In May 1917, the world was in turmoil. For three years war devastated Europe with no end in sight. While people were dying from war, the Spanish flu was beginning to spread. The virus would last for 12 months from spring 1918 to summer 1919 and kill anywhere from 17 to 50 million people. Amid this turmoil the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in a small Portuguese town to three young shepherd children. She came to remind us then and now, through these children, of three timeless truths.
First, she reminds us to convert our lives to her Son. Conversion to Christ never ceases. Whether in 1917 or 2020, every generation needs to respond to the words of Christ: “Take up your cross and follow me.” As at Cana, Mary tells us: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Secondly, she reminds us of the reality of hell. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys. There are ways of life which separate us from God in this life and for eternity in the next. If we turn to Christ, it means we turn away from sin.
Finally, she reminds us that all persons are capable of sanctity. Sanctity is not impeded by difficult times or suffering. Likewise, the three shepherd children show us that sanctity need not wait for adulthood. These three prayed for the conversion of sinners and offered up their sufferings for the salvation of the world.
Whatever turmoil we find ourselves in, Mary’s message of May 1917 remains just as important for May 2020.