When the Mother of God appeared in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 to three small children with a plea for prayer and penance, part of her message included the following warning:
What Our Lady is asking for in this plea is reparation on behalf of sinners. She is asking that we do for them what her Son did for us. Our Blessed Lord took upon His shoulders the burden of our sins, and paid the price for them. We are not able to shoulder the whole burden, pay the whole price for the sins of others; but what little we can do when placed in the hands of the Blessed Mother of us all, can accomplish much towards lessening their debt of punishment, and opening their hearts to the healing and strengthening grace of God.
It is true that these souls have rejected the graces and inspirations offered them by God, but Our Lady implies that many of them can be saved by the prayers and sacrifices of others, if among her children some are generous enough to put themselves out for this purpose.
In recent times many have contributed generously to help victims of famine in various parts of the world; but that was to save them from bodily death. The death of the soul - the rejection of God at the end of oneís earthly existence (of which Our Lady speaks), is eternal death. So we can see the anguish of the Mother of God at the loss of her children, for whom her Son gave His life to save.
What Our Lady is asking for in the plea expressed above, is simply that we do what St. Paul did time and again, namely, to "fill up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ," i.e., in those members of Christís Body who have turned away from Him, and who will not turn back to Him unless other members of His Body win that grace for them by their prayers and sacrifices.
Those who remain unmoved by such a plea from Our Blessed Mother, seem to say along with Cain: "Am I my brotherís keeper?" (Gen. 4:9) Keep in mind that the teaching of Our Savior on "love of neighbor" is a commandment, not merely a counsel. Our neighbor is not just the person who lives next door, but someone in need; and Our Lady called our attention to many souls in dire need, in danger of eternal punishment . . . souls who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is but one virtue of charity, by which we love God and neighbor; and we love both with the same intensity of that virtue. That means if our concern for others in need is feeble, so is our love of God. And remember Our Lordís warning that "the measure you measure with will be measured back to you." From that it follows that the more we help those in need - especially dying sinners, the more we will be sustained by the grace of God in that crucial moment. And finally, the Lord reminds us - "what You do for the least of my brethren, you do it for Me." (Mt. 25 :40)
Need we more incentive, then, to earnestly try to heed the pleas of Our Lady for souls in danger of eternal loss? The thought perhaps comes . . . "but what can I do; I can pray for them, but what kinds of sacrifices can I make for them?" The Angel who appeared to the three children at Fatima prior to the coming of Our Lady answered that question:
The decree on the Church in the second Vatican Council also pointed out how the ordinary routine of each day affords many opportunities for "spiritual sacrifices" which give glory to God, and contribute to the salvation of souls.
And recall too how David prayed after he had sinned "My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn." (Ps. 51 ) Every person in the state of grace is frequently performing such acts as - obedience to lawful authority, fulfillment of duty, endurance of the crosses of life, all of which, if done with a "humble and contrite spirit", are as a sacrifice before God; for they involve the humble submission of our will to Godís, something the sinner refuses. They have, therefore a reparatory value.
One can have a general intention of placing in the hands of Our Lady the fruits of all such acts as regards atonement, and in this way make much of his day a continuous "filling up what is wanting in the Body of Christ."
If we can think of the straw that breaks the camelís back, we can also think of the prayer or sacrifice that breaks the sinners resistance to Godís grace, causing him to open up to the merciful Heart of the Redeemer. If a dying sinner can be brought to make a sincere act of perfect contrition for his sins - regardless of how great or how many, God would restore grace to that soul, and change the debt of eternal punishment to one of temporal punishment, that could be satisfied in this life or in purgatory.
If we could be responsible for, or notably contribute to (under God) - the salvation of just one soul, winning for it the grace of true contrition by our prayers and sacrifices, and saving it from eternal damnation, how grateful that soul would be to us for all eternity. And yet, it could be that one who is generous in his concern for souls in need, as we have explained, could be responsible for, or contribute to the salvation of thousands of souls in the course of a lifetime.
How do we bear the trials, the frustrations, the hardships of each day . . . grudgingly, or wholeheartedly? No one welcomes suffering as such. Our nature shrinks from it. But if seen in the light of Godís Providence, and of the Cross which Our Lord said His disciples must carry, and if borne with patience, - it not only pays in part the debt of temporal punishment due to sin, but helps to mellow our rebellious and proud tendencies, and form us in the image of Christ.
As Fr. Joret, O.P. states: grace is "a crucifying thing, inasmuch as it is an inflowing of the very grace which Jesus received in its fullness and which led Him to the Cross." (Dom. Life. p. 268) Our human nature recoils from the Cross, but as it is perfected by grace one more and more embraces it, to share in Christís redeeming action for souls.
Speaking of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas (whom we are taking as our main guide in this reflection) wrote:
However, just because Christ offered to the Father sufficient satisfaction to atone for the sins of the whole human race, and merited sufficient grace to enable every member of the human race to enter heaven, that does not mean that we are all automatically saved. Regarding this St. Thomas wrote:
To share in the graces Christ merited for us, or to win for others a share in them, we must use the means of grace that He has established: the sacraments, prayer, keeping the commandments, bearing the crosses of life, voluntary penance, etc. Strictly speaking, Christ needed no one (not even His Mother) - in the gaining of those graces, nor in their distribution. But in His merciful plan, He chose to associate others with him in this great mystery of salvation. Pope Pius XII refers to this in his encyclical on the Mystical Body: (n.44)
He allows us to share not only in the fruits of the Redemption, but in the very work of Redemption itself. He depends on those who know and love Him, to win needed graces for those who do not know or love Him.
Every good act performed in the state of grace is in some measure meritorious. Yet unless it is an act of the full intensity of which we are capable, it does not bring about an immediate increase of grace. No one, however, can merit condignly the beginning of the life of grace either for himself, or for another, i.e. with a strict right to that reward. Only Christ "the author of salvation" (Heb. 2:10) can do that. Yet man can merit congruously the state of grace for others, i.e. with a merit based on fittingness . . . the fittingness that God would hear the request of a friend. It may take, however, many good acts . . . many sacrifices . . . many rosaries . . . many years. And we can obtain grace for others by our prayers relying on the mercy of God and on His promise: "Ask and it shall be given to you." (Mt. 7:7)
We can also help others by our good acts as regards the satisfactory value of them, i.e. as regards paying the debt incurred by sin. That an act have satisfactory or atonement value (the state of grace presupposed), it must have two conditions:
1) It must involve some degree of difficulty, hardship, pain (physical or mental) ... some degree of suffering . . . for it goes to pay the debt of punishment. The reason for that is this: since the sinner chooses his own will and rejects Godís will, seeking some personal satisfaction in preference to due reverence and subjection to God, seeking the creature in preference to the Creator, the pleasure sought wrongly must be repaired by pain. St. Thomas explains this as follows:
2) The difficult act or incident must be borne patiently. Again St. Thomas:
There are two things to remember with regard to reparation for sin, for which we should be eternally grateful:
1) Because Christ has offered infinite satisfaction for the sins of mankind, a lighter punishment is required of us that otherwise would be necessary. St. Thomas speaks of this:
(It is as if we owed a debt of $100, and not having the wherewith to pay it, Our Savior paid $99 of it, but required that we pay the remaining $1. The disproportion is even greater than this example, considering the infinite malice of grave sin, and the infinite dignity of the person offended - even in venial sin.)
2) When one makes atonement for another, less punishment is required than if the sinner himself paid the debt. Again St. Thomas:
Bishop Venancio, the former administrator of the diocese in which Our Lady appeared, when asked to summarize the Fatima message, answered: "Fatima is reparation, reparation, reparation, and especially Eucharistic reparation." He added that this includes such things as visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Holy hours and vigils, but especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is true, for there our prayer, our sacrifices are offered up in union with the prayers and Sacrifice of Jesus.
Too, St. Thomas points out that since we are one with Christ, as members of His Body, all that He endured on the Cross is ours to offer to the Father - as if we ourselves had undergone that penalty. (111,48,2,ad 1; & 69.2) Therefore, when we cannot attend Mass, a most efficacious prayer of reparation is the one taught to the three children at Fatima by the Angel, in which we offer spiritually to the Father the same offering (the Body and Blood of Christ) which the Priest offers sacramentally at Mass:
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