Sunday, 8 November 2009

War and Peace...and 'Our Lady of Fatima'

Today is Remembrance Sunday when we remember in our prayers all those who gave their lives for our Country, not only in the two World Wars of the 20th century, but also in the unending sequence of wars throughout the world continuing even to the present day. The images of war conjure up visions of death and suffering often too terrible to contemplate.

"The dug-outs have been nearly all blown in, the wire entanglements are a wreck, and in among the chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country's Glory or another's Lust of Power. Let him who thinks War is a glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country with as thoughtless and fervid a faith as inspired the priests of Baal to call on their own slumbering deity, let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been Its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that Victory is worth the death of even one of these?"   -   written in a letter from Roland Leighton serving on the Western Front, to his Sweetheart -Vera Brittain. (Roland Leighton was killed in action in December 1915). Whilst serving in France, he became a  Roman Catholic, and having been gravely wounded and immediately prior to his death, he received the Sacrament of  Extreme Unction (the Sacrament for the Dying) from the Jesuit Catholic Chaplain. Although Vera Brittain was not a Catholic, in her autobiography  'Testament of Youth'  (Victor Gollanz 1933 and Virago Press 1978), she refers to Robert Hugh Benson's Prayer Book 'Vexilla Regis', and the beautiful  'Prayer after a Crushing Bereavement',  to which she frequently had recourse:-
           " And lastly to me who am left to mourn his departure, grant that I may not sorrow as one without hope for my beloved who sleeps in Thee;  but that, always remembering his courage, and the love that united us on earth, I may begin again with new courage to serve Thee more fervently who art the only source of true love and true fortitude;  that, when I have passed a few more days in this valley of tears and in this shadow of death, supported by Thy rod and staff, I may see him again, face to face, in those pastures and amongst those waters of comfort where, I trust, he already walks with Thee. Oh Shepherd of the Sheep, have pity upon this darkened soul of mine."
       Roland Leighton was a poet, although his poems were few. He was the brother of Clare Leighton who became famous in later years as an artist and wood engraver. It would seem from Vera Brittain's book, that although publicly  expressing a totally positive attitude towards his own survival, privately he had a prescience of  death. This may have prompted him to write the following poem  found among his papers after his death. This is truly a love poem to his sweetheart;  generous, unselfish and kind in sentiment, but permeated by  an unspoken acceptance of the inevitability of his own early death:-

'HEDAUVILLE' -  November 1915.
                    The sunshine on the long white road
                    That ribboned down the hill,
                    The velvet clematis that clung
                    Around your window-sill,
                    Are waiting for you still.

                    Again the shadowed pool shall break
                    In dimples round your feet,
                    And when the thrush sings in your wood,
                    Unknowingly you may meet
                    Another stranger, Sweet.

                    And if he is not quite so old
                    As the boy you used to know,
                    And less proud, too, and worthier,
                    You may not let him go -----
                    (And daisies are truer than passion-flowers)
                    It will be better so.
                                                                  Roland Leighton.


 Christians believe that true peace can only come to the world through practical obedience to God's laws and His Commandments, and the acknowledgement by all nations,  governments and powers, of the universal  Kingship of Christ.. The following is a brief account of the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, in the year 1917, with Her instructions to three young peasant children as to the  means whereby peace in the world could be attained, and the validation of her appearance and words by an inexplicable and terrifying 'spinning and dancing' of the sun witnessed by more than 70,000 people, some many miles away.

~ The Miracle Of Fatima ~
On May 13, 1917,  near the tiny village of Fatima, Portugal, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, appeared to three young peasant children: Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia; ages 10, 9 and 7. As was the custom, these youngsters were tending their family’s sheep when “a Lady all in white, more brilliant than the sun… indescribably beautiful,” standing above a bush, appeared to the youngsters. From May through to October 1917, the Lady appeared and spoke to the children on the 13th day of each month.

News of these apparitions began to spread throughout the region. The children recounted that the Virgin told them that God had sent her with a message for every man, woman, and child living in the century. She promised that God would grant peace to the entire world if Her requests for prayer, reparation and consecration were heard and obeyed. While many people believed the children had actually seen the Virgin, many others discounted the children’s story, subjecting them to much derision and ridicule. When it became known the Lady would visit the children for the last time on October 13, 1917, and had promised a sign that would convince the world she had appeared, many pilgrims made plans to attend.

Though the region had been subjected to three days of torrential downpour, nearly 70,000 people journeyed through the heavy rain and mud to the place of the previous apparitions to witness the predicted miracle. Many were scornful unbelievers whose sole intent was to discredit the children’s stories.

Suddenly the “clouds separated…and the sun appeared between them in the clear blue, like a disk of white fire.” The people could look at the sun without blinking and while they gazed upward, the huge ball began to “dance”. The huge fireball whirled rapidly with dizzy and sickening speed, flinging out all sorts of brilliant colors that reflected on the faces of the crowds. The fiery ball continued to gyrate in this manner three times, then seemed to tremble and shudder, and plunge in a mighty zigzag course toward the earth. The crowd was terrified, fearing this was the end of the world.

However, the sun reversed course and, retracing its zigzagging course, returned to its normal place in the heavens. All of this transpired in approximately ten minutes. After realizing they were not doomed, the crowd began ecstatically laughing, crying, shouting and weeping. Many discovered their previously drenched clothing to be perfectly dry.

After this “miracle,” the children were grilled many, many times, about what they had seen and been told. Their story never changed. The heart of Our Lady’s message to the world is contained in what has become known as the “Secret,” which she confided to the children in July 1917. The “Secret” actually consists of three parts. The first part of the “Secret” was a frightening vision of hell, “where the souls of poor sinners go,” and contained an urgent plea from Our Lady for acts of prayer and sacrifice to save souls, with particular emphasis on praying of the rosary and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The second part of the “Secret” specifically prophesied the outbreak of World War II and contained the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communists’ totalitarianism.

The third part was not revealed until 2000, and in fact there are grounds for suspecting that only a section of the third secret was revealed with part still remaining secret. That section revealed coincided with the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta, and suggested that the vision supported and affirmed the immense suffering endured by witnesses of the faith in the last century of the second millennium. Sister Lucia, the surviving member of the Fatima trio, confirmed that in the vision, “the Bishop clothed in white,” who prays for all the faithful, is the Pope. As he makes his way with great difficulty towards the Cross amid the corpses of those who were martyred (bishops, priests, men and women religious and many lay people), he too falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a hail of gunfire. It is possible that the vision predicted the 1981 attack on Pope John Paul II’s life. The Pope has always credited the Virgin for his survival. Or it may be a portrayal of the Church’s continued struggle against secularism and anti-Christian movements and a continuing call to prayer, sacrifice and devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.

(With thanks to - (phrase emphasised in italics not in original article)

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

St Alphonsus, pray for us.

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