A brief synopsis of the first book written by Stephen Walford: “Heralds of the Second Coming, Our Lady, the Divine Mercy and the Popes of the Marian Era from Bl. Pius IX to Benedict XVI”
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima
Pubblicato il 14/05/2017
Ultima modifica il 14/05/2017 alle ore 15:40
The centenary of the Fatima apparitions presently being celebrated throughout the world invite us to look closer at their significance from a prophetic and eschatological point of view. To understand them correctly, as a “sign of the times” for the Church, we need to contemplate several key areas that are often overlooked: 1) the prophetic charism of the popes in their writings; and 2) their context in the light of other, recently approved revelations.
Unfortunately, in the past fifty years, the issue of private revelations have been affected by two opposing trends; on the one hand, a dismissive attitude; and on the other, an over reliance on them which in the worst case, places them on a level comparable with the Magisterium. The plethora of reported apparitions has contributed to this situation where the temptation is to ignore careful discernment, and to see the Blessed Virgin as a “postman” always delivering messages, as Pope Francis says. In reality, the correct attitude should be somewhere in the middle; to accept those authentic ones as a stimulus to conversion; while never losing sight of the ordinary way God speaks to us: through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. Having said all that, we cannot ignore the fact that the popes of the past century and a half have warned of approaching times of tribulation. It is part of their charism, as St. John Paul II stated: “The perspective in which Peter’ responsibility--like the Church’s whole mission--must be considered is therefore both historical and eschatological.”
With the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, in the words of the Polish Pontiff, we entered a “Marian Era”; one which would increase devotion to Mary among the faithful, and prophetically prepare the Church for the horrors of the following century. This era had been prophesied by the great Marian apostle, St. Louis Marie de Montfort in the seventeenth century: “But in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Mary has to be made known and revealed by the Holy Spirit.” As the nineteenth century wore on, Blessed Cardinal Newman began to see signs of the apostasy that St. Paul had spoken of, while in Rome, Blessed Pius IX, in his Encyclical Ubi Nos spoke of “the hour of wickedness and the power of darkness. It is the final hour.” St. Pius X also sensing a dramatic increase in evil, wondered if the Antichrist was already alive. Fourteen years later, in 1917, God intervened in the most dramatic way through the events of Fatima.
Much has been written over the years about Fatima especially concerning the third secret, and the meaning of the prophecy of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. It must be stated that unfortunately, Fatima has been misunderstood at times; some are fixated by the “political” nature of its message concerning Russia—when in reality the spiritual message is the heart of it. If Russia was the original warning, it was because it would be the first manifestation of militant atheism which has now spread throughout the western world under various forms. To see Russia as some magic formula for the future is to misunderstand the biblical sense of prophecy. Another erroneous interpretation is to see the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart as the gateway to a millenarian style era of peace; a temporal triumph which in reality would be nothing more than a cessation of hostilities before the apocalypse at the end of the world. The Gospels clearly tell us that good and evil will always remain; as Gaudium et Spes taught: “For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested.” So to what does Fatima refer? Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State was explicit in his remarks prior to leaving for Fatima this weekend: “the prophetic mission of Fatima is to remind the Church what she is, what she must continue to be, a church that announces in today’s world, a community that proclaims new heavens and earth and which awaits, almost anticipates them.”
If we look at a succession of papal writings, we see how Cardinal Parolin’s comments are pin point accurate. Blessed Paul VI saw the Second Coming of Jesus symbolically anticipated in the October 13th 1917 miracle of the sun: “It was eschatological in the sense that it was like a repetition or an annunciation of a scene at the end of time for all humanity assembled together.” St. John Paul II in his homily at the Shrine in 1982 spoke of the new heaven and new earth which will come at the end of the world: “We look towards him who sits upon the throne and says ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (cf. Rev 21:15). And together with the Evangelist and Apostle we try to see with the eyes of faith “new heavens and new earth.” And on March 25, 1984, the day in which St. John Paul II consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he also recited a little known prayer before the Statue of Our Lady imploring the coming of a “new world.”
Perhaps the most overtly eschatological prayer linked to Fatima was the first act of consecration he composed in the aftermath of the 1981 assassination attempt. In the text we read: “May the time of peace and freedom, the time of truth, justice and hope approach for everyone. O You, who through the mystery of your particular holiness, free from all stain from the moment of your conception feel in a particular way that “the whole creation has been groaning in travail” (Rom. 8: 22)…You contribute unceasingly to the ‘revealing of the sons of God’ for whom ‘the creation waits with eager longing’ (Rom. 8: 21)… O Mother of Jesus, now glorified in heaven in body and soul, as the image and beginning of the Church, which is to have its fulfilment in the future age here on earth, until the day of the Lord comes, do not cease to shine before the pilgrim people of God…’The Spirit and the Bride say to the Lord Jesus ‘Come.’
If we look at the contribution of Cardinal Ratzinger, and later as Benedict XVI, we also discover that Fatima points towards the final persecution of the Antichrist before the Lord’s return in glory (CCC 675). In 1984, interviewed by Vittorio Messori, he linked the third secret of Fatima to the “dangers threatening the faith and life of the Christian”, and the “novissimis.” It is important to remember that the novissimis do not only speak of the four last things, but the end times themselves—as Cardinal Wojtyla, the future John Paul II once pointed out. One of the lesser-known interventions of Cardinal Ratzinger—but one of supreme importance— concerns an exchange of letters he had with the great Fatima apostle, Bishop Pavel Hnilica in the year 2000. In the late summer of that year, Bishop Hnilica wrote to the Cardinal asking if the vision of martyrdom seen in the 3rd secret could apply to future events. In the September, Cardinal Ratzinger replied by stating that prophecy usually has an immediate and a longer term significance. He used Jesus’ eschatological discourse as an example: the Lord foretold the destruction of Jerusalem as a prefigurement of the end of the world. He then explained: “We see in the ‘secret of Fatima’ the martyrs of the last century, in which, however, is also reflected the persecution until the end of the world.” As Pope Benedict XVI, he came back to this interpretation during the in- flight press conference during his 2010 trip to Fatima: “an indication is given of realities involving the future of the Church, which are gradually taking shape and becoming evident. So it is true that, in addition to [sic] moment indicated in the vision, there is mention of, there is seen, the need for a passion of the Church, which naturally is reflected in the person of the Pope, yet the Pope stands for the Church and thus it is sufferings of the Church that are announced. The Lord told us that the Church would constantly be suffering, in different ways, until the end of the world.”
Concerning the prophecy of the “Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary”, Pope Benedict XVI in his book interview Light of the World clarified its meaning, while at the same time dismissing millenarian tendencies which have swayed many apparition devotees into the erroneous belief of an imminent, final glorious intervention of God leading to a prolonged era of peace. Concerning praying for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart, Pope Benedict said: “I said the ‘triumph’ will draw closer. This is equivalent in meaning to our praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom. This statement was not intended—I may be too rationalistic for that—to express any expectation on my part that there is going to be a huge turnaround and that history will suddenly take a totally different course.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church is explicit that the coming of the kingdom will only occur after the Last Judgment (CCC.1042). St. John Paul II stated in 1991 upon his first general audience after returning from Fatima: “Mary’s message at Fatima can be summed up in these early and clear words of Christ: ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel (Mk. 1:15). Pope Pius XII also made similar statements linking Fatima’s prophetic element to the coming of the Kingdom, and so we must avoid a reductive interpretation of these huge events that allows us to fall into the trap of not being watchful for the Lord’s return.
I mentioned in the introduction that Fatima must be considered alongside the other approved private revelations in order for us to deduce exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying (in an extraordinary way) to the Church in this particular era. Without any doubt, the most important revelations apart from Fatima in the past century are the divine mercy revelations given to St. Faustina Kowalska. They have inspired millions to either return to their faith, or deepen their existing spiritual life. One thing perhaps still hidden somewhat, yet which cannot be denied, is the deep eschatological undercurrent that runs through these writings. On several occasions Jesus revealed the seriousness of the times: “You [St. Faustina] will prepare the world for my final coming”, “Speak to the world about my mercy; let all mankind recognize my unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times.” “Secretary of my mercy, write, tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of justice is near.” Perhaps the most famous prophecy though from St. Faustina’s Diary concerns these words: “I bear a special love for Poland…from her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for my final coming.”
It is certain that St. John Paul took these warnings extremely seriously-as Pope Benedict said of him: “Indeed, it was a concern of John Paul II to make clear that we are looking ahead to the coming of Christ.” This truth is borne out by the countless references to the second coming of Jesus in the magisterium of the Polish pontiff. In fact as early as 1976, in the Lenten retreat he gave as Cardinal Wojtyla for Blessed Paul VI, he wondered if we were on the “last lap of history” awaiting the coming of the Man of Sin. He saw our era finally as the one throughout all of history that could give fullest expression to Satan’s temptation from Genesis chapter 3 that “you will become like God.” Returning to his promotion of Divine Mercy, he referred to Jesus’ startling prophecy about Poland when he consecrated the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow in 2002: “May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth ‘the spark which will prepare the world for his final coming (cf. Diary, 1732).’”
Two other recent apparitions with Church approval also speak of the approaching second coming of the Lord: In Kibeho Rwanda, which has the same level of approval as Fatima, the Blessed Virgin told the main visionary Alphonsine Mumarake (now a nun) that she had come to prepare the world for the return of her Son, while in San Nicholas, Argentina Our Lady told the visionary, Gladys Herminia Quiroga de Motta , “the coming of the Lord is imminent” and “Daughter, the Prince of Evil pours out his venom today with all his might, because he sees that his sorry reign is ending. Little is left to him. His end is near”. Both these apparitions were in the 1980’s at a time when St. John Paul II was quietly promoting the devotion to divine mercy in anticipation of the official approval that would come with Sr. Faustina’s canonization.
There is no doubt that when we look at the magisterium of the past century, there is a prophetic element that is often overlooked. Pope Pius XII in his 1957 Easter Urbi et Orbi address stated: “Come Lord Jesus, there are numerous signs thy return is not far off.” He saw the two world wars as fulfilling Jesus’ words in the Gospels that nation would fight against nation. St. John XXIII took his name after St. John the Baptist because he saw his pontificate as similar in preparing for the coming of Jesus. Even the Second Vatican Council can be seen in the light of the end times. The Decree of Missionary activity, Ad Gentes, states the “sacred synod’s” intention in part is to “prepare the way for his coming”, while Blessed Paul VI stated: “The Council sought to enlarge the horizons of the Church…and finally to hasten it on its pilgrim journey towards its eschatological goal—its final, open and glorious encounter with Christ, Our Lord.” The Pontiff also sensed the signs of the end emerging in a conversation with his friend Jean Guitton; although he was careful to note we cannot know when the end will come. St. John Paul II certainly understood the events of the 20th century as a decisive stage in salvation history: “We believe that if the convulsions of our century are the death pangs of an old world, they are also the birth pangs of your new birth. We perceive that the hour is approaching for the young mother of the new Advent.”
Those words were spoken at the first ever World Youth Day event in 1985; similar words were spoken in Edmunton, Canada in 1984: “May justice and peace embrace at the end of the second millennium, which prepares us for the coming of Christ in glory.” Pope Benedict continued the prophetic and urgent theme on several occasions; notably on two successive Christmas Midnight Mass homilies in 2010 and 2011. In the former he prayed: “Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfil the prophecy that ‘of peace there will be no end’ (Is 9:7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world – the “kingdom of righteousness, love and peace.”
So how do we approach this apocalyptic scenario? It seems that St. John Paul had the correct idea: to live the Christian life with an “advent spirit”, as the early Christians did. This is not to be caught up in endless speculation and worries about certain cataclysmic events that may or may not come; or to concern ourselves with date setting that nobody can know except the Eternal Father. Rather, it is to place at the centre of our spiritual lives the joyful hope and knowledge that Jesus will return with his saints, transforming the universe definitively. In this way, we can pray “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus” not with fear for the future, but with real anticipation that evil and death will be destroyed forever. Fatima invites us to offer our lives towards this goal when the world will be saved forever, when we will all stand under the miracle of the true Sun as he illuminates the earth at his glorious coming. Pope Francis tells us: “With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter.” That dawn is now slowly rising from the East.
* Stephen Walford lives in Southampton, England with his wife Paula and five children. Educated at Bristol University, he is the author of two books: Heralds of the Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Bl Pius IX to Benedict XVI (Angelico Press), and Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ (Angelico Press). He has written articles for various publications on eschatological and mariological themes. He is also a pianist and teacher.