Last week at Christmas we celebrated an event that was both pivotal and hidden. The conception and birth of Jesus Christ were events that changed human history. It was a daring, hidden raid by the Kingdom of Light into the kingdom of darkness, an incursion behind enemy lines, into enemy territory. Only some shepherds in Bethlehem and a few magi from distant lands were witnesses to this event, one which began the undoing of the long reign of sin.
St. Paul hints at this drama in today’s second reading: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (Gal 4:4). Yes, all time meets here. The long reign of sin is ending; Our Savior stealthily emerges to begin His work of giving us a way out. The wall has been breached and will one day wholly crumble.
Even Satan, to whom we often attribute exaggerated powers, seems unaware. The later visit of the Magi makes him suspicious, but even with that, his knowledge is lacking. Through his agent, Herod, he stabs wildly, searching for the interloper, but he misses the mark. Jesus eludes him for another thirty years, preparing for a final showdown that will seal Satan’s fate as the great loser.
Something happened that quiet Christmas night, enormous in its implications but mostly hidden and unnoticed. A ray of light flashes in a darkened world, just long enough to be remembered by a few. It is like a seed that is sown; it remains hidden for a time, but later yields a harvest that will undermine the world of darkness.
I offer all of this as a prelude to a year that I think will be significant for the Church and for the world. The Year of Our Lord 2017 may seem to many to be an insignificant one; we tend to favor years that end in 0s or 5s. The year 2000 seemed to carry great weight, but it passed quietly.
Why should 2017 be significant? I offer several reasons for your consideration. I do this in all humility, reminding those who read this that official and public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. No Catholic is required to give any credence to the disclosures or private revelations of apparitions or to the writings and warnings of mystics and saints; you are free to accept or reject these prophecies. While the Church commends approved apparitions to our consideration, she does not command our acceptance of them.
Yet Scripture does say, Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem had long been prophesied, as were most of the central truths of His ministry and Paschal mystery. And while much of this was seen most clearly in the rear-view mirror, God does signal His people of His plans, lest we be caught off guard or think that He acts whimsically.
I would argue that we today are being called by God to special prayer. This summons is always at work, but certain prophecies indicate that 2017 will be significant. Consider, then, the following indications that 2017 will require special prayer of us.
It is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima. These apparitions are unique in that they have been affirmed by a miracle and by historical fulfilment.
Three young children, Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia, were visited by the Mother of Jesus six times in the region of Fatima, Portugal between May 13th and October 13th, 1917. At that time, the First World War was ending and the Western world was torn asunder by bloody violence.
At the time, the appearances of Our Lady generated both controversy and fascination. Our Lady’s message was fundamentally one of peace, but she warned of serious consequences if people did not turn more wholeheartedly to her Son, repent of their sins, and pray for peace.
She explained that war is a punishment for sin and warned that without our repentance, God would further castigate the world for its disobedience. She indicated that we would experience the wretched fruits of our sins through war, hunger, and the persecution of the Church, the Holy Father, and the Catholic faithful. The Blessed Mother prophesied that although the First World War was ending, without our repentance, a second and worse war would arise and that Russia would be God’s chosen instrument of chastisement, spreading the “errors” of atheism and materialism across the earth, fomenting wars, annihilating nations, and persecuting the faithful everywhere.
She further prophesied that a final warning would be given before the outbreak of a new war: When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes. Indeed, a large display of the Northern Lights occurred in January 1938 throughout the Northern Hemisphere and reaching into the Southern Hemisphere, making headlines internationally. Shortly thereafter, the Second World War was underway. Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938 and invaded Poland in 1939.
As a verification of her appearances, Our Lady promised a miracle at the final apparition. With as many as 70,000 people in attendance, the miracle of the sun took place on October 13, 1917. Those gathered both marveled and feared as the sun danced and moved about in the sky on what had been a rainy day.
Recall that this was prophesied in 1917, long before the Second World War and Russia’s rise to power. Most could not have imagined a more devastating war than World War I, nor that Russia, a poor and largely Christian nation, could or would do such a thing. Yet all these prophecies were fulfilled.
The third prophecy of Fatima, kept secret until the year 2000, spoke of a great period of suffering for the Church, including the martyrdom of the Pope. A bishop dressed in white climbs a mountain near a ruined city toward a cross. He passes the corpses of many martyrs and many others who have suffered. At the top of the mountain, near the cross, he himself is killed by armies. In releasing this third part, the Vatican commented,
The history of an entire century can be seen represented in this image. Just as the places of the earth are synthetically described in the two images of the mountain and the city, and are directed towards the cross, so too time is presented in a compressed way. In the vision we can recognize the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of World Wars and the many local wars which filled the last fifty years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty. In the “mirror” of this vision we see passing before us the witnesses of the faith decade by decade. Here it would be appropriate to mention a phrase from the letter which Sister Lucia wrote to the Holy Father on 12 May 1982: “The third part of the ‘secret’ refers to Our Lady’s words: ‘If not, [Russia] will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.’”
Pope John Paul II saw his near-assassination in 1981 as the fulfillment of this prophecy and indicated that he only escaped death as a merciful intervention by Our Lady in response to prayer.
One additional aspect of the Fatima apparitions was given in 1981. Sister Lucia, the lone surviving visionary, wrote to Monsignor (now Cardinal) Carlo Caffara at the Vatican of something she heard from Our Lady: The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid … anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. … however, Our Lady has already crushed its head. (This letter is now in the archives of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family.)
And here we are in modern times, desperately confused about the nature of marriage, sexuality, and the family. Many who stand up for what has always been taught and believed are called intolerant, backward, and/or bigoted.
According to the Fatima apparitions and this later addition from 1981, we are in the endgame, the final showdown, of this modern attack on the Church by Satan.
Another vision, less well-known, was said to have appeared to Pope Leo XIII on October 13, 1884 (33 years to the day before the final apparition at Fatima). It was revealed to him that a period of 100 years was coming during which the Church would be sorely tempted and tested, likely in order to purify us. Pope Leo was so troubled by this vision that he penned the well-known Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and asked the faithful to recite it; until about 1970 it was traditionally recited after Mass.
When did that 100 years begin? It is not certain, but something tells me that it began in 1917 and thus will end in 2017. I do not think it likely that it will end suddenly, but Heaven knows. Clearly the Church has been sorely oppressed; we have lost large numbers. There has been a persecution, a pruning. There has been internal turmoil over doctrine and liturgy, a breakdown in discipline, and a great exodus of priests and religious. We have been reduced to be sure, but not destroyed. We have been prepared for something … but what?
I cannot answer all these questions, but I do know this: we are called to profound prayer this year. Although this is our perennial call, this year’s call is special.
In this parish, I will be scheduling special times of prayer and adoration. I will provide more details in the weeks ahead (prior to Lent), but this much is certain: Beginning in March, I want to observe the First Saturday devotions that were requested by our Lady at Fatima. This includes going to confession, attending Mass, and reciting the Holy Rosary on five consecutive Saturdays. We will pray for the conversion of sinners (starting with ourselves), for peace in this world, and for special graces for unity and growth of faith in the Church. Prior to that time, I intend to provide further catechesis in order to prepare us.
What exactly will happen in 2017? Will it be like the first Christmas, a hidden event with later consequences? Or will it be a dramatic event that brings about widespread, sudden conversion and an end to the persecution? I do not know; I only know that we need to pray. 2017 will be no ordinary year.
On this feast of Our Lady, we need, like Jesus, to stay close to her. We need to hear her call to pray and to obey all that her Son Jesus taught. Pray with me this year, one that will likely be very significant.
Happy and Blessed Year of Our Lord, 2017.