Growing in the life of the Spirit

Father John A. Kiley
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At the entrance road to Mount St. Rita Health Center, the former novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in Cumberland, is a striking statue of an impressively winged angel facing three small kneeling children. This scene represents Fatima’s first apparition in the spring of 1916. Lucy was nine years old, Francisco was eight, and Jacinta was six. As they were playing, a strong wind suddenly shook the olive trees and a figure approached having “the appearance of a young man of fourteen or fifteen, whiter than snow, which the sun rendered transparent as if it were of crystal, and of great beauty. We were surprised and did not say a word.” Coming closer, the angel said: ‘Do not fear! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.’ Kneeling on the earth, the figure bent his forehead to the ground. The children did the same. The angel prayed three times: “My God, I believe in Thee, I adore Thee, I hope in Thee and I love Thee. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe in Thee, do not adore Thee, do not hope in Thee and do not love Thee.” The angel looked up and said: ‘Pray in this way. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” During this apparition Francisco saw but did not hear the Angel. The girls explained the angel’s commission to him.

The angel appeared again in the summer and said, “What are you doing? Pray! Pray a great deal! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy for you! Offer unceasingly to the Most High prayers and sacrifices!” Lucia asked him, “But how are we to sacrifice ourselves?” The angel replied, “Offer up everything within your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners. Thus invoke peace upon your country. I am her Guardian Angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings that the Lord may send you.” The importance of offering even the smallest sacrifice to God and of making these offerings with a special intention, especially for the conversion of sinners, is the angel’s repeated theme.

When autumn came, the Angel appeared holding a chalice in his hand. A host hovered above it from which blood dropped into the chalice. The Angel left the chalice and host suspended in midair and prostrated himself on the ground saying, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in the Tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the sacrileges, outrages and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.” After reciting this prayer, the Angel arose. Taking the chalice and host, he gave the host to Lucia and the contents of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco saying, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” Before disappearing, the Angel once again prostrated himself on the ground and repeated with the children three times the prayer he had just taught them. The Angel also said “Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.” A believer’s prayers and sacrifices alone amount to very little but when offered to God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary they become infinitely valuable. God is graciously consoled by such acts offered to him in reparation for the sins that constantly “outrage” him.

Certainly Fatima’s call for such daily sacrifices is reminiscent of St. Teresa of Lisieux’s “little way” through which she deepened her spiritual life by enduring the annoyances and aggravations of convent life. Offering up to God life’s serious challenges and even life’s minor inconveniences in reparation for the “outrageous” sins of mankind might seem an especially childlike form of spirituality. But rather than overrating a believer’s feeble actions this spirituality emphasizes God’s willingness to prize even mankind’s humblest offerings. The unkind word endured, the bodily pain tolerated, the impatient reaction squelched, the lustful thought dismissed — each of these responses offered to God on behalf of sinners is a reminder of the great dignity bestowed by God on a believer’s every action especially those offered to God in union with Jesus and Mary. St. Peter writes tersely but astutely of Christ, “Being put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.”

The same is true of the Christian believer. The more a person dies to self, the more a man or woman resists the tendencies of one’s lower nature, the more that individual will grow in the life of the Spirit. Death to self, by offering life’s daily sacrifices to God through Christ, fosters growth in the Spirit. Man’s humblest activity, done in union with Christ, takes on infinite meaning and eternal significance.