A friend once gave my teen daughter a pair of Wonder Woman socks for her birthday. Gabby, an enthusiastic fan of superhero movies, and of Wonder Woman in particular, was quite pleased. The socks featured an image of Wonder Woman’s face and the word “FIERCE” emblazoned across the toes.
The word made me smile. One of the things I appreciated most about the recent Wonder Woman movie was that it celebrated some of the unique gifts and strengths of authentic femininity such as peacemaking, sensitivity, generosity, and compassion. “Fierce” is not the first descriptor that comes to my mind when I consider our feminine gifts.
And yet “fierce” certainly can be a descriptor of virtue. When I was a little girl and my mother first told me the story of the children of Fatima, I was captivated by the lives of these poor Portuguese shepherd children who would become saints. I listened with awe as my mother read the story of Lucia de Jesus dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who received visits from an angel and then from the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.
I was even more enthralled when my mother showed me a photo of the children. Their dark eyes were intense. Lucia’s hands were clasped at her waist; Francisco’s arms hung at his sides, and Jacinta posed with one hand on her hip as she narrowed her eyes in my direction: Fierce.
“Fierce” aptly describes the faith of Francisco and Jacinta Marto . As Mary foretold in her appearances to them, Lucia lived for many years, became a Carmelite nun, and died in 2005 at the age of 97.
Francisco and Jacinta, however, lived just two short years following the first apparition at Fatima. They faced persecution from government officials who demanded that they deny the apparitions; they suffered illness and painful medical procedures; and they took on private penances. Through it all, they offered their sufferings in reparation for sin, for the conversion of sinners and for the Holy Father. At their beatification Mass Pope St. John Paul II thanked Jacinta for her prayers and sufferings on his behalf.
“I express my gratitude to Blessed Jacinta for the sacrifices and prayers offered for the Holy Father, whom she saw suffering greatly,” he said.
Francisco and Jacinta, who died at the ages of 10 and 9 respectively, are the youngest non-martyrs to be canonized as saints, and we celebrate their feast day on February 20. Their short, lives of sacrifice and devotion are quite different from my own, but I take inspiration from the fierceness of their faith.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also lived a life quite different from the lives of these two young mystics and visionaries, and yet I see similarities between them. When a tyrannical government official threatened to boil Francisco and Jacinta in oil if they did not retract their story of the apparitions, they remained steadfast in their witness to the truth.
When Elizabeth first converted to Catholicism and lost not only her livelihood, but many friendships and other sources of consolation, she did not waver in her belief in the fullness of the truth she had found in the Catholic faith. When she faced poverty, illness, and loss, including the deaths of her husband and two of her children, still she remained committed to her life of faith and fidelity to God. She was so faithful, in fact, that despite many obstacles, she founded a school for poor young girls and a religious community of women devoted to educating and serving the poor.
When young Jacinta was hospitalized and even endured emergency surgery without anesthesia, her childlike trust in Jesus and Mary kept her mindful of the value of her suffering, and she offered up her pain for the conversion of sinners.
Mother Seton did not receive a Marian apparition that we know of, and yet the consolation she took in the Blessed Virgin, even in the midst of great suffering, was equally real. She once wrote, as she lay sick near the end of her life: “If this be the way of death, nothing can be more peaceful and happy. It seems as if our Lord or his blessed Mother stood continually by me, in a corporeal form, to comfort, cheer, and encourage me, in the different weary and tedious hours of pain.”
Today, my daughter’s Wonder Woman socks remind me of shepherd children who receive visions of Mary, widowed mothers who struggle through poverty and illness, and even me – an everyday Catholic wife and mom, writer and friend – for we are all called to live our faith fiercely. Whatever unique challenges and suffering we might face, we can take inspiration from those who have gone before us.
Let us pray to Servant of God Lucia, the young Saints Francisco and Jacinta, and to the faithful St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for the grace and strength we need to do whatever God calls us to do with fierceness of faith. That is to say, a perfect trust in Him who died for our sins.
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. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
This reflection was previously published. Click here to view all Seton Reflections.
Photo: Lúcia Santos, Francisco and Jacinta Marto | Public Domain