Francisco lived for a bare 18 months after the last apparition of Our Lady in the Cova da Iria. Almost a year of that time was spent on a bed of suffering. Apart from his young body’s weakness there was nothing to indicate the slow, internal martyrdom he was undergoing. The disease was eating everything from within. Eventually it left him to die with virtually nothing to call his own except a few bones encased in skin. He didn’t even have a wound or a disfigurement to arouse sympathy.
Jacinta lived on for almost a year after Francisco’s death. The course of her illness was different. Although always weak, she was bedridden in stages. Also she developed an ulcerous wound in her side which, apart from suppurating continually, gave off a nauseating smell. The operation to remove two of her ribs was performed with no more than a mild local anesthetic. She died alone, without even the consolation of the Eucharist, ten days later. She was still several months younger than Lucia had been at the time of the first apparition in May 1917.
Now, as the sub-title of this article asks, if the children had been confidants of the Queen of Heaven, if many miracles of healing were being attributed to Our Lady of Fatima, why did the children not ask for their own cure? This is a natural question, but the answer can only be supernatural inasmuch as only minds and hearts willing to be attuned to the supernatural by faith can understand the answer.
Francisco and Jacinta weren’t perverse, or insane. They didn’t have a death wish. They weren’t masochists. Suffering for its own sake was no more attractive to them as it is to any of us. At the same time they willed to suffer and longed for death.
This isn’t as illogical as it sounds, not when a soul has glimpsed the blueprints of creation, has been given an understanding of sin and, in consolation, been embraced by the essence and fountainhead of Love.
Sin cannot be seen, neither by the eye of the body nor the eye of the spirit. This is because it is not an aspect of God or of His creation. It is a movement of will contrary to the Prime Will and as such has no substance. It can only be identified by the pain it causes.
When, in Eden, the created will opposed the Prime Will it chose pain. Henceforth pain was to be the atmosphere it survived in, both in this world and in the next. This state was absolute and irreversible unless – though it is unthinkable – the Prime Will Itself adopted the pain so that the created will could relent and acknowledge the infinite supremacy of the Creator.
Our faith is based on the revelation that the unthinkable did take place, that God Himself became a creature and conquered the effect of sin on mankind by drinking the full draught of sin’s pain.
It was God’s love that moved Him to accept this unthinkable humiliation and redeem us from the shackles of sin’s pain which, ultimately, is hell. We, inheritors of sin, and sinners in our own names, have a small but absolutely necessary part to play in this redemption. We must show willing to avoid sin and wage our own fight against its pain with the weapon of patience. As patience subdues sin by suffering its pain, love breaks down the front line defenses, floods the soul and repossesses the errant will.
There is a time limit for the created will to accept or refuse this incomparably generous offer. Initially it is a lifetime, here, on this earth. Most of those who, by dint of His grace, repudiate sin and embrace his sovereignty, are still not free of the odor of sin and its pain and must have the difference burnt up in the place we call purgatory before we can be admitted into the pure intimacy of uncreated Love.
Francisco and Jacinta had seen this logic of the divine economy in the light from Our Lady’s hands during the apparitions and, young as they were, they had absorbed it. They understood that every moment of suffering was a sacrifice of their individual wills to the God who had sacrificed His Will to draw them away from the ultimate horror which is sin. And this was not just for themselves – the divine economy has nothing in common with economies drafted on Wall Street. It was part payment, brought to full amount by Christ’s blood, for the grace to enlighten and invigorate the wills of every created soul from Adam down to the latest infant born into this world.
If you concur with this argument this far you will, I trust, appreciate the thinking of our young seers in not asking heaven for a cure for themselves. Indeed, even at the very zenith of their most ferocious agonies we would be surprised if the thought of asking for a cure entered their minds. It is more likely that their hearts cried out, like the Jesuit martyrs in Elizabethan England, More pain, if you will, Lord, but more patience, please, more patience!
To the world this is foolishness. To other faiths this is foolishness or, where a semblance of it is practiced the motivation is radically different. Indeed, to most Christians it is incomprehensible. In the ages of faith few would have questioned it, but in our own day the cancer of modernism is slowly eating away at the spiritual sensibilities of even conscientious Catholics.
The beatified children of Fatima stand as uncompromising witnesses to the place of suffering on the path to spiritual maturity, but also to the joy and exultation and infinite happiness that accompanies and makes light of the burden of that suffering; that make it, in fact, desirable.
If the relationship between love and suffering poses a difficulty, ask any lover about it.
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