Watchword for the Year 2017
Prayer and Penance
Say the Fifteen-Decade Rosary Every Day This Year
Father Mathurin of the Mother of God, O.D.M.
Before all else, in these first moments of 2017, on the day we celebrate and solemnize Your Fatherhood, our first words are addressed to You, good Eternal Father, to offer You our best wishes. And what might our best wishes be for You, if not those expressed in that first prayer of the Our Father taught by Jesus: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” May this prayer be fulfilled for Your greater glory!
My brothers and sisters, this year, 2017, marks the one hundredth anniversary of an event significant for the Church and for humanity: the Apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal. Our good Mother appeared there in 1917 to communicate a very substantial, fundamental message. She was sent by God because things were not going very well on earth a hundred years ago… and they are not going any better now – quite the opposite. People, Christians, are turning aside more and more from the way that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to teach us.
The apparition of the Virgin Mary at Fatima is an echo of the one that had taken place about seventy years earlier at La Salette. (1) It is another attempt by the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God and our Mother, to save humans and spare them great woes. She said: “Men must amend their lives, and ask pardon for their sins. Let them stop offending My Divine Son, who is already too much offended.” To this warning, the Virgin added a summary of the road that must be taken in order to be converted and walk straight before God: Prayer and Penance. The Virgin Mary has repeated those two words in so many Apparitions!
My brothers and sisters, those two words, Prayer and Penance, will be the watchword this year. It is the watchword that we also wish to see all of Christianity adopt, to answer the pressing call of the Virgin Herself. It is Her watchword. May all souls of good will unite this year to walk on this road which Heaven is pointing out to us. The Blessed Virgin said those words at La Salette in 1846, She said them again at Lourdes in 1858 and again, one hundred years ago, at Fatima. By giving you this watchword, Prayer and Penance, I am simply repeating what our heavenly Mother said.
When you mention Fatima, you automatically start speaking about the famous secret entrusted by the Virgin to the seers, a secret that was supposed to have been revealed to Christendom in 1960 at the latest. Rome has not revealed this important secret. That is a heavy responsibility. The burden lies with those who were entrusted with communicating this secret. But the Blessed Virgin asked all Christians for Prayer and Penance. That part of the message is the responsibility of us all. Our Lady of Fatima even asked the little seers, young children: “Pray and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls are falling into hell because there is no one to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
When Jesus came on earth two thousand years ago, what did He come to do? He came to work out the Redemption of sinful man, He came to open heaven for us. He, our God, became a man to show us the way to follow. He redeemed us with a life of poverty and humility, going to the point of His ignominious death on Calvary. Out of love for humans, Jesus came to suffer, take our sins upon Himself and intercede unceasingly with His Father in our favor. For thirty years He lived hidden at Nazareth, in poverty and even in need, leading a life of prayer and work. This incarnate God, King of heaven and earth, voluntarily embraced destitution and suffering to redeem the human race.
Throughout the three years of His public life, we see Jesus tirelessly traveling on foot all over Palestine, in the heat and in the cold, sleeping out in the open with His Apostles, deprived of all comfort. He had nowhere to lay His head,(2) says the Gospel. To teach and instruct the crowds or even just one person, as we see with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus did not shrink from any privation; He gave of Himself. He walked on, sacrificing Himself for the good. At night He would go out alone and prolong His prayer of intercession for hours on end for the salvation of men.
And how did He finish His life? Crucified between two thieves on Calvary. We saw Him as a little Child, so charming in the manger, and we contemplate Him thirty-three years later, covered with wounds on the Cross. Behold His life: prayer, immolation, sacrifice. That is our Jesus, that is our God. He is our Redeemer. He came to show us the way. If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (3) He who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. (4) I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.(5)
Today, certainly far more than in the period when Our Lady appeared at Fatima, humanity has deviated from this way of prayer and sacrifice, which is the way of Jesus and Jesus crucified. My brothers and sisters, God has asked us to work at the salvation of His Church, instituted by Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls. More than any other Christians, we must follow this way of prayer and penance. If the Blessed Virgin came to say this to us in supplication, multiplying signs and wonders, it was to confirm for us that it was really She, the Mother of God, who had come down on the part of God to warn us: “My children, the hour is crucial, time is running short!” She said that a hundred years ago!
Most people say: “It has been a hundred years and nothing has happened! You see, we’re not any worse off!” Yes, we are a lot worse off. Many Christians are currently waiting, wondering where the Church and society in general are headed. They ask themselves: “What are we to do?… What direction must we take in the face of so much confusion? So many contradictory ideas are circulating and leading us in the most incredible directions.” Prideful humanity has entered upon pathways that are more and more distant from God; it rejects God and His law. People say to themselves: “Is it really true that humanity has reached this point of decadence?” Yes, it is true. We have reached that point. But the Blessed Virgin has given us the solution to all these woes. She did not engage in any discussions, She did not speak many words. We must teach, but above all we must pray and do penance.
My brothers and sisters, the devil is clever. He has been making war on men for a long time. Recently I was saying to some Brothers, “I am a conspiracist.” In what sense, might you ask? I believe and I see that currently there is a great conspiracy of Satan to destroy the work of God, His work, which is the Church for the salvation of men, and for their eternal happiness with Him. Because of the abundance of sins of all sorts on earth, the Enemy of God has now attained unparalleled power and assurance. He is infiltrating people’s minds in a thousand ways. Our only protection against his snares? Humility, constant recourse to God through prayer, and flight from sin.
The devil knows how to trick us, lead us into error, turn us away from our path. When we speak of penance, for example, the very word frightens us. And for most Christians, prayer frightens them almost as much. That is a conspiracy in which the devil has succeeded: to make people think they will be unhappy by drawing closer to God. And thus deceived, Christians shy away from prayer.
And yet, my brothers and sisters, do we realize the gift that God has given us? What a wonderful thought God has, that a sinner can speak to Him! In the past – and still today – did a galley slave, a condemned man, a criminal, have access to the royal court to present a request? It was practically impossible. It was difficult to obtain a royal audience, even for noblemen. But us, poor sinners, look at what God has done for us! We have only to recollect ourselves in our heart and begin praying to enter into contact with Him. Through prayer, man rises up to God. What a privilege, what a great favor! The greatest sinner can start praying, and with that prayer rise up to God and obtain all that he wants from Him. The devil knows this. That is why, in his hatred and cunning, he turns souls away from it and makes them regard prayer as a burden. “We have to go and pray again? How long is it going to last?”
Let us admit it, my brothers and sisters; let us admit in all humility that we experience this kind of heaviness: let us thwart this plot of the devil! May we enter into the plan of our Mother, who says to us, “Prayer and Penance.” Let us draw near to God, rise up to Him in prayer. And if that prayer is difficult for us, let us go to it with all the more reason, because then we are obeying Mary’s request with that much more merit. Let us admit that we are so decadent, so contaminated by earthly pleasures, that prayer often seems a penance for us. Each time it appears to us as such, let us humble ourselves before God: “Good Lord, can it be? You authorize me to pray to You so simply, so easily, and it feels like a penance to me. Forgive me! I offer it to You, Lord. I do not have much to offer You… I offer You, O my Jesus, something that should not be a penance for me. And I do it with all my will and all my love.”
By drawing near to God in prayer, the sinner obtains what he wants from Him. My brothers and sisters, I tell you again: humanity is not going well. The world is not going well, less than ever. Everyone sees it. Not everyone can put their finger on what is not going well, but they all feel that it is not. Some of them see it more than others, many suffer greatly over it in their soul. Let us answer our heavenly Mother’s call with great generosity. That is the remedy to all these woes.
Prayer and Penance! The very first penance, the consequence of sin, was imposed on our first parents, Adam and Eve, after the original sin. God condemned man to work by the sweat of his brow and told him that in the future he would experience sorrow,(6) which was not the case before original sin. Work and suffering are inevitable on earth, but these penances offered to God are reparatory and meritorious.
Lucy, the seeress of Fatima who had become a nun, wrote to the Bishop of Gurza at his request and confided to him (among other things) what Our Lord had communicated to her concerning penance. She wrote:
“From Thursday to Friday, being in the chapel with my superiors’ permission, at midnight Our Lord told me: ‘The sacrifice that I require of everyone is the accomplishment of his own duty and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I request and require now.’” (7)
My brothers and sisters, we must accomplish our duties well – sometimes very difficult duties – everyone according to his state, his obligations. Our duties well fulfilled, day after day, entail sacrifices to different degrees. Those are penances! And then there are the Commandments of God to respect, there is the Holy Gospel that we must strive to put into practice in our everyday life. That is true penance.
Today we are in the era of “rights.” A little child has not even reached the age of reason and he is already told, “You have the right to this and that.” Obviously, children and all human beings have rights, but above all they have duties. People completely forget to talk about that: our duties first of all to God, whose rights are sovereign rights, and our duties to our neighbor, whom the divine law commands us to love as we love ourselves. (8)
These duties can often require great effort. Accomplishing them entails sacrifices that we must make good-heartedly. My brothers and sisters, I will repeat the words of our heavenly Mother concerning these obligations, these duties: “Do not do them out of duty, but out of love!” That is, do not do them reluctantly, out of obligation, like convicts dragging their ball and chain! As much as possible, may your neighbor perceive that you are doing them good-heartedly, with love. Ask God for this grace in your prayer: “Lord, even if prayer and penance are difficult for me, I entreat You, help me to hide it, because I want to do everything with love, for You, my God.” Especially this year, may that be your line of conduct in this watchword we give you: Prayer and Penance.
When humanity fell into sin, what did God do? He sent His Son on earth to intercede and immolate Himself in a total, absolute, extreme sacrifice. God is asking us to associate ourselves with His Redemption, to continue it by sacrifice and supplication to Heaven. I fill up in my flesh what is lacking to the Passion of Christ, for His body, which is the Church, (9) says Saint Paul. Let us say often: “My God, pardon and mercy!” immolating ourselves and praying. And let us ask that many people throughout the world may be Christians who want to give of themselves for the salvation of souls.
My brothers and sisters, we wish for you – as well as for all souls of good will who consent to hear our wish – to say the fifteen-decade Rosary every day this year. We formulate this emphatic wish – which, however, does not commit anyone morally – to answer the expectations of our heavenly Mother at Fatima. If the full Rosary is impossible for some, let them say at least five decades every day. It is not wrong to talk and inform one another, but it can be such a waste of time if it is not backed up by prayer and penance. Instead of talking and speculating, let us pray! I invite all Christians of good will to say at least a five-decade rosary every day, all those who can, in order to answer the Blessed Virgin’s call. That is Her expectation for this year: the Rosary.
Sister Lucy, the seeress, declared to Father Fuentes: “In these latter times in which we live, the Blessed Virgin has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary. There is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual… that we cannot solve by praying the holy Rosary.” (10)
We are now going to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the great prayer of Jesus. When the priest celebrates Mass, it is Jesus who immolates Himself on the altar and who prays and entreats His Father. It is the prayer and the sacrifice of Jesus which become the prayer and the sacrifice of the entire Church. My brothers and sisters, I invite you who are attending this first Mass of this centennial year of Fatima, to unite yourselves in a very attentive manner, in the innermost depths of your heart, to this sacrifice, this prayer of Jesus.
May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost descend upon you through Mary, the Mother of God. Amen.
This article was published in the Magnificat Magazine, January-February 2017, available from Editions Magnificat.
⇑ 1. On September 19, 1846, on the mountain of La Salette, in France, the Blessed Virgin appeared to two young shepherds: Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud.
⇑ 2. Cf. St. Matthew 8:20.
⇑ 3. St. Luke 9:23.
⇑ 4. St. Luke 14:27.
⇑ 5. St. John 14:6.
⇑ 6. Cf. Genesis 3:16,19.
⇑ 7. Brother Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima (Immaculate Heart Publications: Buffalo, 1985), Vol. III, p. 19.
⇑ 8. Cf. St. Matthew 22:39.
⇑ 9. Colossians 1:24.
⇑ 10. Conversation of Sister Lucy with Father Augustin Fuentes, on December 27, 1957, in The Whole Truth About Fatima, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 508.