Bishop Bransfield’s Homily from Mass for Dedication of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

John Sherwood Photo

Colleen Rowan Photo

John Sherwood Photo

The Courage of Searching

The familiar story in today’s Gospel—relating that fifth joyful mystery of the Finding of the Child Jesus in Temple—is so wonderfully fitting for our celebration today, as we mark the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and dedicate this new diocesan Shrine to her.   The Gospel shows us three aspects of Our Lady’s life of faith that are at the very heart of the Fatima message.

In the first aspect, we see the Holy Family making their annual pilgrimage to Temple in Jerusalem —a long journey, on foot, accompanied by their family, neighbors, and friends in order to gather for the Passover Sacrifice in the Temple, recalling Israel’s moment of liberation from slavery in Egypt.   This spirit of devotion to prayer and worship is at the very heart of who Our Lady is: she is a woman of prayer; she is the model of prayer within the Holy Family; and she is the advocate of prayer within the Church.  In many ways, the heart of her message at Fatima echoes her example of annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as she calls the universal Church to a renewed commitment to devotion and prayer, especially that great prayer of the Rosary, in which focuses our attention in the mysteries of new Covenant manifest in life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the one true lamb.

In the second aspect, we meet Mary of Nazareth searching for her son, when, in that moment of distress and anxiety, she gives voice to a question, “Son, why have you done this?”

This question, “Why?” expresses the pain of loss and the anxiety of the three day search. Her anguish—that emotion so redolent of a mother’s love—gives expression both to her love of Christ and her inability to understand his words and actions in the moment.  It is the suffering that always accompanies the search, when we cannot see what lies beyond the horizon and we need to wait and, in the meantime, look for answers, guesstimate the path, trust all the more and always in God. Search is an important component of human life. It is set in motion by the questions that arise in the human heart and requires an ability to listen to God, who longs to answer “why?” with words of compassion.

A Jewish proverb says that in the beginning God created the question mark and placed it in the human heart.  In moments of distress—like that which faced Mary and Joseph as they searched for their Son and for those nations embroiled in a world war one hundred years ago, just new to a century that would be marked both by incredible advances and terribly dark violence—in moments of distress like those, that question mark twists like a fishhook in the human heart.  While some may say that we should never question God and His plan, Mary herself shows us the virtue in asking why, as long as we stop and listen to the God who is eager to answer us.  In response to her question, Jesus asks: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Just so, in response to our contemporary questions which all aim at why of things—why so much violence? Why so much poverty? Why disease, political turmoil, and the strife we see around us, Mary offered that simple message of consolation and hope for a world at war and for the Church in travail: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph” (Apparition of July, 1917).   In other words, she says to us: “Trust!  In the end, love and peace will triumph, because God’s mercy is stronger than the power of evil.  What seems impossible to men is possible to God”.  Our Lady also asks us to join in the work of her divine Son, entering into our Father’s house particularly by the daily recitation of the Rosary for peace in the world.  “Even though everything depends on God and his grace, we still need to act as if everything depended on us, by asking the Virgin Mary that the hearts of individuals, the homes of families, the history of peoples and the fraternal soul of all humanity be consecrated to her and placed under her protection and guidance” (Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Homily, 12 May 2017).

The Shrine that we dedicate today, gives us a place to gather, along, in small groups, as families, and as parishes and as a Diocese, and bring with us the questions that fill our hearts, to freely and loving ask Our Lady to bring them to her Son, who listens to the cry of the world and invites us to trust that He is about His Father’s business even now, even in the world around us.  For this reason, among others, I am so very grateful to Tony Braddock, who conceived of the idea of this Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and who diligently sought a place to build it.  Convinced of the importance of having a place to meditate upon Our Lady’s Message at Fatima, he generously responded to challenges along the way and finally found this place.  Together with the help of our own Deacon Dave Galvin, Tony brought this Shrine into being, giving us a place to gather with Our Lady and seek answers to the questions of our hearts.

There is that third aspect of Mary in today’s Gospel … that she “did not understand what he said to” her but, nonetheless, “kept all these things in her heart.” In doing so, Our Lady reminds us that the answer to why is seldom intellectual, rarely spoken in the language of the rational … rather, the truest answer to why is most often spoken in the language of the heart … she did not understand the meaning of his words in that moment, but she stored them in her heart, allowing his Sacred Heart to speak directly to her Immaculate Heart, where she came to understand the mystery the eye could not see and what the intellect could not fathom … the mystery of what God the Father had made ready in the heart of her Son.   In this way, Mary teaches us the custody of the heart, the art of guarding and preserving what we have experienced; she teaches us as well perseverance of the heart, the dedication to find meaning, to understand events, to put the pieces together patiently in order to get slowly to a full and mature understanding, hearing the words of her Son in the depths of their meaning and making her Fiat our final response.

It is the heart that the Fatima message is all about, Mary begs us to be renewed in our devotion to her Immaculate Heart, to unite our hearts to hers just as her heart is united to the Sacred Heart of her Son.  Indeed, the great gift of Fatima is the reassurance that the love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a source of hope and consolation for all peoples, for our true devotion to her can indeed become the foundation of true peace in our families and parishes, in our nation, and in our world.  The Shrine we dedicate today both invites us to live the Fatima Message with renewed commitment and gives us the means to do so: enabling us to pray the Rosary with greater devotion and to be renewed in our dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that it is a mistake “to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”   Indeed, it cannot be complete until the hearts of all have been united to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.  Until then, we persevere in prayer, mindful that prayer is never useless.  Sooner or later, it will bear fruit, redounding to our everlasting honor and rewarding us with everlasting blessing (Judith 13:20).