This year we mark the centennial of the apparitions of our Lady of Fatima, in which the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children in the village of Fatima in Portugal as described in part here. In six separate apparitions, from May until October of 1917, she warned of the need for prayers (especially the Rosary) and penance in reparation for the many sins of humanity.
As World War I raged on in Europe, her messages culminated in what is known as the Miracle of the Sun, on October 13th, 1917, in which some 70,000 people gathered at the Cova da Iria, the site of the apparitions, saw the sun spin around and hurl towards them for one brief frightening moment before returning to its normal place in the sky. (Impossible? Not for God. As Jesus said “With God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).)
We have recently passed the anniversary of the third of these apparitions, the one from July 13th, 1917 in which Our Lady revealed to these three Fatima visionaries three secrets (also known as one secret in three parts) warning of another terrible war (World War II) and further persecutions of the church, and of humanity, if we didn’t change our sinful, destructive ways that offended God so deeply, as described here.
This apparition was significant also for something quite jarring that gave great weight to Our Lady’s pleas for prayers and penances. Opening her hands she showed the children a terrifying vision of Hell!
As the eldest of the children, Lucia dos Santos, described it, they heard shrieks and saw a sea of fire with embers, souls of the damned, surrounded by devils that looked like “horrible and repulsive figures of frightful and unknown animals”.
It was like something out of a very bad horror film except it was all too real! (This picture above provides but a pale approximation of what they might have actually seen.)
While Our Lady assured the children that they would be in heaven, she clearly had made a profound impression on them. As she told them in August “Pray, pray a great deal, and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to Hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.”
The three Fatima visionaries followed suit, especially Lucia’s little cousin Jacinta who at one point wore a belt made of a sharp rope around her waist at all times. (The Blessed Mother subsequently told her that while God was pleased with her sacrifices that He only wished her to wear the rope during the day!)
Lucia’s cousin Jacinta and her brother Francisco, the third Fatima visionary, were both victims of the deadly influenza epidemic of the late teens, with Francisco passing away in 1919 and little Jacinta the following year. Mary visited Jacinta a few times before her death in a hospital in Lisbon in 1920. The child expressed her hope to the Blessed Mother that the pains from her illness would benefit souls.
While contemplating the fires of Hell, it is important to note that Our Lady told Jacinta at one point that most souls wind up in hell from sins of the flesh. Yikes! This indeed is potentially bad news for humanity today in our sex saturated society!
Catholics today, including many clergy seem to think that everyone’s saved or that belief in Hell is somehow medieval. We’ve seen this also in Protestantism, with its widely accepted doctrine of Sola Fide (meaning that faith alone apart from works is sufficient for salvation). This assurance is not in line with traditional Church teachings, however.
So, herein lies a problem in today’s society, a big one! So many of our fellow sinners think there will be no accounting for their actions in their afterlife, or that there even is an afterlife.
St. Faustina was told after her own harrowing vision of Hell in 1936, much like that shown the children at Fatima, that many of those in Hell hadn’t believed it even existed. St. Padre Pio was once quoted as saying that those who didn’t believe in Hell would very well believe in it when they got there!
If anything, one should err on the side of caution when thinking of Eternity. This is indeed scriptural. Our Lord warned his disciples of the dangers of falling into Hell most famously in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt Chs 5-7).
He told his listeners then to “enter by the narrow gate [to heaven] For wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way. How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it (Matt 7:13-14).” This message has been reinforced by numerous saints such as St. Augustine, St. Jean-Marie Vianney, and St. Alphonsus Liguori.
I bring this up not to encourage despair. Far from it! Our Lord is indeed a God of Mercy as we read in scripture ("patient and plenteous in mercy";
Ps 145:8). The point that none of us should ever take our salvation for granted.
We might all wish that Hell were empty, but wishing this won’t make it so. Praying for souls in danger of falling into hell forever might make it less crowded, and we are indeed encouraged to do so! The fundamental thing to remember here is that as long as you are in a state of grace, free from mortal sin, this inferno is not your destination after death.
And should you willingly and knowingly commit mortal sins, such types as described here, the good news is that you can have them absolved in Confession and be restored to that state of grace necessary for heaven and for receiving our Lord in Holy Communion at Mass. Regular confession, like a good prayer life, is a great way to stay close to Jesus and keep His graces coming!
And remember what Our Lady told Jacinta, that sins of the flesh landed most people in Hell. Her Son spoke in similarly stern terms in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, if effect, not to even look at a woman with lustful intent if you want to avoid Hell (Matt 5:27-30). This would be sobering news indeed to many cohabiting and/or contracepting couples who now are in mortal sin territory.
Equally demanding, when measured by society’s mores today, was Christ's insistence on the indissolubility of marriage, and that any second marriage by those who were divorced would constitute adultery, a grave sin (Matt 5:32; 19:9).
It is also worth noting that those cohabiting couples, those who live together before they’re married, have higher divorce rates than those who don’t take a “test drive” by living together first.
Jesus' mores are not the world's, to be sure, but remember that God has never allowed us to experience temptations that we cannot bear (1 Cor 10:13) as long as we keep turning to Him for his grace and assistance.
Still, nowadays it is taken an as accepted fact that giving into one’s libido is natural and suppressing it causes all kinds of emotional problems.
We live in a culture in which love and lust are as intertwined as the weeds and the wheat of one of our Lord’s parables (Matt 13:24-30). As such, many pop stars sing of love when they are talking about sex. And it is all too common nowadays for people to confuse the church’s prohibition of illicit sexual activity as an assault on love itself!
The key thing to remember here is that making love to someone is not necessarily the same thing as actually loving that person.
Sexuality in its marital manifestation, can be an important, quite beautiful, part of the love expressed between a man and a woman, one that also allows for the creation of new life in their children.
But outside of that quite ennobling criterion, sex can play havoc with people’s lives and families, and often does. Lust is not love, and when people become sex objects they lose their inherent dignity as children of God.
They become commodities instead, things to be used and disposed of, much like the contraceptives that are often used in “hookups”, “one-night stands”, affairs and other such trysts.
The important thing to remember here is that God gave us our human sexuality as an expression of His goodness and love for us. Granted, given Humanity's fallen nature, many of us experiencing the sexual tension that comes from lust, especially young people, may wish this gift didn’t entail such struggles!
I've listed some links below that I hope can help those of you dealing with temptations.
It’s not that God thinks of our bodies as being but necessary evils of housing for our souls, or that sex is somehow dirty and disgusting. Quite the opposite!
We as human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, of our Creator to have bodies, to have matter. Matter matters to Him. That’s why we will have our bodies reunited to our souls after the General Judgment (Phil 3:21; John 5:25-29).
As far as the prohibition on unmarried sexual activity is concerned, it’s been said not that God doesn’t know human nature, but that he does! Two people, whether friends or strangers, can find themselves in bed together after a couple of drinks and furtive kisses.
We get numerous plaintive pleas for prayers on our prayer requests page from spouses dealing with infidelity. Too many people are discarding their existing families for some new physical and/or emotional “fulfillment” from another co-worker, friend, or other associate, much to the heartbreak of their spouses and children.
And seeing all the wreckage that has come to families since the Sexual Revolution in the 1960’s, we have to wonder if that yellow brick road was more like the broad and wide road Jesus spoke of that led to destruction mentioned earlier!
The problem with all this unbridled sexuality, like that of lust itself, is that it makes us self-centered, rather than self-giving, as in genuine love expressed and reinforced in marital sexual activity. And society’s selfishness winds up running rampant then!
True, people have engaged in extramarital sex since Biblical times. Indeed, that was an Achilles heel of such Old Testament giants as King David and King Solomon.
Yet, even kids in grade school can’t escape the onslaught of sex sex, sex, with soft porn on their TV’s and harder (and raunchier) stuff on computers, tablets and even smartphones.
Also, Our Blessed Mother also told Jacinta at one point that fashions were coming that would offend God greatly. And that was at the dawn of the Roaring '20's! Today, many fashions show more and more of everything, which can certainly incite lust, although it is important to add here that no one dressing immodestly is ever "asking for it" (being raped or otherwise sexually abused).
All this leads to a coarsening of the culture and as more and more taboos fall by the wayside. Father Chad Ripperger once wisely observed that at as modesty in dress regarding the observance of the 6th and 9th Commandments (on the proper use of sexuality) collapsed that "there was also a systematic collapse in the proper manners and etiquette addressing people and in how people behaved."
In addition, many people in positions of power in our church, and in society in general, are placing their souls in extraordinary danger through pedophilic activities. They should remember Jesus’ admonition that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt 18:6).
His chilling warning seems to fall on deaf ears these days with those as well who are exposing our kids in to a real smorgasbord of smut, as mentioned earlier and as shown here, for example.
And, contrary to what some might have you believe, the availability of all kinds of pornography on the internet has had a major impact on many young people whose overindulgence in porn leaves them sexually and emotionally dysfunctional.
And in the meantime, as the weeds and the wheat are all entangled together, our Lords message of grace and guidance get drowned out by the din of ever more and more debauchery. Yet, just judging by the fact that people seem to be consuming more antidepressants than ever before are we really happy as a society with throwing the 6th and 9th commandments out the window?
Even if an eternity in Hell weren’t a real possibility the misery here certainly is real! Think again of all the heartbreaks, jealousy, and guilt over betraying loved ones and children in giving way to infidelity.
This is to say nothing of a rampant rise in sexually transmitted diseases over the past few years, as well as numerous children born out of wedlock, in effect without fathers as well as mothers to raise them properly. (And that’s not taking into account the millions of abortions that have taken place since it became a protected “right” in this country in 1973!)
Those tempted to sleep around, have affairs, or live with someone outside of marriage need to ask themselves is it worth is it worth the heartaches and misery that such “guilt free” sex might bring? Is that fling worth breaking up your marriage and your family? Is it worth losing God and His real love?
That just by itself would be hell, much less the trappings of being stuck in a very bad horror movie that are always present in one’s damnation. That nest of demonic activity, eternal regrets and hatred is what Jesus wants to keep you out of.
That’s what His sufferings, and Jacinta’s, and so many others were all about, our salvation! And it’s important to add here that Jesus didn’t die just to keep us out of hell but to open the gates of Heaven in a fully restored relationship with our Creator.
And Heaven, as has been attested by numerous people in Near Death experiences, as well as from out of body experiences in visions by saints such as St. Paul and St. Thomas Aquinas, is truly a place of such eternal magnificence and peace that, as St. Paul quoted from the book of Isaiah “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).
Pray for grace and true contrition and staying as close to God as possible while reflecting His love, real Love in how you treat others. It’s not always easy, by any means, but the more you can let Christ help you carry your crosses with His grace the more bearable they can become. And say the Fatima Prayers, especially this one that we say after the Rosary:
Oh my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those in most need of thy mercy!!!!