Every parent knows the daily struggles and trials, devotion and love, broken bones and injured feelings it takes to fulfill their duty every day. I look back upon my own childhood, and I cannot admire my parents more for what they did for me and continue to do for my brothers and sisters. They have a very happy marriage. My mother is still homeschooling four children (2 in high school), and they find time to say the rosary and to attend Mass daily. It is really amazing what they have accomplished, and if I am ever married, I will strive for the quality of parenting that they gave to me.
However, they learned as they went. They have told me often that “If we could go back 20 years and start over, we would do many things differently.” They told me that when they first were married (my father became Catholic a week before marrying my mother, and my mother, although a cradle Catholic, went through a “re-conversion” right before meeting my father), they were searching for a Catholic identity. It didn’t feel like they were doing enough, they told me. They got involved in bible studies and Church leadership groups, the Couple to Couple league and Regnum Christi. However, it still didn’t feel right. In fact, it wasn’t until almost 15 years into their marriage, that they found exactly what they had been looking for. They found how to easily live a good Catholic life, while practicing the hard and tiring life of an average parent. Where did they find their solution? They found the solution in the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
The most Holy Mother of God came to three shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. Her message was simple, the miracle at the last apparition was witnessed by more than 70,000 people. The seers became exemplary models of holiness, and the graces that have poured from Fatima all attest to the authenticity of the apparitions. The Church officially approved Fatima as an authentic Marian apparition in 1930. But how is it that my parents found the solution to their Catholic identity crisis here? In order to answer that, let us delve into what Our Lady promulgated in her apparition, and how my parents made use of it. Our Lady first promulgated the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary; second, acts of penance, and lastly, an increased devotion to the most Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Our Lady said about the Rosary, "You must recite the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, for only she can obtain this."[i] Our Lady of Fatima identified herself to the children as “Our Lady of the Rosary”, and in all of the apparition messages, she encouraged the daily recitation of this prayer.
Why did our Lady place so much emphasis on the Rosary? Because it is one of the most powerful private devotions of the Catholic Church, and history has shown it to be such. When presenting Saint Dominic with the Rosary, our Lady told him, “Through the Rosary and the scapular I will save the world.” Blessed Alan de la Roche says of this prayer, “The Holy Rosary is the storehouse of countless blessings.” It has been promulgated and indulgenced by many popes and saints, since the time of Saint Dominic. Its power has revealed itself from the battle of Lepanto, to the many miracles it is still performing in people’s lives today.
But why is it a special prayer in the eyes of our Blessed Mother? To answer this, I encourage you to read the book “Secrets of the Rosary” by Saint Louis de Montfort. It is one of the most powerful spiritual books ever written by a saint for the laity, and it has guided many souls to heaven. This particular devotion, the daily recitation of the Rosary, helped my parents set aside a time every day dedicated to prayer, which is essential for a good Christian life. The old adage “the family that prays together stays together” is so true! Through the years we have added other prayers that we say in addition to our Rosary, but it was the Rosary that was the starting point of my family’s private prayer life. One of my fondest childhood memories is leading my decade of the rosary in the candlelight with all of my family members kneeling around.
The second thing Our Lady promulgated was penance. However, it is important to distinguish what Our Lady meant by this. Our Lady did not mean we need to practice saintly austerities, such as scourging ourselves or putting rocks in our shoes. This is especially true of parents. The angel of peace who appeared to the children before Our Lady's visit, did say the following, "Offer up everything in your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners . . . More than all else, accept and bear with resignation the sufferings that God may send you.” The last line is very important to understand properly, especially within the context of parenting. “Accept and bear with resignation the sufferings that God may send you.”
Suffering, which we do not bring upon ourselves, is called involuntary suffering, and it is the most pleasing kind of penance that anyone can offer up to God. “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil,” says Saint Madeline Sophie Barat, “so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” By offering up our daily duty to God as a sacrificial offering, we merit as much grace as someone who is doing harsh penances in a cloistered monastery. Why? the answer is simple: by doing our daily duty we are conforming ourselves with the Divine will of Almighty God. Saint Alphonsus Ligori writes the following on this very topic:
A man has two servants. One works unremittingly all day long -- but according to his own devices; the other, conceivably, works less, but he does do what he is told. This latter of course is going to find favor in the eyes of his master; the other will not. Now, in applying this example, we may ask: Why should we perform actions for God’s glory if they are not going to be acceptable to him? God does not want sacrifices, the prophet Samuel told King Saul, but he does want obedience to his will: “Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims, and not rather that the voice of the Lord should be obeyed? For obedience is better than sacrifices; and to hearken, rather than to offer the fat of rams. Because it is like the sin of witchcraft to rebel; and like the crime of idolatry to refuse to obey.” [1 Samuel, 15:22-23] The man who follows his own will independently of God’s, is guilty of a kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God’s will, he, in a certain sense, adores his own.
With this in mind, we can comfort ourselves in that offering up our daily duty to God is exactly what He wishes us to do. If you are married, you are fulfilling your vocation by being a good parent and spouse! For example, a father's job is to protect and provide for his family and be the spiritual leader of the household. If he were to fast so much he became weak and could not properly provide or protect his family, His sacrifices would not be pleasing to God, because he would have departed from the Divine will of his God-given, sacramental role.
Let us think for a moment about the involuntary sufferings of parenting. Parenting includes involuntary suffering at every turn! From changing diapers to correcting children, according to the virtue of justice, holiness is at your fingertips. All you have to do is offer these sufferings up to God. What is the easiest way to do this? The easiest way to offer your sufferings to God daily is by saying a morning offering. I do remember when my parents first began implementing the morning offering into our lives. After breakfast and before school, we would all gather in the living room and say the following prayer to Our Lady: “Oh my God, I offer you, in union with all the Masses said throughout the world, all of my thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings of this day, to please you, to honor you, to make up for my sins, for the conversion of poor sinners, and in reparation of sins committed against the Immaculate Heart.” In doing this, we are telling God that anything he sends us this day we will gladly accept it and offer it up in reparation. This is the path to perfection, and this is what Our Lord wishes us to do.
Finally, Our Lady asks for an increase in devotion to her Immaculate Heart. In his wonderful book “True Devotion to Mary”, another Marian classic, Saint Louis de Montfort tells us, “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour Him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son.” One of the devotions that emerged from the Fatima apparition and which my parents found of particular importance is the first Saturday devotion[ii]. This devotion is very simple, but the promises are tremendous. In order to fulfill this devotion, the soul must fulfill these obligations on the first Saturdays of five consecutive months:
- Go to confession and receive Holy communion worthily [i.e. in a state of grace] (confession can be 8 days before or after the first Saturday)
- Recite the Rosary
- Spend 15 minutes in meditation upon the mysteries of the Rosary
The promises of Mary to those who perform this devotion are many, but the principle grace includes giving whoever performs this devotion the grace of final perseverance and a good death. I remember very clearly my parents explaining this devotion to us. My parents knew from the very beginning that the first and most important thing that they could do was minister to the souls of their children. They knew that they would have to answer God one day and give an account of how well they did in teaching us the faith. What a grace it is for them to know that they have handed their own souls and the souls of their children over to the care of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces! What a tremendous grace that is! And that, my friends, is exactly what they did in having us performing this devotion as a family. Of course, my parents did not stop providing for the spiritual nourishment of my brothers and sisters after we completed this devotion, but my parents trust that when the day of our death comes, we will be saved from final impenitence and eternal damnation by the intercession of our heavenly mother.
So let us review what my parents learned from the apparitions of Fatima: First, to designate time every day for the recitation of the Rosary. Second, the involuntary suffering of a parent merits enough grace to sanctify anyone, and my parents pledged to offer up their sufferings each day (and taught their children to do likewise) in a morning offering. Lastly, they offered Mary their souls and the souls of their children by performing the First Saturday Devotion as a family.
It is my prayer that you take up these devotions and sanctify your family, because through these practices, as a parent, you will purify yourself and your loved ones, and together you will rapidly ascend to the height of perfection. For the Glory of God and the Salvation of souls, Amen.