The centennial of the birth of the blessed little shepherd of Fatima is the time to emphasize the virtues of Francisco as a mystical consoler of God.
In May 1946, Sister Lucia, then a Dorothean nun, went to Fatima to indicate the historic places of the apparitions of the angel (1916) and Our Lady (1917). At the site of Valinhos (where the fourth apparition of Our Lady took place, in August) a group of people were waiting for her, including her uncle Marto, the father of Francisco and Jacinta. As he saw her, he said, with great contentment:
— What a beautiful young lady you’ve become! Yes, it was worthwhile for you to have come into this world! Remember my Jacinta and my Francisco?
— Of course, uncle, how could I not?!
— If they were alive, they would be like you!
— They would be like me?!... They would be better than me! This time, Our Lord has made an oversight. He should left one of them here but He left me!... (cf. Sebastião Martins dos Reis, A vidente de Fátima dialoga e responde pelas aparições, Editorial Franciscana, Braga, 1970, p. 123).
It is very difficult to compare graces
Sister Lucia always showed great regard for the virtues of her cousins Francisco and Jacinta, who Our Lady took to heaven on April 4, 1919 and February 20, 1920 respectively. The main seer herself was to appear before God only on February 13, 2005, when her cousins had already been beatified by John Paul during his third pilgrimage to Fatima, on May 13 of the year 2000.
As we commemorate the centennial of the birth of Blessed Francisco of Fatima on June 11, 2008 nothing would be more just than to devote an article emphasizing the qualities of soul and most special graces bestowed upon this boy loved by Heaven, who Sister Lucia showed to have received the message of Our Lady with complete seriousness, and who she said was better than she!
It is not up to us to figure out which of the seers received the greater or lesser graces and whether one corresponded more than the other; we shall simply describe them so as to take the blessed seers as a reference and boost our own correspondence to the Message of Fatima as much as possible, according to the designs of Providence for each one of us.
A seer undeservedly forgotten
The persons who know the story of the Fatima apparitions – and we assume the reader is one of them – are aware that Sister Lucia saw, heard and spoke with Our Lady; Jacinta saw and heard; Francisco saw but neither heard nor spoke. For this reason, he learned about what Our Lady had said only through the other two seers.
Here we see that Our Lady established a hierarchy among them, a fact that led many people to cast Francisco a bit aside as the less-favored seer. But this is a mistaken attitude that ignores the fact that his being there and seeing Our Lady is already an extremely high privilege, one to which Francisco admirably corresponded, as we will see below.
Sacral contemplation of God’s works
Fr. Fernando Leite, S.J. wrote a beautiful book about Blessed Francisco (Francisco de Fátima, Editorial Apostolado da Oração, Braga, 4ª ed., 1986, 168 pp.). In it, the Jesuit priest comments:
“This small poetic soul [Francisco], this kind-natured person, this sensible heart, this embryonic contemplative loved all things. He understood that all of them are works of God, who after creating them looked at them with a pleased gaze and saw ‘they were all very good’ (Gen. 1:31). He lived the thought Our Lord manifested to St. Catherine of Siena: ‘I want you to be in love with all things, for all are good, perfect and worthy of being loved, as all of them, except sin, spring from the source of my goodness’ (Letter of St. Catherine of Siena to an abbess, from Enrique Fernandez, O.P., Una Madre Santa de Nuestro Tiempo, Editorial Fides, Salamanca, 2ª ed., p. 218)” (op. cit., pp. 17-18).
There are numerous masters of Catholic doctrine who show how contemplation of created things elevates the soul to God, as all of them contain a reflection of divine perfections that the human gaze perceives and the soul admires and is thus led to God. Here one can speak of a sacral contemplation of the order of the universe.
Thus, for example, the seers referred to the stars as the angels’ candles, to the moon as Our Lady’s candle, and to the sun as Our Lord’s candle. In her Memoirs, Sister Lucia mentions the episode:
Francisco “was going there with us to pray while we waited for Our Lady and the angels to light their candles. He also was busy counting them, but nothing enchanted him so much as to watch a beautiful sunrise and sunset. As long as a ray of sun could still be seen, he would not check to see if some candle was already lit.
— No candle is as beautiful as Our Lord’s — he would tell Jacinta, who liked more Our Lady’s, which she said, ‘was not hard on the eyes.’
And, enthused, he would watch all the rays which, bouncing off the windows of the village houses or on the drops of water scattered on the trees and bushes of the range, made them shine like so many stars, in his view a thousand times more beautiful than those of angels” (IV Memoirs, p. 248 — our quotes from Memórias da Sister Lucia are taken from the fac-similar edition by Fr. Antonio Maria Martins S.J., Porto, 1973).
For this reason, the spiritual portrait that Fr. Fernando Leite draws of him is perfect:
“Francisco appears to us as one of those interior, very sensitive souls of a contemplative mold who do not like commotion and appreciate thinking more than speaking, have greater propensity to listen than to speak and to stay put rather than move around. At home or in a small circle, these souls feel at ease and are even outgoing. But outside their family or circle of friends they discreetly close themselves up to all that does not interest them, shunning large crowds and appearances. Later [after the apparitions of Our Lady started], we see Francisco isolate himself on the hills to meditate and contemplate in peace or flee to church to be alone with Jesus” (op. cit., p. 21).
In this latter sentence, Fr. Leite refers to the time after the apparitions when Francisco would accompany Lucia to school, where she was learning to write according to Our Lady’s command. He would tell his cousin: “Look, you go to school while I stay here together with hidden Jesus. It is not worth it for me to learn to read; in a short while I am going to Heaven. When you return, come and call me” (IV Memória, p. 286).
Mystic graces of the highest order
Fr. Joaquin María Alonso, C.M.F –– from the Congregation of the Heart of Mary (Cordimarian?) who, by order of the Bishop of Leiria worked from 1966 until his death in December 1981 preparing the critical edition of the documents on the Fatima apparitions, substantially agrees with Fr. Leite and goes even further.
Seeking to remedy the underserved oblivion to which Francisco was relegated, Fr. Alonso dedicates a special chapter to him, in his precious, though little known posthumous work titled Doctrina y espiritualidad del mensaje de Fatima (Arias Montano, Madrid, 1990). The chapter’s title says everything: Francisco, the ecstatic contemplative (pp. 113-129).
Fr. Alonso opines that Francisco’s mystical perception was one of the highest level and that for this reason “even the vision of hell did not make such an impression on him, certainly because he contemplated the mystery of iniquity in the superior light of mystical contemplation” (op. cit., p. 122).
Fr. Alonso continues: “Francisco’s mystical perception was fully subordinated to the phenomenon that Lucia called the reflex” (op. cit., p. 123), which took place during the apparitions, in which the seers would see themselves as if submerged in God, leading Francisco to comment: “These people are so happy when we tell them that Our Lady ordered us to say the rosary and to learn to read! What would their reaction be if they learned what She showed us in God, in that immense light! But this is a secret, we do not tell them about it. It is better that no one knows it” (IV Memória, p. 262). Sister Lucia explains: “What most impressed or absorbed him was God, the Blessed Trinity, in that immense light that penetrated even into the most intimate recesses of our soul” (IV Memória, p. 266).
Thus, “everything leads us to conclude — comments Fr. Alonso — that Francisco’s mystical perception was a mystical grace of the highest quality. The effects that the apparitions produced on the seers, which Lucia called intimate, were produced in Francisco by a simple intellectual vision, whence their ineffability” (op. cit., p. 121).
So Fr. Alonso has this daring statement that the “highest intellectual visions” granted to Francisco were “mystically much more perfect than those experienced by Jacinta and Lucia” (op. cit., p. 127).
While we are not bound to agree with this evaluation of the graces given the seers, it does nevertheless indicate that Francisco was not a lackluster participant in the Fatima events but a protagonist with a special role of his own, which Fr. Alonso now takes pleasure in delving into.
Francisco’s priority: to console Our Lord
Fr. Alonso observes (op. cit., p. 126): “Lucia underlined well the differences between the spirituality of Francisco and that of Jacinta regarding mystic understanding, intelligence, character etc. and above all in relation to the practice of reparation. She said: ‘While Jacinta appeared to be concerned only with the thought of converting sinners and freeing souls from Hell, he seemed concerned only with consoling Our Lord and Our Lady, who had appeared so sad to him’” (IV Memória, p. 288).
Sister Lucia also narrates this conversation:
“One day I asked him:
— Francisco, what did you like best: to console Our Lord or to convert sinners so as to prevent souls from going to hell?
— I liked more to console Our Lord. Didn’t you notice last month how Our Lady was so sad when She said people must no longer offend God Our Lord, who is already much offended? I wanted to console Our Lord and, afterward, to convert sinners so they will no longer offend Him” (IV Memória, pp. 284-286).
That spiritual priority of consoling God was so clear in his mind that he would make it explicit quite often. Sister Lucia tells that, when already sick, “one day, as I entered his room with Jacinta, he told us:
— Speak little today, for my head is aching a lot.
— Don’t forget to offer it up for sinners—Jacinta told him.
— Yes, but first I offer it to console Our Lord and Our Lady; and only then I offer it for sinners and for the Holy Father” (IV Memória, p. 288).
On the eve of his death, Francisco told Lucia:
“— Look! I am in very bad shape; I have only a short time before going to Heaven.
— Then make sure not to forget, in Heaven, to pray very much for sinners, for the Holy Father, for me and for Jacinta.
— Yes, I will; but look, ask all these things to Jacinta first, for I am afraid I’ll forget them when I see Our Lord! And then, first of all I want to console Him” (IV Memória, p. 304).
Whence Fr. Alonso concludes:
“Francisco’s contribution to the Message of Fatima is not mainly in the order of apologetics. …Its importance comes from the ineffable experience of God’s consolation, from the absolutely original character of his ‘theocentric’ spirituality, that is, aimed first and above all at restoring to God the glory lost by sin and only afterward at the salvation of souls. This is an important lesson in times when a horizontal attitude is making people lose their balance in favor of a misguided anthropocentrism. And this is Francisco’s true spiritual contribution. Therefore, it is necessary not only to take him out of the oblivion in which he has been kept but also give him the primordial importance that he has in the Fatima Message” (op. cit., pp. 128-129).
“What a beautiful light there, next to our window”
For this reason, he certainly was rewarded with a heavenly vision before dying. Fr. Fernando Leite, S.J. recounts:
“On that 4th of April 1919, at a certain point he exclaimed:
— O my mother, what a beautiful light there, next to our window!
And, after a few minutes of sweet contemplation:
— Now I no longer see it (Parish Inquiry of September 28, 1923).
After a short while, his face became illuminated with an angelic smile and, around 10 in the morning, without agony, a contraction or a moan, he sweetly expired” (op. cit., p. 154).
It is licit to suppose that it was God Himself— Who is infinitely beautiful light — that thus manifested Himself to the Virgin’s confidant in his last moment.
The saints are special intercessors to obtain graces related with their spiritual school. So let us ask Blessed Jacinto of Fatima to obtain for us a participation in his desire, never denied, to console Our Lord and Our Lady. We will give God that consolation by valiantly accepting all the sufferings and annoyances derived from our fearless opposition to today’s world, which proudly rebels (though in vain) against all the Commandments of God’s Law.