Here is a translation of the homily given Sunday by the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, at the Shrine of Our Lady in Fatima.
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Dear Pilgrims of Fatima,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters!
“Let us keep our confidence firm”! This is the appeal made to us in a passage of the Letter to the Hebrews, proclaimed here in the Second Reading: “For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). Earlier it alerted us: “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (v. 12).
1. The Year of Faith is about to end. And, as we see, it is of faith that the Liturgy of the Word speaks to us in this Eucharist: “Rise — says Jesus to the Samaritan cured of leprosy — and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). Faith in Jesus Christ reconstructs the human person, renews his whole being, fills his life with peace and hope. That Naaman, those lepers of the Gospel return to their life not just cured from a physical ill, but above all with the capacity to read God’s action in their life and, because of this, grateful for his gifts. And, when the thanksgiving of these men is transformed into adoration, it made his greatness patent: with the humility and confidence that they placed in their gestures, they opened their heart to God and to his action. In fact, the cure was not asked for or promised; it all happened because of the confidence they placed in the word received.
In the “today” of our life, threatened by various fragilities and risks, pierced by the basic experience that we cannot control the future, fearful that injustice and death will have the last word on human existence, it is possible to truly hope in the victory over evil and death, to face life with courage and determination, if God lets his face be seen and we see in those signs left by other believers, signs that testify how it is worthwhile to trust in the God of yesterday, of today and of always; to give our heart to Him who sustains our being, our living and dying. Outstanding among those exemplary figures of believers is Mary, the faithful Virgin.
The whole Church is in communion today with the Marian Day that is being held in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican, during which the Christian faithful are called to “renew, personally, their own consecration to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of the Church and to live this most noble act of devotion with a life ever more conformed to the divine will and in a spirit of filial service and devout imitation of their heavenly Queen” (Paul VI, Pastoral Exhortation Signum magnum, 13-05-1967, Part II, No. 8). Her life of availability, faith and fidelity is a school where each one of us learns to be a better Christian and more Church.
At the heart of the Message of Fatima we have conversion, which implies love of God above all things, horror of sin more than love of life, fidelity to the Law of God, which is summarized and translated in charity. Was this not the last recommendation that our Heavenly Mother made to us here: “do not offend Our Lord God anymore, who is already much offended”? “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Conversion to God is the beginning of the whole restoration of the human order. The Savior of the world, also of the temporal world, is only one: Jesus Christ! Against the world’s fatalism, Mary came here to remind us that, in the ordering and governing of all that happens, there is an infinite Heart. And “since God willed to have a human heart and in this way oriented man’s freedom to the good, to God, freedom for evil ceased to have the last word. Or, what is valid since then is expressed in this phrase: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “An Attempt at Interpretation of the ‘Secret’ of Fatima,” Theological Commentary).
Meanwhile — 96 year later – the days arrived in which Mary foresaw and came to announce sad times for humanity. Here she manifested herself beautiful as the dawn and strong as “an army prepared for battle,” asking us to prepare ourselves in her ranks to undertake the battle. It was not enough for her to be admired, invoked, venerated. Our Lady wants the hearts of individuals, of nations and of the whole world to be “consecrated” and placed under her guidance. She wants “dedicated” people, calling all to be united to her heart and to her in faithful service. But, do we really obey the appeal of Fatima and are we willing to continue to obey? Is all our being with Mary, in the certainty that love believes everything, hopes everything, endures everything? In the firm confidence that love embraces everything, forgives everything , conquers everything?
“Do not be afraid” is the theme of this pastoral year, here in the Shrine, made up of the walk for the celebration of the centenary of the Apparitions, in which the promise of Our Lady is highlighted: “My Immaculate Heart will lead you to God.” These words enclose consoling certainties and appeals of Heaven, given in various moments to the little shepherds of Fatima, primarily to Lucia: “Do not lose heart. I will never leave you! My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the path that will lead you to God” (Apparition of June of 1917). Dear pilgrims, I repeat to all today: Let us not lose heart, “let us hold our first confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14)!
Of what are we afraid? Often our heart is troubled by all the evil there is in the world and by our own weaknesses; our heart feels troubled with the betrayals and negations of which it itself is capable. We seem secure against everything, except against ourselves. We are afraid of ourselves, because we do not know what to do with our life and with the gifts that God grants us.. Offered We are afraid because we do not trust in God to us with the Redemption is “a trustworthy hope, thanks to which we can face our present time: the present beyond being difficult, can be lived and accepted, if raised to a goal and if we can be certain of this goal, if this goal is so great that it justifies the fatigue of the walk” (Benedict XVI, encyclical Spe salvi, no. 1). The goal is no more and no less than God himself. Of general knowledge is the episode of the little shepherds imprisoned by the governor of Ourem; frightening moments for three children, especially when they see themselves separated from one another and threatened with being thrown into boiling oil! What was their reaction? They take recourse to prayer. And when they asked Francisco what he was going to do, he with the grace of a child but also with the daring of a man of faith, responded: “I am praying a Hail Mary, so that Jacinta won’t be afraid.”
Blessed Francisco and we as well know that, for God everything is possible (cf. Luke 1:37). Without imagining or claiming the Mystery of God as a reality that functions according to our interests, measures and criteria, we know that we can and must trust in the powerful love of God that, in a way that He alone knows, touches the heart of persons, is present in the events of history, is capable of “writing straight with crooked lines” that humans trace and continue to write. Because of this, “when no one listen to me, God still hears me. When I can no longer talk with anyone, or invoke anyone, I can always talk to God. If there is no longer anyone who can help me – because it is a need or an expectation that surpasses the human capacity to hope – He can help me. If I find myself confined in extreme solitude … one who prays is never totally alone” (Benedict XVI, encyclical Spe salvi, no. 32).
Virgin Mother, you are blessed because you believed in the fulfillment of all that was said to you by the Lord (cf. Luke 1:41)! I entrust to you what seems to be today the most important thing in the service of the Church: her strong witness of faith before today’s generation of men and women, tempted by the growing secularization and religious indifference spread there. May this witness always speak the clear language of the Gospel and thus find access to hearts, above all of the young generation! May it attract youth and enthuse it for a life in keeping with the model of the “new man” that we have in your Son Jesus Christ, and for the different services in the vineyard of the Lord. Amen.[Translation by ZENIT]