Just as we need not look for any other cause than the love of the Mother of God in her Fiat mihi that allowed the Incarnation, or the silent offering of her co-redemptive Compassion, or her ardent prayer in the Cenacle that obtained the irrevocable effusion of the Holy Spirit, so also her unceasing, unseen supplication in heaven and her manifest intervention at certain desperate hours of the history of the Church and Christian civilization proceed uniquely from her love.
We have seen some Christians sneer when listening to talk about the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart; they justify their discreet mockery by theological reasons. It is enough to speak of Jesus and our Lady without making an explicit mention of their hearts, they explain; moreover, contemporary imagery, far from nourishing faith, encourages a suspect sentimentality. Whatever may be the case as regards often questionable imagery, the infallible Church officially promotes devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart, and in the apparitions of Fatima it is question not only of Our Lady or Queen of the Rosary, but also of the Immaculate Heart. If Christians who find fault with these expressions have really loved their parents or their friends, their spouse or their children, if they have not defiled the language of love, they know full well that there’s no speaking of love without speaking of the heart. Ever since there have been human beings who experience affection they invariably adopt the terms and phrases that remain no less valid for having often been profaned: “I give you my heart. I keep you in my heart.” Well then, since Mary loves us and since she has no other reason to take care of us than her ineffable love as Co-Redemptrix Mother of God, it is not surprising that she speaks to us of her heart.
Nor is it surprising that she adds, my Immaculate Heart. By that, she means us to understand how much she loves us purely, how much her love is attuned to the holiness of God; and it is impossible for her, the Immaculate Mother of her only Son, to desire for us anything else than the accomplishment of God’s will. Doubtless, neither can our brothers in heaven, the angels and saints, love us except in all purity nor in desiring for us anything but what God wants. But they do not have with God this absolutely unique bond, both physical and spiritual, which is the property of the Mother of God; consequently, in regard to God and in regard to us they lack the perfection and quality of love that belong to the Mother of God. The love of the angels and saints is certainly pure, but the love of the Immaculate Mother of God outstrips it extraordinarily in purity.
Knowing this, we understand better that she speaks to us of conversion and she makes peace contingent on conversion, that is, on fidelity to her Son and conformity to His Gospel. She cannot, in effect, desire peace for her children, namely, the first of all temporal goods, if it would make them forget conversion, if it would make them shirk the first of spiritual goods, namely, conformity to Jesus Christ by conversion, awaiting conformity to Jesus Christ by the blessed resurrection. Because the Blessed Virgin carries us in her Immaculate Heart, because she loves us with the love of an Immaculate Heart, she cannot obtain for us peace on earth without asking us for the conversion of our souls.
Similarly, she cannot obtain for us an earthly peace that would be tantamount to paradise on earth, one that would exempt us from having to suffer from the evil within us and around us, from having to fight against the devil and against all those who, for a time or for their whole life and with a more or less imperfect docility, do the devil’s work and play his game.
The peace that the Immaculate Heart wants to obtain for us does not fulfill the impure aspirations of political messianism: the messianism, abhorred by the true Messias, that refuses to take account of either the cross or the devil, or participation in the sacrifice of Jesus, or the unleashed malice of Satan. Since the human condition is marked by the Fall and Redemption, earthly peace cannot comprise the absolute suppression of every injustice because sin continues, and therefore peace cannot avoid being precarious and threatened. A word of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima gently reminds us of this truth without possibility of illusion: “…a time of peace will be given to the world,” she says. This restriction wrings our hearts: the peace will not be perpetual. And we may add: it will not be the unqualified triumph of perfect justice.
One might be inclined to be disappointed or to bewail our fate or to become angry. However, what is in conformity with the best aspirations of our nature as well as the divine inclinations of grace is to understand that this good, however imperfect it may be, is nonetheless of inestimable value; it means that we should continue working for peace on earth, everyone at his post and according to his talents, being vigilant especially as regards the conversion of our own heart; in short, working for peace with the Christian dispositions the Blessed Virgin came to remind us of.
The hatred, fury, and vigilant malice of Satan against the Church, of the Dragon against the Spouse, will perdure until the glorious return of the Lamb. The revelation of the Apocalypse does not leave us in any doubt about it. Likewise, the Apocalypse teaches us that the assaults of Hell will redouble with violence the closer the end draws near. The counter-Church will perfect its methods, the counter-Church which the Apocalypse reveals to us as nothing else than the political power, temporal society inasmuch as it sets itself up as an absolute power, becoming an idol and demanding everything from men, and by that very fact working unceasingly for the Church’s destruction.
For whoever reads the Apocalypse attentively, it seems that history does not repeat itself and that there is a development of the Two Cities. How then should we imagine the progress of the City of Evil? It seems to us to consist in this: progressively the devil will get hold of the fundamental conditions needed by the human will for acting rightly. To be sure, the devil has no direct power over our wills. But as human history develops, he works relentlessly to pervert the basic elements necessary for us to use our will correctly, such as the family, our profession, the work place, civil society, legislation, and morals both public and private. The devil deploys all his rage and cunning so that those things that should help us in doing good become for us a source of scandal, and not just in passing or occasionally, but permanently.
It is a first right of human nature to be helped to go to God by a decent family, an education in truth, an economy organized in accord with justice, and a society in conformity with the natural law. As history progresses, the devil shows himself increasingly stronger and more skillful at violating the true rights of man and arranging for him a life in which apostasy happens almost naturally. A society based on dialectical materialism represents an incontestable progress in his methods. Such a society is possessed by the devil since its institutions as a whole are organized in violation of natural law: it is institutionalized sin.
At Fatima, even more than at Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin recommended saying the Rosary; she even gave herself the title, Our Lady of the Rosary. Is there a profound link between true conversion of heart, the conversion she asks of us, and this form of prayer that too often remains routine and superficial? The answer is affirmative, and we shall show why. However, at the very least this prayer must be a genuine prayer, that is, it must be made in spirit and in truth instead of being mechanically mumbled. The indignation expressed by Pascal in his ninth Provinciale and St. Louis de Montfort in Chapter 3 of his True Devotion over false devotees of our Lady still deserve our consideration, and after Fatima at least as much as in the 17th century.
For if the Blessed Virgin calls herself Our Lady of the Rosary and if she urges us to make use of our beads, it is not to authorize inattention, and still less Pharisaism, in prayer. This being said, it seems that the great advantage of the Rosary when it is said “in spirit and in truth,” is that it obliges us more than any other devotion (we are not speaking of the liturgy, which is of a different order) to become aware of the entire mystery of our Redemption: the life, passion, and glory of Christ the Savior. This prolonged awareness should obviously lead us to conform our sentiments and our morals to the subject of our meditation. The Rosary is a contemplative prayer; it makes us contemplate the Gospel, and this in the presence and with the aid of her who has penetrated furthest into the heart of the Gospel; how could it fail to be a wonderful source of evangelical life? How then can the Rosary fail to incite us to change our lives and to be converted? This is all the more true in that, if it is said as it should be said, the Rosary should lead us to a better frequentation of the Eucharist, the “mystery of Faith” and the great Eucharistic prayer, which are the privileged means of our transformation in Christ.
The Rosary well-said makes us enter mystically into the Mystery of Christ and makes us desire to participate in this mystery sacramentally so that our mystical participation becomes more continuous and profound. The efficacy of the Rosary for our conversion is better understood if we think of the vital link between the recitation of the mysteries and the sacramental frequentation of the Eucharistic mystery.
No less than being a contemplation, the Rosary is a petition, and a petition assuredly very pleasing in God’s eyes and very presentable to His infinite holiness since the suppliant, the poor sinner who implores, hides and loses himself in the prayer of her who prays perfectly, for she addresses the Father perfectly, praying in the name of her Son Jesus and in the Holy Spirit; it is with an accent of ineffable purity that she pronounces the “per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum,” being the Immaculate Mother of this Dominus.
These few reflections undoubtedly suffice to explain why the Blessed Virgin, not to mention the ordinary teaching of the Church, attaches such an importance to the Rosary. It is because the Rosary, to tell the truth, far from being a closed circle and dispensing with all the rest, is a very sure path to greater goods; far from exempting us from conversion, it prepares it; far from forgetting the liturgy and the sacraments, it leads to them and prolongs them. The poor usage that might be made of the Rosary does not prove anything against its worth any more than too often poor religious art proves something against the splendor of Christ and the Virgin.
It is especially when the fervor of the Christian people wanes, when scandal and sin abound, or when Christian civilization is on the brink of ruin; it is especially in these hours of extreme peril either for the Church or Christian nations that the popes adjure us to have recourse to the Rosary. Let us recall, for example, St. Pius V at the time of the Turkish invasion; of Pius XI during the Spanish revolution and on the eve of the Second World War; and finally of Pius XII while a third of the Church had become the Church of Silence. This confidence placed by the popes and Holy Mother Church in the Rosary for the Church’s triumph over the forces of hell in the hours of their most furious attacks can be explained naturally because the Rosary, being a holy meditation, sets us on the path of conversion; being a supplication through the intermediary of the Immaculate, it is a pure petition; finally, if it implores salvation and the renewal of a Christian social order, it implores it in the sense that God wants, since it is addressed to the Virgin of the Annunciation and of Calvary, who knows perfectly the worth and importance of the temporal order.
“Perpetual peace and especially perfect justice are not for here below; persecution will resume at the end of time, and even on the eve of the Second Coming the forces of Satan will be stronger than ever. Let’s confine ourselves to prayer and leave to their fate the deceitful things of civilization and Caesar.” Thus speak the Christians who take refuge in supernaturalism. They are wrong, of course. Even if they are dedicated to contemplation and devote their time to prayer, their prayer should not be indifferent to the justice or injustice of the things of Caesar; rather, it should imitate the great liturgical prayer that admirably translates the contemplation of the Spouse of Jesus Christ and never ceases to implore justice and peace in the kingdoms of this world. But if the Christians stricken with supernaturalism do not live in the cloister, if they are more or less involved in the things of Caesar, then their attitude of ostensible detachment becomes a kind of hypocrisy because they benefit from the temporal while they make a profession of taking no further interest in it.
“Let us organize the planet in a radically new way. Let us change not only the basic institutions of natural law, but even human nature itself, to see if we can establish perfect happiness and faultless justice here below.” Thus speak the fanatical prophets who reject God and let themselves be possessed by the devils of earthly messianism. By virtue of this proclamation, they apply themselves to “creative destruction,” and when they have yielded to the seduction of dialectical materialism, they make the corruption of consciences, the perversion of minds, and the overthrow of institutions go hand in hand.
True Christians, however, recognize the imperfection and frailty of the social order, even when it has been baptized; they also do not doubt that a just social order and a peace worthy of the name are God’s will. Above all, they know that man is made for God, and that peace and holiness are to be found in God alone in the bosom of Christ’s Church. They try to abide in God. Because of this indwelling in Him who desires justice they find the courage not to be resigned to injustice. Whether in their mental prayer, if they dwell in a monastery, or in their mental prayer and action if they are engaged in active life, they work for justice and for the establishment and renewal of a Christian social order without illusion as without discouragement for the simple reason that God wills it. This attitude, the only balanced one, presupposes that the soul is fixed in God, or at least that it sincerely aspires to this union of love that constitutes true conversion.
This is the attitude that the apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima and consecration to her Immaculate Heart ought to inspire in us. Her Immaculate Heart, in effect, desires to obtain for us both a Christian peace and the conversion of our lives; but, she warns us, a Christian peace will not be granted unless we are resolved to amend our lives.
1 Chanoine C. Barthas and Fr. G. Da Fonseca, S.J., Our Lady of Light (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds, Ltd., 1947), p. 28.
2 For what concerns the relation of Mary’s regency with civilization, cf. the articles of Fr. M.-J. Nicolas, O.P., on the Virgin Queen, Revue Thomiste, 1939, pp. 1-29, 207-231.
3 See Fr. M.-E. Boismard, O.P., Apocalypse (Paris: Cerf, 1953); see also Fr. Ernest-Bernard Allo, O.P., St. John: Apocalypse (Paris: Gabalda, 1921).
4 On the theme of the philosophy of technology, see the Christmas Message of Pius XII, “On Modern Technology and Peace” published by the National Catholic Welfare Conference (Washington, D.C., 1953).