Fatima: Theology of History

by Fr Serafino M. Lanzetta

The Fatima-event marked the start of a path of renewal for the whole of the Church: the Lady dressed in White, who came from Heaven to speak to us through the three humble shepherd children, repeated to the 20th century and to humanity the truth of the Gospel for ever, but with a specific characteristic, identifying with it in history. The supernatural events – recognised as such by the approval of the Church – confirmed the historic facts and history was read by the Virgin herself in the light of God. Fatima tells us that history belongs to God and only in His light can we read its events, as threat or promise: that depends on us, if we leave room for the Gospel, the Word of God descended in time and in history.

Reflecting on the prodigious events which took place at Fatima in the distant year of 1917, from May to October, and prepared two years previously by the apparitions of the Angel, we notice a very interesting prior element, on which we must pause: God is the Lord of history, He guides it, events unfold with His permission towards a salvific goal and are not immutably pre-determined events, prisoners of anonymous forces of evil. So if God is the Lord of history, then love and freedom guide us, not fate and destiny. This also means that history is not already written to the detriment of the freedom of God and humanity, but can, instead, change: it can return to the source of truth if the human person changes inside drawing closer to God, if the human person leaves sin behind and converts.

Fatima tells us that history can change, must change, that history is the result of the freedom of people over which God’s Providence rules, with a look of love imbued with justice and mercy. History is guided by God, but is placed into the hands of humankind, is consigned to the freedom of the human person which, however, cannot be total whim, it has a limit, and this limit is the Providence of love which rules everything and leads everything to a good end. At times this escapes us precisely because the God-Love loves to conceal Himself behind events, even the most perilous, loves the eloquent silence of daily events, of simple things, hides also in grief and suffering. In fact it is precisely here that at times He speaks in a stronger way and shakes us. 

Fatima tells us that history can change if we change, if we pray. If we listen to Our Lady and do what She asked, then the course of our history can change, changing our being. Fatima tells us there are two weapons for bringing about a true revolution of history and in history: prayer and penance. With these the revolution is long-lasting, it inserts itself into the lowliest labyrinths of social structures, it innervates in secret where everything moves, everything works, where the most destructive as well as the greatest and most beneficial ideas are planned, in the secret where no ideologue can enter but only God and the human person: conscience and freedom.

If we pray, our hearts change and we place our history, the history of humanity, into the lap of Divine Providence. For its part, Providence enters into our world, enters us, and changes us. Prayer is an opening to God and God opens Himself to us, enters into us. We speak with the word of God and He speaks His words in us. He is in us and we are in Him. In the light of His words we can speak goodness and truth. Prayer teaches us to speak with the words of God and speak to humanity about the things of God, things eternal. What is eternal is true and prayer makes us speak of what is eternal. Only if we speak with God can we speak with humankind and say things that are true.

Every ideology pretends to speak to humankind about human things, but forgets that the human person who only speaks with him or herself soon becomes a threat to him or herself and to others; human affairs, too, soon become inhuman and in the name of ideas the living, men and women in flesh and blood, are crushed. The 20th century is a great lesson in inhumanity perpetrated in the name of humanity. At the start of that century, in Fatima, Our Lady reminded us that it is necessary to speak with God, to pray unceasingly with a prayer, the Holy Rosary, which is unceasing praise and constant request for mercy and salvation from eternal perdition. The person who does not speak with God loses the meaning of words, no longer knows what is truly good and starts to fall into lies. Those people who do not speak to God are to be feared!

The other great antidote to evil and to the damnation of history and humanity is penance. Through penance we make up for the evil done to God and to humanity, we purify ourselves and history from the snares and filth of evil. Interiorly renewed, we prepare ourselves to welcome the future as God’s time for us, as a favourable time for humankind. Yes, penance does ensure Justice reconciles the world with God, the world with good, purifying evil, crushing its strength. Evil is not wiped out with a clean slate. It remains in the furrows carved out in our lives and in our history. It is utopian to think that evil is self-redeeming, that sooner or later it disappears, without a serious commitment to eradicate it through penance. Godless ideologies think that evil is only an error of history, when an implacable force looms over us and crushes us. In both cases the human person sees him or herself defenceless when faced with it: either he or she justifies it as good or just denounces it. Meanwhile, however, it remains and continues to demean. Its justification is false. Protest against God is false. Contempt for God due to evil is inhuman. That way humanity simply condemns itself and continues to live in the inferno of evil. And does not act. Just looks. Fatima, instead, invites us to act, to do something to destroy evil and make human the face of humanity and of the world. It is necessary to fight sin, the root of all evil. It is necessary to redeem sin as offence against God and disdain for the things which God has created.

There is only one way, therefore, to overcome evil: redeem it, purify it. Through penance its power is destroyed and the world is opened to God. Penance thus opens us to reconciliation with God and with our brothers and sisters. While evil profoundly marks the human person, penance redeems the person, healing his or her wounds. In fact, the Good Samaritan, Jesus, bent over us to heal our wounds Himself.

Prayer and penance enable God to enter into history once again, they unite us to His will and so finally we know what is good, when one is living well, how to live well. And this is not just for us, like selfish satisfaction, but always for everyone.

Fatima offers us a splendid theological vision of history and tells us: only with God can humanity continue to live. Only if we live for God does the world also live. To banish God from the world and from the heart of humanity leads to self-destruction: not just war, but the flaming sword of our soaring technology looms ready to destroy us. 

Excerpt from the book, Fatima at the Heart of the Church: God’s vision of history and oblative spirituality, 2018