It’s been one of those weeks. I’m just holding on by a thread, but I just can’t let this day go by without commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the last apparition at Fatima.
Do you ever wonder why Mary chose 3 simple children to carry her important message to the world. They were just simple shepherds — and yet, they were entrusted with a message that was vitally important for the entire world.
It was a message that was also incredibly frightening — they actually witnessed Hell — and yet, she still chose children to carry that message. Why is that?
Jesus’ own words seem to affirm her choice, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3) We are called to be like little children, but I often find myself stumbling over that passage.
Fortunately for me, I have six kids, and many times in my life I have found that my kids are schooling me in the faith, not the other way around. Take our time in Fatima as an example.
There is a path the runs the length of the pedestrianized area in front of the basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. The path “ends” by making a loop around the site where Mary appeared to Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia a 100 years ago.
It’s nearly impossible to miss, and when you come upon it, you’re likely to see pilgrims traveling the path on their knees.
One of the messages of Fatima was the call to penance. There is a tradition that the pilgrim who visits Fatima can walk this path on their knees as a response to the call for penance. We had heard about it, and it was part of our plan to walk on our knees as a family.
John and I looked at that path and said to our kids, “How about we all take turns walking on our knees, like a relay of sorts? We’ll all take a section and walk it as a family.”
How very “adult-like” of John and I: to propose such a measured approach. Honestly, I had looked at the path and thought about my poor knees. They’re not the best. I think it has something to do with unexpectedly giving birth to one of my children after falling down on one knee — never quite been the same.
The thought of pushing my knees to the point of injury convinced me that the most prudent thing was to be more measured in my approach. After all, we had kids to carry for the remainder of the trip and we both rely heavily on our bodies. Very reasonable of us, right?
But our kids looked at us and informed us that they were going to do the entire path on their knees. They regarded our “relay” method as falling way short — there was no convincing them otherwise. They were “all-in”.
When we saw their determination, John and I were inspired to go for it, too. I must say, I’m so glad that we did.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. I thought I’d be done in no time, but then a funny thing happened. It began to hurt — a lot. There were these tiny little pebbles that somehow began to dig into my skin and create abrasions.
By the time I reached the apparition chapel, my knees were burning — like, “fires of purgatory” — burning. So work out your salvation now, people, because the fires of purgatory are not going to be fun!
Honestly, if it weren’t for my kids beside me, I probably would not have finished that walk on my knees. I likely would have made it to the apparition chapel and proclaimed, “Okay then, I think that’s enough. Now onto buying some religious items and ‘Prayed for you while we were here’ holy cards”.
The truth is, I often want to give up when things get hard. I don’t have that “let’s take the hill or die trying attitude”. I often face resistance and ask myself what is the good of doing this prayer or this penance or this act of charity. I question the value of these things — all the time.
That’s where faith kicks in for me, right in the midst of all that doubt. In my own life, I have found that if I can push through these doubts, it is only then that I can look back and see the blessings that came because of doing that good thing.
Being an “adult” isn’t always helpful to our faith, either. As adults, we have learned to measure ourselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the truth is, it also can be a dangerous thing.
The truth is, if we’re not careful, we can slowly grow comfortable with mediocrity. We can begin to confuse “balance” and “prudence” with just actually being lukewarm. We can begin to give up our holy ideals because they just aren’t “practical”.
We might even find ourselves looking to be comfortable, just biding our time until our “heavenly reward”. But, as Pope Benedict XVI said, we were not made for comfort, we were made for greatness. We were made to be saints.
If we’re not careful, our faith can just become another extension of our own selfishness. If we’re not sharing the gospel with others, if we don’t care about the salvation of other people — we might be surprised to find that our own salvation is at risk.
God commanded us to go out into the world and share the good news. He didn’t suggest it — he commanded it. Are you sharing the good news? Am I sharing the good news? If not, time to re-evaluate our lives.
Walking that path with my kids was a great place to think about these things. I walked next to young and old alike. I walked next to those with great faith and those who seemed to be searching for it.
The little girl in the picture above, holding her mother’s hand — she was this tiny little thing and she was praying the whole way down. You could tell she was praying for her brother in the stroller. He seemed to be unable to walk, and his little sister was praying for him, suffering for him.
I had seen her father at the top of the path telling his daughter to get up. He was worried about her, and he didn’t want her to do this walk on her knees. He got upset and walked away, but the mother took her hand and began to pray with her as she walked the penitent path. It was beautiful.
There was also another man who silently witnessed to us on that walk. It took him over 8 hours to walk this path on his knees. He was clearly a strong man, but you could tell he was in the most intense pain. Each step was a little agony for him.
He seemed to be carrying a huge burden on his back, invisible to the human eye. We came and went, and every time we came back to this spot, there he was. Slowly, prayerfully, moving a few inches at a time, agony on his face. He was determined. The faith of a child.
We need more of that “all-in” attitude. And yes, it does need to be tempered with prudence and wisdom. But let’s stop kidding ourselves, often we like to put a nice spin on our own selfishness, and call it “prudence” but deep down inside, it’s just plain old stinginess and all about me, me, me.
Deep down, maybe we’re afraid that God’s not going to catch us if we fall. Deep down, maybe we just just don’t trust in Him. Deep down, maybe we just want to be comfortable. Deep down.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to plan for retirement. It’s fine to teach our kids to save money and to be responsible and to not always pour themselves out into everything that crosses their path.
Those are good things, but frankly the world doesn’t need more good people — the world needs more saints. If the mess around us is ever going to change, it’s because we adults are going to stop being so “grown-up” and we’re going to start to be little again.
A priest once told me, “Aim for Heaven, and you just might make it to purgatory. Aim for purgatory, and you just might make it to Hell”. Yikes! A measured approach can be a very dangerous thing. We need to aim for Heaven. We need to aim for sainthood.
We need to stop measuring everything and just go for it. We need to be like little kids who look to our Mother and Father in Heaven and say, “What would you have me do?” — and then we need to do it.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Linking up with Kelly