Heaven thinks ahead. Things do not simply happen – they are foreseen, and often fore-shadowed; and one event generally links in some way to other similar events.
Such has been the case in the most recent cycle of approved Marian appearances, beginning with those to Saint Catherine Labouré in the Rue du Bac of Paris in 1830 – a theme here was the distribution of divine grace to souls in need, coupled with the theme of prayer. At Rue du Bac, the Blessed Virgin told St Catherine – “Come to the foot of this Altar; there, great graces will be given”. She also spoke of the sorrows to befall France in the years ahead and asked for prayers.
In 1858 at Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin had a similar message – prayer and penitence. In one very clear message to Saint Bernadette, the Mother of the Lord said three times – “Penance! Penance! Penance!”, words repeated by the young visionary.
Moving into the next century, at Fatima in 1917, these twin themes of prayer and penance were intimately linked throughout all of the messages. Here, though, the message was more specific and direct. The Blessed Virgin spoke of it in much more detail. She told the three seers about how sin deeply offends God, what the ultimate effects of sin are, and She also gave a means to overcome sin through devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, promising to save souls by this means. What was enormously clear was the sorrow of Heaven – and of the Blessed Virgin – when souls are lost because of sin.
This idea of the Blessed Virgin as the ‘Immaculate’ is another theme linking Rue du Bac, Lourdes (both focussed on the Immaculate Conception) and Fatima (the Immaculate Heart of Mary).
A little later in that same century, in Poland and Lithuania in the early 1930s, another seer was being granted favours from Heaven and entrusted with a message for erring humanity. She was Saint Faustina. The message was that of the Divine Mercy. And as at the earlier visions at Fatima, the theme of sin and its devastating effects was to the fore, as was the means of overcoming it. On this occasion, that means was a deep and loving relationship with the Merciful Lord, with trust as the vessel which draws down divine mercy and grace. As at Fatima, the central idea was that in choosing our own ways over those of God, we damage the relationship we have with Him; but He is always there, waiting for us to return and constantly making it possible for us to do so, even at those times when we do not realise we have moved away from Him. Such is the love of God for every one of us.
The prayers of Fatima seem like a foreshadowing of the Divine Mercy message –
“O Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven – especially those in most need of Thy mercy”.
Jesus is all merciful to the soul that calls upon Him and who trusts in His mercy.
Similarly, the Divine Mercy prayers have this –
“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”.
In both instances, this idea of mercy is not just personal – it is also communal. It is about ‘all souls’, rather than simply ‘my soul’. And the penitence is equally communal – we pray for all souls, not just our own. We recognise and make amends for the sins of all, not only the sins of one.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father has requested that we call daily upon the Most Blessed Virgin under the title of ‘Mother of Mercy’ – the briefest of looks at Her appearances on earth shows clearly that She is deserving of this venerable title, and that in the past century She has indeed presented Herself to us as this most merciful Mother, concerned at the risk of the loss of souls through sin and offering us a sure means of assistance.
Where we find Mary, there we will always find Jesus. Fatima and Divine Mercy are not two separate messages but different aspects of the very same idea, perhaps becoming clearer and clearer as the years pass – that the grace and mercy of God are continuously and abundantly offered to every single one of us, time and time again; that all we need do is ask for that grace and that mercy and to trust that it will indeed be given to us upon asking.
Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.