When I was about eight years old and first heard the story of the three shepherd children to whom Our Lady appeared in Fatima in a series of visions beginning in 1917, I was quite envious. I mean, I was a cute Catholic kid. I prayed with my family and said the Rosary. Why didn’t Mary appear to me?
My envy waned a bit when I read the part of the story where government authorities took Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia into custody and threatened them with being boiled in oil unless they recanted their stories. That part did not sound quite as glamorous as receiving heavenly messages from an angel and Mary.
In fact, the three children suffered a great deal as a result of the apparitions and their insistence on telling the truth about them. Their own parents were dismayed at all the “trouble” their children caused and begged them to stop sharing Our Lady’s message of conversion and repentance, and yet they remained steadfast in their determination to speak the truth as Mary told it to them.
When we celebrate the Miracle of Fatima on October 13, we recall how the children were gloriously vindicated on that date in 1917. The children had reported that Our Lady would perform a miracle on that day, and tens of thousands of people showed up to see what would happen.
According to witnesses, after a period of rain, the clouds parted and the sun appeared like a spinning disc in the sky. It cast streams of colors and lights across the earth and then, in a final dramatic moment, it appeared to speed toward the earth, zigging and zagging before returning to its place in the sky. Many of the people present were terrified and reported that their wet clothes and the wet earth dried instantly during the miraculous event. Our Lady had indeed come through for the shepherd children who had remained faithful in spite of great suffering.
When it comes to suffering for our faith, many of us are big talkers. Personally, I have always related to the sentiment expressed by Flannery O’Conner when she wrote, “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” Yes, kill me quick and I’m your girl. Anything involving prolonged suffering, and I’m not so sure.
I have never been threatened with being killed for my faith and Mary has never miraculously appeared to me. In fact, she remains remarkably quiet when I pray to her. Despite her apparent silence, she is a real mother to me in all my earthly joys and sorrows, every bit as much as she was a mother to Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia in the early 20th century, encouraging them to do penance and pray for the conversion of sinners.
Mary was also a mother to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, especially when she made the decision to convert from the Episcopal to the Catholic Church. Elizabeth’s family and friends were hostile to her decision, and she struggled to earn a living in New York City, where anti-Catholicism was rampant. And yet she persisted in what she knew to be true and would not abandon her newfound Catholic faith.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Elizabeth had chosen as her confirmation saint, was an ongoing source of encouragement and support to her during this challenging time. Elizabeth had lost her earthly mother when she was just three years old, and so she received the gift of a new mother in Our Lady with gratitude and joy.
Elizabeth translated the Memorare and prayed it often. In a letter to her sister, she once described a stormy night when she fell asleep holding a crucifix and an image of Mary: “…with my crucifix under my pillow and the blessed Virgin’s picture pressed on the heart … How tight I held my little picture as a mark of confidence in her prayers, who must be tenderly interested for Souls so dearly purchased by her Son.”
We may not all be called upon to suffer in dramatic ways for our faith, but Mary can be a real source of encouragement for each of us as we make our way—often stumbling—on the path toward heaven.
In our daily trials and sorrows, we can take comfort in knowing that Mary is with us through them all. She is the same Mary who appeared to the children at Fatima and vindicated them with a triumphant miracle in the sky, the same Mary who comforted Elizabeth through the trials of young widowhood and financial hardship.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is a mother to us all. Thanks be to God for the gift of Christ’s mother. Her prayers on our behalf are the only “miracle” we need.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: Flickr: @paullew, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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