By: Christopher West
May is a month that Catholics traditionally devote to honoring the Blessed Mother. One of my favorite Marian memorials falls in the middle of the month, May 13, when we honor Mary under her title “Our Lady of Fatima.” I’m not a big devotee of Marian apparations, but because of my work promoting John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB), I have gained a great interest in Fatima. What’s the connection? I could write a doctoral dissertation on it, but I’ll provide the short version in the next two articles.
The Assassination Attempt
As many Catholics know, between May 13 and October 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal delivering a three-part message — the “three secrets” of Fatima, as they’ve come to be known. The first secret presented a horrifying vision of hell. The second involved a prophecy of World War II and the warning that “Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.” However, Mary assured the children, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
Mary also told the children that “the Holy Father will have much to suffer.” This brings us to the “third secret” of Fatima, which was not publicly revealed until the year 2000. In 1917, the children saw a vision of bullets and arrows fired at “a bishop dressed in white.” Sixty-four years later, while driving through the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, a “bishop dressed in white” was gunned down by Turkish assassin Ali Agca … on the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima: May 13, 1981. Many years later John Paul II reflected: “Agca knew how to shoot, and he certainly shot to kill. Yet it was as if someone was guiding and deflecting that bullet.” That “someone,” John Paul believed, was the Woman of Fatima. “Could I forget that the event in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ … has been remembered … at Fatima in Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet” (Memory and Identity pp. 159, 163).
The fact that John Paul was shot on the memorial of Fatima is well known. What few people know is that the Pope was planning to announce the establishment of his Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on that fateful afternoon. This was to be his main arm for disseminating his teaching on man, woman, marriage, and sexual love around the globe. Could it be that there were forces at work that didn’t want John Paul II’s teaching to spread around the world? (In fact, by May 13, 1981, John Paul II was only about half way through delivering the 129 addresses of his TOB. Had he died, obviously, the full teaching never would have been presented.) And could it be that, by saving his life, the Woman of Fatima was pointing to the importance of his teaching reaching the world?
The Theology of the Body & Fatima
It would be over a year later that John Paul officially established his Institute (of which I’m a proud graduate). On that day, October 7, 1982 — not coincidentally the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary — John Paul II entrusted the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family to the care and protection of Our Lady of Fatima. By doing so, it seems he himself was drawing a connection, at least indirectly, between his miraculous survival and the importance of the Theology of the Body.
Digging deeper, the precise link, I believe, between John Paul II’s TOB and Fatima lies in Mary’s mysterious words about the “errors of Russia” and the promised “triumph” of her Immaculate Heart. John Paul II’s TOB is like weed-killer applied to the deepest roots of the “errors of Russia” that have spread throughout the world. As such, the spread of the TOB throughout the world is a sign, I believe, that Mary is preparing us for her triumph. But what does it mean to speak of “the triumph of the Immaculate Heart”? What are the “errors of Russia” and how does John Paul II’s TOB combat them?
Marx’s Deep Seed of Destruction
Part of Mary’s message in Fatima was that “Russia would spread her errors throughout the world.” However, “In the end,” she said, “my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” When we hear of the errors of Russia, we rightly think of the spread of communism. But communism has roots that go deeper than Marxist economic theory. As most of us learned in school, Marx considered class struggle to be the defining factor of history. But digging deeper, Marx also believed that the fundamental “class struggle” was found in monogamous marriage and, indeed, in the sexual difference itself. “The first division of labor,” Marx co-wrote with Frederick Engels, “is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.” In turn, Engels affirmed that Marxist theory “demands the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society” (see The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State).
It seems the deeper revolution — and, I would contend, the deeper “error of Russia” — is the one aimed at destroying marriage and the family. Indeed, those who seek to deconstruct sexuality in the modern world often draw straight from Marx. As feminist author Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex: “[J]ust as the end goal of socialist revolution was … the elimination of the … economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be … the elimination of … the sex distinction itself [so that] genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.” Welcome to the deep-seated sexual confusion in which we’re now immersed.
The Triumph of the Divine Bridegroom
But here’s the good news: Just as John Paul II’s vision of the human person inaugurated a new kind of revolution that led to the fall of communism, his TOB has also inaugurated a new kind of revolution that will, I believe, lead to the collapse of the dominant sexual ideology. In his book The Last Secret of Fatima, Cardinal Bertone wrote: “The Communist system seemed invincible, and it looked as if it were going to endure for centuries. But then the whole thing collapsed like a house of cards.” Perhaps we can expect the same with the deeper “error of Russia.” Indeed, in the Book of Revelation, the “whore of Babylon” — that mysterious feminine figure who mocks the Bride of the Lamb — is brought to ruin in “one hour.” And as she collapses, all the merchants who “gained their wealth from her” (think the porn industry, Planned Parenthood, etc., etc.) “weep and mourn” (Rev 18).
And then comes the triumph of the New Jerusalem, the Bride who has “made herself ready” for her Bridegroom. She is dressed in “fine linen, bright and immaculate” (Rev 19:7-8). She is “clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1). This radiant Bride, of course, is personified in Mary. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” What does this mean? In short, it means that purity of heart will triumph. Somehow the pornographic lies will be redeemed. All of “Babylon’s” distortions will be untwisted and we will come to see the human body as it really is — as a glorious sign of “the mystery hidden from eternity in God” (TOB 19:4).
By showing us the path to authentic purity (never to be confused with puritanism or prudishness!), John Paul II’s TOB paves the way for Mary’s triumph. Is it a coincidence that John Paul began writing his TOB on the feast of the Immaculate Conception? Is it a coincidence that he devoted the entire work to “Mary, all beautiful”? Is it a coincidence that she saved his life on the memorial of Fatima so that his teaching could reach the world? Let us pray for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart. It may be closer than we realize. Already in 1994, John Paul wrote that Mary’s words spoken in Fatima “seem to be close to their fulfillment” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 221). Let it be, Lord, according to your word.