For many years now I’ve been troubled by the quality of the religion programme taught in primary school, the Alive O programme, particularly when it comes to sacramental preparation. However, it’s possible that the greater problem is the prevailing culture and I’m misappropriating responsibility. As a direct result I have developed my own programme of preparation for First Communion and Confirmation as a supplement to the ongoing work of the school.
It consists of meeting the children once, sometimes twice weekly. While together – with at least one other adult present (the teacher) – we view DVDs about Fatima, Lourdes, St. Margaret Mary, St. Pio, St. Faustina and Blessed John Paul.
This is followed by a children’s Mass on Sunday mornings. I usually tell the parents: Holy Mass is for the children – the homily is for the parents!
As a young seeker of Truth I was struck by the details of Fatima and my recent work has simply brought Fatima to the forefront of my thoughts once again.
While watching the various DVDs about Fatima it becomes very obvious that this attempted intervention of God in human affairs caused great suffering; for the children and their parents and for the local ecclesiastical and civil authorities.
Having watched the DVDs I generally point to the trauma caused in Fatima and ask; what was it all for? What did Our Lady and ultimately God want to achieve?
The answer takes most people by surprise.
Firstly, Our Lady asked that people stop offending God. So much trouble just for that! One must conclude therefore that offending God is a very serious matter.
Secondly, as if to emphasize the point, Our Lady then went on to request reparation, the repair of the hurt caused to the heart of God by human offences.
How are we to do that?
This is very striking. We are to appreciate Holy Mass. We are to partake of the Eucharist, to believe, adore, trust and love her Son Jesus Christ truly present there. Fatima clearly indicates, without room for doubt, that neglect of Holy Mass and the proper worship of the Blessed Sacrament amounts to neglect of the person and the work of Jesus Christ, and causes great suffering in the Heart of God. I always remind the kids that when the Angel came to visit the children in Fatima, the Angel didn’t come with a can of coca cola and a bag of crisps! No, the Angel came with the Sacred Host and a Chalice. Why? Because that’s how God decided to remain with his people. In the message of Fatima the Eucharist is central because God intended Eucharist to be central until the end of time. The Eucharist is God-self and God’s work in Jesus Christ – it can’t be any more central than that!
Furthermore Our Lady taught the children to offer sacrifices (particularly the difficulties and sufferings of life) in reparation. This is a common theme in the lives of all the great Saints – they offered their sufferings in reparation while working tirelessly to relieve the suffering of others.
I explain reparation by asking the children to imagine if one of them clobbered me. Then I ask them to imagine another child apologising on behalf of my attacker and offering to make a cup of tea; one child is hurting me, the other is making reparation, trying to repair the damage.
But the full meaning of Fatima goes much further and connects the state of human affairs directly to humankind’s relationship with God.
During the apparition of July 13th Our Lady said that if people do not stop offending God another and more terrible war will break out – obviously meaning the Second World War.
We understand the Second World War to have been the result of Hitler coming to power in Germany. However, Our Lady suggests that the Second World War happened as a result of people offending God. In other words, when we choose against God we choose to put in place a chain of events that eventually, ultimately, causes great suffering to ourselves, to the body of humanity.
Thus during the 20 odd years between the world wars people are given ample opportunity to change or set the course of world events. This of course makes God very democratic – certainly not a dictator or a tyrant. We’re free to choose life or death, good or evil. We make the choices. At the very least Fatima implies that humankind’s well-being depends on an intimate Communion between the creature and the Creator.
Now, if offending God or otherwise determines our common human future then there arises a critically important question, a question I place before every parent presenting a child for sacraments in 2012 – what kind of a future are we creating for our children?
Indeed we might ask; what kind of a future are we creating for Irish children when religious ethos is considered to have no place in the schools of a modern republic?
More generally, what hope is there for a culture that attempts to exclude religion from public life?