Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Last Secret of Fatima: My Conversations with Sister Lucia

By Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Giuseppe de Carli; foreword by Pope Benedict XVI, Doubleday, 165 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-52582-4.

It takes the authority of a cardinal to put to rest the rumors and mythology surrounding the 3 secrets of Fatima. This book examines the history of the event where the Virgin Mary appeared over a 6 month period to 3 illiterate shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal starting on May 13, 1917.

They received 3 secrets that they gave to the Church to interpret. This led to a media frenzy. Adding to the frenzy and speculation was the Miracle of the Sun, witnessed by 70,000 people on October 13, 1917.

The Last Secret of Fatima, in question-and-answer format with Cardinal Bertone, clarifies theological issues such as the nature of predictions. Bertone emphasizes Christian freedom, especially through prayer and penance. Humans are not under the shadow of God's or Satan's judgment or punishment.

Deeper Christian living helps us avoid the mass destruction foreseen by mystics. Predictions from heaven are really warnings of what we humans will do to ourselves, with the manipulation of Satan, if we fail to live holy lives.

Thus Our Lady of Fatima predicted that a second great war, an atheistic war, would take place after the one still raging in Europe in 1917, if people didn't repent and turn back to God. Our Lady did not make a definitive declaration or judgment about humanity's future; nor was it a divine punishment. WWII was something humans did to themselves. Nonetheless, people are free at any time to return to God and to lives of prayer and humility, and are therefore at liberty to avoid these terrible events.

“Prophecy,” Bertone notes, “is an urgent invitation to conversion, penance, and prayer, and the point is that these things have the power to change the course of history.” He makes a warning of his own, concerning a false interpretation of the nature of prediction: “The mistake made by some of the Fatimists after the publication of the Third Secret was to give the text a literal, fatalistic interpretation.”

“Fatalistic” invites a sense of hopelessness because it believes that we can do nothing to prevent the approaching doom. “The end is nigh,” which is fatalistic, is not a Christian way of thinking because Christians must live with hope. Prophecies are about hope, because while they show the worst scenario, they only do so as a way to get us to focus on conversion. Fatima-like prophecies remind us of the high stakes involved in our lives, of the spiritual issues at hand. This gives us a sense of urgency – we must repent and invite the kingdom of God.

Bertone thus keeps his focus on the big issues, rather than the superstitious, petty matters. The Last Secret of Fatima carries a tone of irritation regarding certain media and religious types who wrote that Sister Lucia was worried about the consecration of Russia. The mystic was satisfied with Pope John Paul II's consecration of Russia.

This book's solid Catholic theology acts as a corrective to superstitious or mischievous people who have made Fatima into an industry.

Bertone's interviewer occasionally falls into sensationalism. De Carli attempts to connect Our Lady of Fatima with Muhammed's favorite daughter, Fatima (Portugal, like Spain, was under the Arab Muslims before the Reconquista, and Fatima, Portugal, is named after her):

“The Shiites believe that the Fatima shrine belongs by right to Muslims, and that the Catholics have stolen it from its rightful owners. They argue that if a Lady dressed in shining white appeared there, then it's because she had a message for Muslims, not for Christians. Ali Agca, in his megalomania, thought he had a mission from God. Apparently, when John Paul II visited him at the Rebibbia prison in 1983, he asked the pontiff, 'So who is Fatima for you?'”

This is actually a fortunate digression because it is the sort of confusion created by the Fatima cottage industry, and it gives Cardinal Bertone the chance to set things right. Here, as many times elsewhere, Bertone speaks with the clarity and authority of Pope Benedict XVI, which is precisely what is needed in issues such as this.

The Last Secret of Fatima advances our understanding of Our Lady of Fatima and the 3 secrets precisely because it doesn't shy away from controversy and, even more so, because Bertone doesn't shy away from direct, authoritative answers. He bases his responses on biblical, Catholic theology.

When the interviewer turns to Medjugorje, Bertone again brings things back to Catholic simplicity: “Don't forget that Our Lady is present in all the world's Marian shrines. The purpose of [all] the shrines is to form a sort of spiritual safety net, to be sources of spiritual light, reservoirs of goodness.”

Bertone sets the record straight on the real importance of Fatima, which is not apocalyptic future prophecies. The apparitions at Fatima and elsewhere are God's attempt to break back into a world that has forgotten Him, that has decided to go on alone and to reject the Spirit.

Bertone sees hope in Fatima: “But the fact that you could fill an entire library with what has been written both about Fatima in particular and about apparitions in general suggests that God is trying to break through the hard shell of our indifference.”

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