Yesterday was a bit of an odd day. After thinking I would spend a relaxing day, it ended up being full and somewhat exhausting on a few fronts- but in a good way. I went to the sacrament of reconciliation. Here in Fatima, I was able to find a priest who spoke English. I was thinking about how the crowds in yesterday’s Gospel really were trying to trick Jesus into telling them how to get into heaven and even to have power on earth. We can be deceptive at times and that’s not really how God has created us.
God has created us to love, honour and serve. This is the Principal and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. What exactly does that mean? I may have found out on a different level yesterday. The priest after listening to my confession asked me to do several hard things. For one of the sins that I confessed, he wanted me to write a letter of forgiveness to a person with whom I have had great struggles. My initial reaction was that he had misunderstood me. I was the one who had been wronged. I had merely been confessing my anger so was surprised by the request. However, as I thought about it and as unhappy as I am with that being part of my penance, I think it is a way to love, honour and serve God. I will do this upon return to Canada. I had to really consider not doing my penance because of my own stubbornness. That certainly is not from God. I could see were my ego had gotten in the way.
The other thing that he asked me to do was very old-school for someone like me. There is a way of praying here at the shrine called the knee prayer. It consists of walking on your knees from one of the churches to the Chapel of Apparitions. Again, I balked at the thought of doing this. In the end, I submitted to the request as well. I thought of the story of the king who would not go into the river to clean his leprosy until someone told him he had been asked to do an easy task. Why not do it? The priest had asked me to do it for my own healing. I stood looking at the length of the walk for some time before I actually did it. This type of prayer is very humbling and I found myself in a very low place. At one point, I even saw some other tourists taking pictures of me. For once, I was the novelty of someone’s photo op. I completed the task and then went on to the third penance which involved walking around the shrine three times – once for each of the persons of the Trinity. I think here too, was another way to love honour and serve God. We do not like to suffer and this was no easy prayer to complete. I have three little abrasions on my knees – one for each of the persons of the Trinity – to remind me of my penance. He also recommended drinking water from the tap at the statue of the Sacred Heart while I was here which I have done. As I left the priest, he said to me: You are not done. I sat back down quickly thinking that there was more to come. No, he said, I meant your life is not yet done. Because I present so well, I think people have a difficult time understanding how sick I really am. However, I am open to that being a prophetic statement.
I decided because it was a sunnier day than expected that I would walk to the stations of the cross and see the place where the angel had appeared to the children. I really must learn how to read these tourist maps. It looked so close but it ended up being 2 km away. As I approached the place where where Mary had appeared to the children, a man who spoke some English decided to be my guardian angel and show me the sites. As an experienced traveler, I knew that it would cost me a couple of euros but I decided to let him show me these holy places as it would be quicker than me finding them on my own. In the end he also convinced me to go to the houses of the visionaries even though they were closed. By now, I had done quite the walk. I still needed to return to Fatima from this neighbouring village. As I went on my way, I could not help but think that these young children, two of whom died before they were teenagers, had served a holy purpose in their short lives. The third child lived as a nun until her late 90s. Each of them suffered in their own way because of what they saw and what God called them to do. However, each of them also were blessed abundantly and forever left their mark in our world. When I finally returned to my hotel, I thought again of the crowds of people who wanted fame as an easy way to God. The only way to God, in my thinking, is to love, honour and serve.
What penance have you done that has taught you the most?
How can you love, honour and serve God better?
Dear God, you call us to love, honour and serve you in humble and contrite ways. Show me how my ego prevents me from doing your will. Continue to transform my heart. Amen.