Sacrifice isn’t a word that gets used much these days, and yet it was a key element in the message of Our Lady of Fatima. Reading ‘Fatima in Lucia’s own words’, edited by Fr Louis Kondor SVD, published in 1976, I am struck by how diligently the three children put the request of Our Lady, ‘Make of everything you can a sacrifice’, into practice. We might often pray for the conversion of a soul, but how often to we take the example of Blessed Jacinta and her companions to heart and add sacrifices to those prayers?
Of course, sacrifice is never easy. Perhaps that is why we shy away from it so much. The heroism of the sacrifices that Blessed Jacinta offered up at the tender age of 7 or 8 leaves me in awe. Here is a short excerpt:
“When some time later, we were put in prison, what made Jacinta suffer most, was to feel that their parents had abandoned them. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she would say: ‘neither your parents nor mine have come to see us. They don’t bother about us any more!’ ‘Don’t cry,’ said Francisco, ‘we can offer this to Jesus for sinners’. Then, raising his eyes and hands to heaven, he made the offering: ‘O my Jesus, this is for love of You, and for the conversion of sinners.’ Jacinta added: ‘And also for the Holy Father, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Some time later Jacinta was again crying, and Lucia asked her why. ‘Because we are going to die,’ she replied, ‘without ever seeing our parents again, not even our mothers!’ With tears running down her cheeks, she added: ‘I would like at least to see my mother.’ ‘Don’t you want, then, to offer this sacrifice for the conversion of sinners?’ ‘I do want to, I do!’ With her face bathed in tears, she joined her hands, raised her eyes to heaven and made her offering.”
Many of us tend to equate sacrifice with self denial, and the three children of Fatima certainly did that by often giving up their lunch in favour of poor children they met on their way out to shepherd their families’ sheep. Such acts fall under the heading of things we choose to do to show our love for God. Looking at what happened in the prison scenes, we can see that sacrifice also means accepting with love our disappointments and the death of our cherished dreams. Such acts fall under the heading of things that God chooses for us to show our love for Him. This other aspect of sacrifice is something we have largely forgotten the value of.
Whereas we tend to pray first and, once in a blue moon, tack on a sacrifice when praying for the conversion of a loved one, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia sought sacrifices first and prayer second. Through Our Lady and by experience these children learned that to obtain a conversion sacrifices are essential. They were also willing to pray and sacrfice for long periods of time so as to obtain from God the graces desired for souls. What fueled their zeal was the thought that the horrors and tortures of hell go on and on for ever, never ever finishing, and so in compassion for sinners they were willing to sacrrifice and pray until they saw genuine change in the lives for which they offered those sacrifices and prayers.
In her ‘Story of a Soul’, St Therese of Lisieux also talks about this second kind of sacrifice:
“Another time I was working in the laundry, and the Sister opposite, while washing handkerchiefs, repeatedly splashed me with dirty water. My first impulse was to draw back and wipe my face, to show the offender I should be glad if she would behave more quietly; but the next minute I thought how foolish it was to refuse the treasures God offered me so generously, and I refrained from betraying my annoyance. On the contrary, I made such efforts to welcome the shower of dirty water, that at the end of half an hour I had taken quite a fancy to this novel kind of aspersion, and I resolved to come as often as I could to the happy spot where such treasures were freely bestowed.”
St Therese obviously saw these kinds of sacrifices as the legal tender of the Kingdom of God, and exceedingly valuable in the exchange rate for the conversion of souls.
These truths we tend to hear and then act on for a short while, before forgetting them again. Therefore we need to be reminded of them on a regular basis, lest we forget them completely and so forfeit such treasures for souls. Reading details about the lives of the Saints often provides the reminders we need, as does reflecting upon the messages of Our Lady of Fatima.
May Blessed Jacinta Marto, Blessed Francisco Marto, Sr Lucia of Fatima and St Thererse of Lisieux pray for us and help us to gather the graces of sacrifices frequently and regularly.