It was raining very hard when I visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal this month. And then suddenly there was a short brilliant period of sunshine before hail began to pelt down, and even more rain followed.
In that short moment of respite from the weather, I felt a strong connection to the spiritual energy of the shrine. I could see a white light around the statue of the Virgin Mary, and felt my crown chakra opening. The energy in this chakra is so pure that it enables one to explore our deepest connections both internally and with the outer world. It was a perfect moment to meditate.
The central message of Fatima is prayer and sacrifice, and when I was meditating I heard these words – prayer and sacrifice, prayer and sacrifice – clearly, almost as a vibration. And so, in my contemplation, I asked how to bring this vibration home with me.
The notion of prayer felt comfortable and familiar, but I sensed initial internal resistance to the idea of sacrifice with its connotation of suffering. After all, why must renunciation be dramatic, painful and even self-righteous? Surely there is a more peaceful and more honest way to make concessions.
Eschewing some of our own personal indulgences (however small) in exchange for bliss and clarity may be the quiet logical result of an internal conversation, not a noisy display for others to witness.
That way, it is still a true and valid sacrifice. And it is a more honest, achievable one. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says: “People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”
Perhaps this sense of life as a journey is why the idea of a pilgrimage is still as important today as it was 100 years ago when the vision of Fatima first appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917. More than four million people find comfort in visiting the shrine every year.
All have been drawn by the story of that glorious apparition of the Virgin Mary, described by one of the children – nine-year-old Lúcia Santos – as a lady “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”.
It is said that the Virgin gave the children three secrets, which were later revealed to concern the two world wars and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. And when that Pope visited the shrine, he credited her with saving his life, and placed the bullet which had been used to try to kill him in her crown. This is such a small gesture, not a grand ostentatious one, yet it is so potent.
At the end of my visit to the shrine I was fortunate enough to meet the niece of one of the original children, who is now very elderly. Radiating energy, she received me under a picture of Mother Mary, and quietly took my hand in hers, which was warm.
This, too, was an example of sacrifice and prayer. She gave up a moment for me, each one more precious as we get older, and I experienced a connection, a sense of blessing, as a result.