The Not-So-Secret Message of Fatima

We humans have an itch for knowledge and power. It seems to be in our DNA. In many areas of life, we are well-served by the restless striving for a better handle on things, all sorts of things–career choices, professional advancement, family relationships, concord with the neighbors, right down to eliminating weeds in the garden and getting better gas mileage. Knowledge and power, in themselves, are good, like all of God’s creation. But they often are denied to us. 

When the third secret of Fatima was published in June 2000, many hoped for stunning revelations about humanity’s future and cosmic destiny. Would there be prophecies about the end of the world? Would the antichrist be identified? We Catholics could only hope. After all, we frequently feel outnumbered and outgunned in a world increasingly hostile to the one true faith. It would be nice to get the drop on our adversaries for a change.  

What we got was a straightforward account of the visions received by Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Martos at the Cova da Iria in 1917, and written down by Lucia decades later. There were prophecies, but most of them had already taken place by 2000.  The full text of the third secret was released, along with a Theological Commentary by then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, future Pope Benedict XVI of blessed memory. The Cardinal opened with words clearly intended to dispel any apocalyptic fervor: 

A careful reading of the text of the so-called third “secret” of Fatima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.

So much for special knowledge and power. But then we see the wisdom of the man, a good and wise shepherd, and never one to shy away from difficult issues. He immediately posed the almost plaintive questions that doubtless rose in many hearts: “Is this what the Mother of the Lord wished to communicate to Christianity and to humanity at a time of great difficulty and distress? Is it of any help to us at the beginning of the new millennium?”

Cardinal Ratzinger carefully explained and interpreted the symbolism in the messages. Perhaps more important, he told us what we are to do with this knowledge: 

“To save souls” has emerged as the key word of the first and second parts of the “secret”, and the key word of this third part is the threefold cry: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The beginning of the Gospel comes to mind: “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mk 1:15). To understand the signs of the times means to accept the urgency of penance – of conversion – of faith. This is the correct response to this moment of history. … Allow me to add here a personal recollection: in a conversation with me Sister Lucia said that it appeared ever more clearly to her that the purpose of all the apparitions was to help people to grow more and more in faith, hope and love – everything else was intended to lead to this.

Our enemy the devil would like to annex the world to his own kingdom of misery. This he cannot do, of course, so he tries instead to promote excessive focus on the evil in the world. Maybe he can convince us that the world is turning into a kind of hell. Maybe he can aggravate our itch for knowledge and power, until we fall into anxiety’s dark labyrinth, and waste our energy in anger and ambition, or in timidity and trivialities. If the enemy can’t destroy us, he will try at least to distract and disarm us.  

When I was in college, I had a philosophy professor who was a good man but an atheist. He found religion unconvincing because of the presence of evil in the world. He commented to me once, “I know Christians believe God uses evil to bring about good. But does he have to allow so much evil?” Years later, I realized the answer to his question. You might as well ask, “Why does He allow so much good? Have you ever considered the beauty around us, the glories of roses, and music, and friends?” And once you allow for the possibility of supernatural creation, the beauty and the glory is overwhelming. My former professor no doubt wanted the world to be a better place. Perhaps he thought that, with a little more knowledge and power, with the right political allies and financial backing, we humans could solve our problems by ourselves, without any supernatural assistance. It isn’t only atheists whose thoughts tend in this direction. No doubt there are partisans within the Church who give the nod to Heaven and then forge ahead with their own battle plans. The unhealthy desire for knowledge and power is all around us, as is evidence of its effects.

There is perhaps one Fatima prophecy that has not yet come to pass. On July 13, 1917, the three children endured terrible sorrow and fear when they received a vision of hell, and of the souls suffering in torment. It lasted only a moment. Afterwards, they found Our Lady looking at them with kindness and sorrow. Her message included these words: “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. … In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” We have that much power and that much knowledge. God willing, it will be enough.

Most of us carry around an information hydrant in our pockets, and we leave it turned on full blast, all the time. That’s not necessarily the best use of our phones. Maybe we do need to attend to what is happening in the Church and in the world–maybe only a little, maybe not as much as we think. We have responsibilities here and now. So put attention to God right next to attention to the world. He sees what is happening, and He knows what’s needed. 

Let’s offer this prayer:

Lord, when my peace is disturbed,

Let me find peace in You.

When I am anxious to know what is coming, 

Let me rest in You.

When I focus too much on the results I desire, 

Awaken in me a desire only for You.

Lord, my heart belongs to You.

Make my heart like Yours.


For further reading:

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima,

Jimmy Aikin, Getting Fatima Right,


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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