Monday, June 09, 2008


I recently finished reading a book called The Last Secret of Fatima. The book itself, while uneven in quality, shone in several places. Our Lady appeared to three children at Fatima, Portugal several times in 1917 and events associated with those apparitions and the popular piety they have produced ever since in very many people, believers and others, are astounding. One of the three children, Lucie Dos Santos, ten years old at the time, was the only one of the three to live to adulthood. She became a Carmelite nun and lived to the age of 97 years. Originally illiterate, she wrote prolifically later in life in the form of responses to letters from individuals, to members of the Roman Curia, and several of the Popes.

While it has rightly been pointed out that we have "had a good run of Popes" in the past two centuries, we are especially fortunate for the latest two, Pope John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul was especially devoted to Our Lady of Fatima and created a fourth set of mysteries of the Rosary, the "Luminous Mysteries", in response to a request by Sister Lucia for the Rosary to be made liturgical, instead of "merely" an expression of popular piety. Whether he actually did so, or whether he offered a compromise of sorts to Sr. Lucia, I admit I am not certain and it seems to me that the principal author of The Last Secret of Fatima is not either.

Again, the quality of this particular book is very uneven, but there are highly inspirational parts, mostly in the recounting of interviews of Sr. Lucia and in the material written by (then) Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, is a scholar whose prose I find to require very careful reading. If he were not a theologian (and a university professor), I would swear he could easily have turned out to be an engineer: His language is extremely precise and I find that I must be very alert and allow no distraction while trying to read him. And, as I personally am an engineer, I find his language, produced by a lifetime of theology, history, and philosophy to be verging on the lyrical. Lyricality is hard to reconcile with his obvious care with precise language to describe exactly what he is trying to say about topics that are necessarily purely subjective. ("Subjective" only if you do not admit revelation to the discussion, that is.) Reading his prose reminds me of trying to read a math paper with its arcane language and reasoning. Fortunately the "arcane" language required by Benedict's expertise is not often as incomprehensible as a mathematician's and, as he does in Jesus of Nazareth, he is successful in writing at a level that I can, with effort, understand. Or at least I think I can. :-) My next project is to try to read his Jesus of Nazareth and we'll see if that statement holds!

Somewhat parenthetically, there is a passage quoted from Sr. Lucia in The Last Secret of Fatima that has stuck in my mind for the past few days. Apropos of nothing in particular, I would like to keep it in mind for when I am feeling discouraged:
"Our Lady did not predict that we would have pleasures, earthly joys, honor, power, or material goods. Nor did she predict that we would become big, important people in this world, which is nothing but illusion, blindness, and vanity, and where every goal is sought with so much anguish, deceit, and injustice. [Our Lady said,] 'Do you wish to offer yourselves to God? Will you bear all the sufferings he will send you in order to make reparation for the sins by which he is offended? Will you pray for the conversion of sinners?' [The three children at Fatima answered,] 'Yes, we will.'"
There are many goals in life that are ultimately less worthy. It is not clear that there are many more valuable.

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