I was in Fatima just a few short weeks ago which seems quite distant now. On this day 99 years ago, Mary appeared to the three young shepherd children, responding that she had come from Heaven. She would appear five more times, monthly on the 13th day. Two of the children were to die young, while the third would live for almost 100 years. She would in fact, see her two cousins beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000, five years before she died.
I have been thinking about Fatima today, about Our Lady, and my time there. In many ways, what happened to me in Fatima was my most profound spiritual experience. As I flipped through the photos again tonight, I lingered a bit at the photo of the rainbow–the sign of a promise. I cannot say what God may have been promising me in that sign but I did smile when I saw it. At the very least, it is a reminder that God is with me on this journey.
I thought about those young children as I walked in the olive tree groves that day. They were visited three times by an angel prior to Mary appearing to them while they tended their sheep in the fields in which I walked. I wondered how they must have felt. They were 9, 8, and 6 which is young to encounter such an experience–yet it was young to be out in the fields caring for animals too. Our world was very different then. There was something magical about the lighting as I walked along. It was not quite the golden hour but the trees were shimmering in the light quite beautifully.
Today’s Gospel reading makes me connect the two stories–Jesus asking Peter to feed his sheep and Mary giving these children the mandate to do the same: The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you, the angel had told them in order to prepare them for what was to come. Both are reminders that we are asked great things by the Trinity and Mary, but they do not abandon us. They are with us and provide us what we need. Two of the visionaries went Home early, succumbing to the influenza soon after seeing Mary.
One of the questions I turn over in my head is this whole idea of long life or short. I know that St. Ignatius did not want us to cling to a long life but rather focus on loving, praising, honouring, and serving God. I think Peter and those three children did just that. I hope I am doing the same. Mary did not promise the shepherd children anything that could be understood by human hearts–she asked if they would be willing to suffer and with childlike innocence they said yes.
Not many adults would have done the same, I suspect. We are not a people who like to suffer. Today, I spoke a little with a politician about the right to die legislation that is being drafted in Canada. He explained to me some of the restrictions that I had not known about previously. We talked about this being a first world problem as people in the south do not have the luxury to even think about such a topic. I feel such sadness at the thought of ending my life prematurely. I know that we do not like to see people suffer but I sense that there is a reason we do suffer and maybe not everything that happens in those final moments is a lost cause.
On the one hand, I do not want people to see me suffer and yet, I do not wish to shoo them away either. I suspect, in the end, my circle will be small to quiet my spirit and respect my need to be present to the final moments. Being single, the journey is different and the gatekeepers need to be clear about who gets to be there for the suffering portions.
Many of you have been touched by the knee prayer story told in an earlier blog post. I shared it this week while I was teaching about Graced History and the Examen. That prayer on my knees in Fatima did something to me. I am still living into the humility it taught me and yet at the same time, I see that like Peter in today’s Gospel, I had a certain amount of arrogance that needed to be purified. The walk made me suffer in a way that I had not chosen before. I chose to suffer. When I finally decided to submit in obedience to the request to do the kneel prayer, I knew that there would be no turning back. I think Peter must have felt some of that same determination once committing himself to the task of feeding the sheep in the same way that the children did.
There are no escape routes on this cancer journey. I must walk it faithfully and believe that the rainbow was a promise that the Trinity is with me. I may suffer much more than I currently am–or I may not. Two of the three visionaries had their lives shortened. The other served God a very long time. I think the Holy Hearts of Mary and Jesus have designs of mercy for most of us if we pay attention properly. May I keep an open heart and be ready to feed sheep along the way.
What signs do you have that the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you?
How are you being asked to feed sheep?
Shepherd God, you alone are holy. I will walk on my knees for you until they bleed to show that I am yours. I will feed your sheep. I will suffer if I must. I am in your good Hands. May I be at peace. Amen.