28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXVIII per Annum A

15 October 2017

The parable used by Jesus in the gospel continues to explain what the Kingdom of God is like.  It also serves as a clear outline of salvation history.  In the parable the king is an image for God the Father.  He desires to host a great wedding feast for his son, who is an image of Jesus the Bridegroom of the Church.  The feast is an image of salvation and eternal life, prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah.  The Israelites are the ones first invited to the feast by God’s servants, an image of the prophets.  In refusing the invitation, rejecting and even killing the prophets, and in being unworthy to enter the banquet, those first chosen will find themselves punished and left outside of the banquet hall.  And in history, Israel’s removal from the Holy City Jerusalem is just such an experience of the enraged king who allows them to experience exile and destruction.

As the fulfillment of Israel, the Church – and each of us as members – is to place herself in this parable and to learn its lessons.  We are called to be attentive to God’s invitation.  We are called to accept his word.  We must not fall to the same temptation to reject the prophets and the teachings of the apostles.  In the gospel, people ignore the invitation and the signs that God sends.  We must not repeat this error.

One example of an invitation and a sign from God is the series of appearances of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.  I hope you are aware that this is the 100th anniversary year of those appearances.  This anniversary is the reason we have the great privilege this weekend [tomorrow only] to host the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  Mary’s appearances to the three children in 1917 coincided with a time of great calamity and suffering toward the end of the First World War.  There were significant threats to the dignity of human life and to peace.  There were political ideologies like communism spreading errors about the order of our world, about freedom, and the role of government in relationship to the service it should provide to the dignity of human personhood.  There was also the spread of the errors of Freemasonry which attempts to replace authentic religion with a manmade construct.  In a book about the importance of Fatima for today, Fr. Andrew Apostoli writes: “Reflecting upon the human context, individual and societal, of the apparitions of the Mother of God at Fatima, it is not difficult to perceive the critical importance of our Lady’s message for our own time, an importance strongly underlined for us by … Pope [St.] John Paul II and by his successor Pope Benedict XVI.  We too live in a time when many are ready to sacrifice all including the lives of innocent and defenseless unborn brothers and sisters; the lives of those who have the first title to our care – the aged, the critically ill and those suffering with special needs; and the great good of marriage and the family, the first cell of the life of society, on the altar of selfish individualism and tyrannical relativism.  Many in our day have turned away from God and have rebelled against the most fundamental teachings of his life-giving Law – the teaching regarding the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and the teaching on the integrity of the faithful, indissoluble and procreative union of one man and one woman in marriage – and have thus found themselves profoundly unhappy and without hope, gazing into the terrifying emptiness of hell” (Fatima for Today, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, location 91 Kindle edition).

Are we ready to accept that God has sent us a message and an invitation in the apparitions of Fatima?  Will we allow ourselves to believe that God loves us so much that still today He sends us an invitation to His heavenly banquet?  Are we so sophisticated that we ignore God’s invitation and reject the possibility that Mary could appear and communicate the invitation to us, an invitation that is meant to draw us closer to her Son the Savior, Jesus Christ?  The Church is wise to approach claims of supernatural apparitions with great caution and skepticism.  The Church wants to make sure that any such claims and any messages associated with such claims do not contradict the true Faith and do not risk leading souls astray from the true Faith.  After much study the apparitions and the message of Fatima were approved by the Church in 1940 as reliable and confirmed by miraculous signs that do not have a merely natural explanation.  The most noteworthy of these signs came with the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917, the final apparition of Mary at Fatima.  This miracle was a confirmation of her appearance and the truth of the message she had delivered.  On that day the sun moved about erratically in the sky in a way that was most unusual and difficult to explain, sort of pulsating and seeming to move closer and then further away to those who witnessed it.  It also seemed to zig-zag across the sky and it emitted an array of unusual colors as it did so.  The strange event lasted for about ten minutes.  This miracle, often referred to as the day the sun danced, was seen by some 70,000 people simultaneously.    Some estimates suggest even more.  It was convincing even to skeptics and non-believers of the day.  Independent and varied accounts of that day all point to the same reality of an extraordinary miracle that everyone present witnessed.

The Fatima message can prepare us to welcome God’s invitation to life with Him in heaven.  I can’t do it justice in a homily so you will have to take the time yourself to read up on the message of Fatima, but for the sake of summary, I want to highlight five core points of the message.  The message of Fatima instructs us in (1) sacrifice.  We are called to recognize all moments of our lives as opportunities to make sacrifice.  In sacrifice we are trained to surrender and to subordinate our own will, our desires, our comforts.  We give them to God as a sign that we love Him more than our own pursuits.  In surrendering ourselves, surely we can see a training that helps us avoid the error in the gospel of ignoring God’s presence and His invitation to life with Him.  (2) Fatima tells us to make reparation for our sins and those of others.  Reparation is an act of love to God because sin offends God.  Sin is a refusal to love God.  The very infrequent practice of confession in our time is a clear sign of the value of this lesson of reparation.  By and large it is true that Catholics have lost the sense of sin and how it offends God.  Generally speaking when we don’t confess we keep our sins closer to us than we keep God.  That God’s forgiveness is ignored when so many souls go years, decades, even an entire life since first confession without going to confession again tells us clearly where love has grown cold.  (3) Fatima teaches us to strengthen our love for God by sacrifice and by reparation and, as we ourselves grow in love, the third lesson is that we are to offer intercession for the conversion of other sinners so that they too do not ignore the invitation to God’s banquet.  The more we ourselves grow in love for God the more we must love others, for whom He suffered and died upon the Cross.  (4) The lesson of Fatima also tells us to bear sufferings humbly and patiently.  It is a difficult lesson, but suffering plays an important part in our spiritual development.  It makes us more like God in the flesh, Jesus himself!  Suffering patiently purifies us and helps break our unholy attachments to things in this life.  Lord knows we all need to grow in the virtue of patient suffering since even the mundane matter of driving and road rage can tell us just how impatient we are.  (5) The final core lesson of Fatima is peace.  Peace is the result of the tranquility that comes when life is in proper order.  The invitation to sacrifice, reparation, prayer for sinners, and bearing sufferings patiently will result in greater peace.  When a person confesses sin, receives God’s mercy and amends his life, and develops a habit of this practice, he would have greater order because he is in greater harmony with God, and thus he would experience greater peace (ibid, location 545).  Families, the Church, and the nations of the world would grow in peace were this type of order established.  It begins with each of us experiencing peace by the invitation of God to live in harmony with Him now, in preparation for the eternal harmony to come.

In the different warnings and promises made over the course of the series of Fatima apparitions, the one request Mary made in all six of her apparitions to the three children of Fatima was that they pray the Rosary daily for peace (ibid, location 770).  In a complicated world marred by war and annihilating threats Mary chose to appear to simple shepherd children and to deliver them a message that must have seemed in part incomprehensible to them.  It is a message they believed in childlike humility, simplicity, and trust.  It is a message still valid and still needed today as we live in the midst of even greater threats, rapidly increasing disorder on all levels, and a scale of destruction not imaginable in 1917.  And at the core of the message is the invitation of the individual person – you and me – to strive for greater harmony with God.  Also at the core is the call to foster such harmony in marriage and family life, which is clearly ground zero today in an ideological battlefield overrun by the foot soldiers of contraception and sterilization, the foot soldiers attacking the permanence of marriage, and the foot soldiers of so-called same-sex marriage.  We have an invitation from God.  In our sophistication will we refuse to believe?  Or like the children of Fatima will we trust in the love of God for us who never stops seeking to fill His banquet hall?  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).  Through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima and the shepherd children may we welcome God’s invitation to the banquet of life and so be found worthy to come.