Lenten Lessons from Fatima’s Youngest Seer: St. Jacinta

St. Jacinta
St. Jacinta at the Cova da Iria

by Father Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR

Inspiration for Your Lenten journey

Lent is the perfect time to get back to basics. The themes, devotions, and spirituality of Lent allow us to reexamine the essentials of our faith journey. Prayer, penance and almsgiving are our weapons against the world, the flesh and the Devil. If you are anything like me the days of Lent run long and start to feel burdensome. For us modern people, it can be hard to find focus and discipline for 40 minutes, let alone 40 days! I start to long for the warmth of Easter, like a barren land exhausted by a wearisome winter.

I am always looking for good guides to inspire my Lenten journey. Two types of people can light our way as we wander in the proverbial desert: Saints and children.

At Fatima, we find the best of both: children who are also saints! Saints Francisco and Jacinta were not canonized because they were visionaries (a rare vocation for a privileged few). Rather, Holy Mother Church elevated them to the honor of the altar because of their heroic virtue in living an authentically Christian life.

In Honor of St. Jacinta

February 20 is the anniversary of St. Jacinta’s passing. In honor of her, I would like to suggest a few Lenten ideas based on her example.

On my first pilgrimage to Fatima, I found myself pondering the whole story that had been familiar to me since childhood. Convinced that God’s ways are always wise I was asking Him in prayer, What guided your choice? Why this place? Why these particular people? The place is a rural valley called the Cove of Peace (Cova da Iria). The inhabitants were simple and faithful people who worked the land. The little children were simple shepherds. One can imagine a serene setting surrounded by the beauty of creation.

Living and working among the poor in urban New York City has sharpened my senses to the soothing presence of God found in creation. I know that this is very Franciscan! Even today, as  an international shrine, one can still feel the presence of peace at Fatima. It is holy ground. The peace of this place matches the message of peace, which we all desperately desire. In 1916, the Angel of Peace came to teach the children that prayer and sacrifices can cause peace to come down upon the world. Sister Lucia recounted the story in her memoirs:

Suddenly we saw the same angel near us.

“What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.”

“But how are we to sacrifice?” I asked.

“In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to your country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.”

In 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at the Cove of Peace to call a warring world back to peace. The children understood her to say that God allows war as a punishment for sin. Mary taught us at Fatima that above and beyond all of the reasons for war, the strife of sin is at the root of the rivalry. She also taught that above and beyond all of the solutions to war, there is untold power in prayer. Mary calls us to pray for peace. St. Jacinta generously responded to this call. She was convinced that prayer and penance could pave the way for peace in the world.

St. James encourages us to pray without doubting, “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord” (Jm 1:6-7). Let Jesus calm those waves of doubt, which at times overwhelm your mind. Unhindered by her littleness and seeming insignificance, St. Jacinta prayed and offered sacrifices as if it would make a difference.

I am sure that in heaven we will wonder at the graces she released upon the world through her cooperation with God’s grace. Our Heavenly Father invites us to collaborate with the coming of the kingdom.

St. Jacinta’s Example

In imitation of St. Jacinta, we can pray the Rosary for peace every day of Lent. We can look for opportunities to repent of sin, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation. Monthly confession is a spiritually healthy habit. We can respond to Mary’s call by reaching out in repentance, humbling ourselves, extending an olive branch to those we have hurt or offended. Maybe make the first move by apologizing to someone with whom you experience tension. Finally, we can bear and accept with patience the trials that come our way. To this end, I highly recommend praying the Serenity Prayer so familiar to those recovering from addiction.

The Blessed Virgin Mary once proclaimed that her “soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46). You can see her influence on St. Jacinta in this regard. Jacinta possessed a magnanimous spirit. She was generous in her offering. Saint Paul wrote, “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver “(2 Cor 9:6-7). Jacinta inspires us to overcome our selfishness by growing in selflessness.

A Greater Awareness of our Connectedness in Christ

In a time that highlights the individual, our faith calls us to a spirituality of communion, a greater awareness of our connectedness in Christ. No man is an island. We can help or hinder each other. Explaining the metaphor of the Church as a body, St. Paul encourages us “that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:25-27). This passage perfectly describes the generous spirit of St. Jacinta. Aware of the real possibility of hell, she prayed and suffered for sinners who were most in need of God’s mercy. It seems that some, hardened by sin, are in need of extra graces to overcome their misuse of freedom and accept God’s offer of forgiveness. This reality was Jacinta’s passion. She was wholly focused on the other.

In a world that has lost the sense of sin, grown selfish, and become distracted from what is really important, St. Jacinta is a bright light illuminating our path. May this Lent be a new beginning as we seek to grow in grace and prepare for the ultimate victory, which began at Easter!

Father Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR, is a priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Yonkers, NY. He is currently the chaplain at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

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