by Donal Anthony Foley –
The miracle of the sun at Fatima on Oct. 13, 1917, was one of the most crucial and astounding events of the 20th century, a vast affirmation of the power and existence of God given to an undeserving world that was increasingly moving away from Him.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the miracle was noted by Father John de Marchi in his account of what took place at Valinhos, near Fatima, on Sunday, Aug. 19, when Our Lady appeared to the children. This was after their release from the custody of the mayor of Ourem, who had kidnapped the young seers and prevented them from being at the Cova da Iria for the August 13 appointment with her.
Father de Marchi records that Lucia once again asked the Blessed Virgin to perform a miracle so that all would believe in her apparitions. Our Lady said, “In October, I will perform a miracle so that everyone may believe. If they had not taken you to the town (Ourem) the miracle would have been greater.”
This revelation that the miracle would have been greater if the children hadn’t been kidnapped is a graphic demonstration of how sinful human behavior can have truly adverse consequences. As it was, the miracle was seen by tens of thousands of people at the Cova da Iria and by many more people at a distance.
But without the sinful actions of the mayor, the miracle might have been seen all over Portugal, or all over the Iberian Peninsula, to include Spain – or even all across Europe. A bigger miracle would have undoubtedly had a bigger impact on a sinful world, and this is a tragic illustration of the Catholic teaching about the negative effects of sin.
Any sin can be seen as having consequences well beyond the individual concerned. Apart from the individual sins of the mayor and his accomplices regarding the kidnapping, we also have the wider effects of this sin on society as a whole and on the Church.
When we examine the miracle itself, in part it seems to have been a demonstration of the very existence of God, as when the sun was seen to whirl around in the heavens and give off different colors, which could only have been due to divine power. But there was also another element that could possibly be described as apocalyptic, when the sun seemingly left its orbit and plunged towards the earth in such a terrifying manner that many of the spectators thought it was the end of the world.
Signs in the skies
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks about the events preceding His Second Coming in the following way: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk 21: 25-28).
Christ made a clear link between signs in the heavens, including those involving the sun, and His Second Coming. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that mankind will have to endure some sort of “heavenly chastisement” in the immediate or not too distant future. In fact, Our Lady spoke at Fatima of a future period of peace for humanity.
But just as the purpose of the heavenly signs, which will precede the coming of Christ, will be to bring those then living to belief in God, so the miracle of the sun was essentially for the same purpose – to remind or convince the Portuguese people in the early 20th century that God did in fact exist, and by extension to also convince all Catholics and all mankind of this fact.
Is there a link to the idea of a chastisement, between the miracle of the sun and the third part of the secret of Fatima? Sister Lucia describes what she and her cousins saw, which was official revealed in 2000 at the behest of St. John Paul II:
“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’”
This does seem to refer to a threatened chastisement – a fire that will fall from the sky – but it is one that was not carried out due to the influence of Our Lady, who perhaps gave us time to heed the angel’s cry for penance. Or, perhaps it was not carried out because of the penance that was undertaken by the Portuguese people, in conjunction with all the sufferings of those under the yoke of communism in the 20th century.
The rest of this secret is clearly concerned with persecutions the Church has undergone and probably also will undergo in the future, a fact which indicates that we should be focusing more on the possibility, if not probability, of future persecutions from men, rather than heavenly chastisements from God.
We come back to the miracle of the sun and Our Lady’s mysterious words that it would have been greater but for the sinful actions of the mayor of Ourem and his associates. Here we have a possible insight into why the Fatima message as a whole is not making the progress it should have made in the Church and the world.
Do we all need to do an examination of conscience to see if in fact our sins, or at least our lack of fervor in promoting and practicing the Fatima requests, is one of the main reasons for this?
Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He wrote this for the Summer 2021 issue of Soul Magazine.