In October of 2019 I was blessed to make a private pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal where Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in 1917 with an urgent message for the world. It was a pilgrimage of many and great graces. I was able to offer Holy Mass at the very place of the apparitions, participate in the nightly candlelight rosary procession, pray at the tombs of St. Jacinta, St. Francisco, and Lucia, the three shepherd children, and offer the Traditional Latin Mass daily with the son of the owner of the hotel serving the Holy Mass.
I spent many hours praying in the Chapel of the Apparitions, and there I distinctly remember asking Our Lady of Fatima to make me a saint no matter what it takes. It was a prayer that would change the course of my life forever. Our Lady of Fatima would answer that prayer in a way I never could have imagined.
Frankly, I expected that prayer to be answered by making me strong and powerful. Maybe by making me a bishop of a large diocese. Maybe God would make me a preacher on the world stage. Maybe, just maybe, he would make me a cardinal or even Pope! Yes, I was that ambitious and full of pride, and it did a lot of damage to my soul. Maybe that can be a topic for a future post. Needless to say, I had quite an active imagination. But the point is that I never expected my prayer to be answered the way it was.
As scripture says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) How true it is! His ways are most certainly better than my ways, and I believe my time in Fatima was Our Lady’s way of preparing me to accept what God had in store for me.
On my last night in Fatima, I went to the sacristy as usual to prepare for the candlelight procession, and as usual I chatted with one of the volunteer sacristans who spoke very good English. He said to me something I will never forget, and which I believe was prophetic. He said, “I have been watching you all week, and I have never seen a priest as devoted as you. You came here alone, but now you do not leave alone. Our Lady goes with you.” He was right, Our Lady would accompany me home and be a constant support in my coming trials.
As I was driving through Minnesota on my way home from the airport, I received a phone call from my doctor’s nurse telling me the news that I likely had ALS. That diagnosis was confirmed in December at Mayo Clinic. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the answer to the prayer I prayed to Our Lady of Fatima. It’s as if Our Lady and Our Lord chose this exact disease to make me a saint. Let me explain.
I, as I mentioned before, am a prideful man, so Our Lord chose for me a disease that would humble me in every possible way. He saw I was ambitious, so he laid on my shoulder a cross that would force me to retire from active ministry. He saw I was a glutton, so he gave me a disease that would slowly take away my ability to eat. He saw I often went places I ought not go, so it was a disease that would take away my ability to walk that became my cross. He saw that I was given to gossip, detraction, and foul language, so he allowed ALS to take away my ability to speak. All this and more because he loves me and wants me to become free from sin! All this because of his mercy seeks to burn out of me every stain of sin! All this because he loves me enough to make me the saint he has always longed for me to be!
All this he desires for you too. He will choose for you the Cross that will most easily make you a saint, and a great one at that! But we would do well to ask our Lady for help. She will, as she did for me, soften the blow and prepare us to receive our cross. She is the most perfect of mothers. She will, if we give ourselves over to her as Jesus himself did, she will protect, defend, and console us. She will never leave our side. And when the moment comes, and we are called by Jesus to mount the wood of the Cross along with him, she will be there, at the foot of the Cross urging us on. And then, she stays. She will stay with us until we take our dying breath. Then, with St. Joseph, she will lead us to Jesus, the merciful and just judge.
So, let us not fear to give ourselves completely over to Mary. She has proven to be a good mother to Jesus, me, and if you will have her, you too! We would do well to consecrate ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. She said at Fatima that her Immaculate Heart would be our refuge, so let us all rest in her heart.
As you can see, this whole journey began with, and hopefully will end with, our Lady of Fatima. May she be praised!