The Christmas Story and Fatima

by Donal Anthony Foley –

As Christmas approaches, we naturally think of the cave at Bethlehem, where the Baby Jesus was born to Mary after she and St. Joseph had made the long journey to the city of David in order to be enrolled. The mighty Caesar Augustus in far-away Rome had decreed a census in which everyone had to return to their ancestral city; Mary and Joseph humbly obeyed this order, even though the Child in her womb was the God of heaven and subject to no earthly authority.

After His birth, it was not the Jewish leaders in nearby Jerusalem to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, but to lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.

Thus, we can see that the keynotes of the first Christmas night are humility and poverty, and particularly the humility and poverty of the God-Man, willing to be born in a cave in the most obscure and poorest of circumstances. (Lk 2) It is only when the Magi come to worship the Child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, that we are drawn to His regal nature. (Mt 2)

We see the same hallmarks of humility and poverty in the events at Fatima. Our Lady did not appear to the worldly and wise ones of Lisbon, but rather to three simple, illiterate children in rural Fatima, far away from the noise and bustle of the capital. Just as the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem with “good tidings of great joy,” so in the summer of 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared three times with a message of hope and peace for the children who were at their work as young shepherds.

And likewise, just as when the whole multitude of other angels joined the angel of the Lord in the heavens above proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will,” so the following year, in 1917, Our Lady came proclaiming a message of peace to mankind and  the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

Then later on, at the presentation of Our Lord, when Mary and Joseph took the Child Jesus up to the Temple for the ceremony of purification according to the Law of Moses, they met the aged Simeon. After he had acknowledged the baby as the promised Messiah, he went on to tell Mary that her Child would be a sign of contradiction and that a sword of sorrow would pierce her soul – a foretelling of what she would suffer at the foot of the cross as Jesus died in agony.

In the same way, when Our Lady appeared for the first time to the children at Fatima, in May 1917, after telling them they would go to heaven, she foretold sufferings for them, saying: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?” When Lucia replied in the affirmative, she went on to say, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”

The importance of family

The families of Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia were poor, but not destitute. Even so, theirs was a hard life and one with few luxuries. While almost 2,000 years separate the earthly life of the Holy Family and that of the seers of Fatima, in many respects their lives would have been very similar. The daily round was one of hard work – cooking, cleaning, growing food and looking after animals. Just as Jesus surely helped Joseph in his carpenter’s shop and Our Lady in their humble house at Nazareth, so the Fatima children were, as Sister Lucia’s memoirs disclose, bound up with the lives of their families in a beautiful way as they shared in necessary everyday tasks.

The Christmas story is capped off by the arriving Magi, accompanied by a celestial sign, the marvelous star they had seen rising in the East which showed them the way to Bethlehem. So, too, the apparitions of Our Lady culminated in an awe-inspiring sign in the sky, when another star, our own star, the sun, gyrated in the sky and seemed to plunge towards the earth before returning to its peaceful and serene course in the heavens.

As we draw nearer to Christmas, it is a beautiful time for children, in particular, but also for those who are young-at-heart and who desire to come closer to the Holy Family. Like Christmas, the Fatima message is beautiful and uplifting, drawing children closer to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the desire for heaven. We can trust Our Lady’s promise that those who embrace the devotion to her Immaculate Heart will be dear to God and like flowers placed by her to adorn His throne.

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