HOMILY FOR MASS AND PROCESSION FOR CENTENARY OF THE FIRST APPARITIONS OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY OF FÁTIMA - ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, SYDNEY

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
13 May 2017

HOMILY FOR MASS AND PROCESSION
FOR CENTENARY OF THE FIRST APPARITIONS OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY OF FÁTIMA
ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, SYDNEY

On this day, 13 May, 100 years ago a woman, "brighter than the sun", wearing a white mantle edged with gold and holding a rosary, appeared to three children. Nine-year-old Lúcia Santos, and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, were herding sheep near their home village of Fátima, Portugal, when they saw "the beautiful lady". She asked them to "pray the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war". Thereafter she appeared to them on the 13th of each month until October, to teach them how to pray, make reparation for sinners, and adore her Son. On 13 October the Miracle of the Sun occurred, when tens of thousands of witnesses saw the sun changing colours, dancing or rotating like a wheel as Mary gave her last teaching from her immaculate heart. Fátima became a favourite place of pilgrimage for Catholics and today Pope Francis will canonise Jacinta and Francisco there.

We treasure this story as a sort of religious romance, a story of the triumph of innocence amongst all the cynicism of the adults, of the politicians, and of the world at war; a story of the confounding of the strong by the week; a story of the humility of the Blessed Virgin giving herself to the nobodies of this world. There are many sides to this story but one important thing we should not forget was that it took place in the middle of the first 'total war', the 'Great War', the First 'World' War. It was the war that made the ANZACs, a 'war to end all wars' that in fact presaged a century of the most terrible wars in history. The Angel who appeared to the three shepherd children in the months leading up to the Marian apparition identified himself as 'The Angel of Peace' and the Lady, when she appeared, called herself 'the Queen of Peace' - titles that make most sense against the backdrop of that terrible war. The Lady's first words to the children, "Be not afraid!", were the same ones she'd heard from an angel when she was a girl; the same words spoken at his election by her devotee St. John Paul II, whose life she would save from an assassin's bullet. Such words are not said to people who are secure: they are said to people who seem to have every reason to be afraid.

And indeed, though no world war rages today, there is still much to fear. At a personal level, there are breakdowns of relationships, flaws in our own characters, worst of all temptations to sin, the seriousness of which Our Lady of Fatima made so very clear to us. At a societal level there is abuse, drugs, domestic violence and violence in the womb, which some now propose to make respectable and legal. And at the global level there is the martyrdom of Christians, which today occurs in greater numbers than at any time in history, there is civil war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest, there is rising tension on the Korean peninsula, there is global terrorism and globalised relativism, so many threats to the bodies and souls of millions.

To such a frightening world the Queen of Peace came, not to her fellow sovereigns, the kings and queens of this world; not to the professionally religious, the Pope and bishops and their clergy; not to the bold and beautiful, but to three very ordinary children. We might wonder why Our Lady chose them? Put together with her appearances at Guadeloupe and Lourdes, and we might think it was because she was most comfortable with people who were as she was at her own first angelic visitation: young, innocent, rustic. But I think there's more to it than that…

For one thing, shepherds hold a special place in the Bible as foils to violence. The first Shepherd was Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, who found favour with God but not with his own brother Cain, and was killed out of envy. King David the Psalmist was, of course, a shepherd boy when he was chosen and he went on to write our favourite Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd"; but his name is forever twinned with that of Goliath because his life was dogged by battles. At many places in the Old Testament kings, priests and prophets are called 'shepherds' and it is from this usage that we have inherited our words 'pastoral' and 'pastor': they were charged to protect all Israel, but especially the weak and innocent, from going astray or being preyed upon. But as the prophets make clear, these shepherds often fail us, and when they do it is little ones who suffer…

On Christmas night we recall that Angels appeared first to shepherds to deliver the Good News of Jesus' birth (Lk 2:8-20), but we know that at that very time Herod was plotting His assassination. Last Sunday was 'Good Shepherd Sunday', named for the many gospel passages in which Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd (e.g. Jn ch 10) and instructs His apostles on how they are to be good shepherds themselves. In particular, He warns them of wolves and robbers who endanger the flock and tells them they must keep the sheep safe and nurture them. In choosing to appear to three little shepherd children in the midst of a terrible war, then, Our Lady was identifying herself with the innocent children and declaring loudly that the kings, priests and prophets of this world, the powerbrokers, opinion-makers and all the official shepherds, must repent of the violence in their hearts and become champions of peace.

In fact, the Immaculate Virgin appeared as a direct answer to the calls of Pope Benedict XV, from the very beginning of World War I, for the laying down fratricidal weapons, for an end to the hell of war, and for prayer for peace. Fátima Day is a sort of spiritual Anzac Day and a spiritual Armistice Day. The message on this day 100 years ago was straightforward: pray the Rosary every day for the peace of the world and an end to war. Join your intercession to Mary's. Join your works of reparation to those of the Church Militant and the Church Suffering. Join your aspirations to those of the Beautiful Lady and all the Church Triumphant.

Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima: pray for us.
Immaculate heart of Mary: pray for us.
St Francisco and St Jacinta: pray for us.

 

INTRODUCTION TO MASS AND PROCESSION
FOR CENTENARY OF THE FIRST APPARITIONS OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY OF FÁTIMA
ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, SYDNEY

Welcome to St Mary's Cathedral for this centenary celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima. A hundred years ago today, on 13 May 1917, three little shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, saw a 'Beautiful Lady' appear to them, who told them to pray the Rosary every day for peace and to return on the 13th of each month until October in particular of the act of consecration. The rest is history…

Today as we reconsecrate this Archdiocese our nation and our world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace and of the Most Holy Rosary, I acknowledge NOT CONFIRMED YET.

To everyone present, a very warm welcome!