Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Lesson From Habakkuk and Our Lady of Fatima: The Vision Still Has Its Time

The three children to whom Our Lady appeared at Fatima: Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia.

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 7, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2007]

It was sometime between 605 and 597 B.C.—during one of the darkest periods in the history of God’s chosen people. At the time idolatry was the internal threat to the Kingdom of Judah, while the nation of Babylon with its strong army was the external threat.

In the midst of this terrible situation the prophet Habakkuk cried out to God. He cried out in the words that we heard in today’s first reading: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”

The Lord then answered Habakkuk with these important lines of Scripture: “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

For the vision still has its time. God was saying to Habakkuk, and to the faithful people of Judah, “My plan for you will be fulfilled; this I promise. It may not happen instantaneously, or as quickly as you would like it to, or even in the way you would like it to. But don’t give up! Continue to live by faith, even if the fulfillment of this prophecy is delayed for a long time.”

These were important words for the people of Judah to hear and take to heart, because in point of fact things would get a lot worse before they got any better! At the beginning of my homily I told you that this prophecy was given between 605 and 597 B.C. Well in 597 B.C. the Babylonians invaded the holy city of Jerusalem and captured its king; ten years later they destroyed the city and burned down the Temple. Then they took most of the people of Judah with them to Babylon, where they would remain in exile until 537.

That means that this prophecy of Habakkuk wasn’t fulfilled for 70 or so years! And I’m sure that many of the Lord’s chosen people wondered during those 7 decades whether it would ever be fulfilled. They were hoping and praying—and hoping and praying—but for a long time nothing seemed to be happening!

Was that because God was slow in responding?

Not at all! It took almost 70 years because human beings are slow to respond to his grace—the grace that he pours out on us and on the world whenever we pray and intercede!

The vision still has its time. This is also an important message for us to hear and take to heart. We need to apply it to our own individual lives, and to the current situation of the world in which we live. Most of us, for example, pray for peace in the world. We pray for justice; we pray for conversions. Many of us actively and vocally oppose immorality. Some of us devote our time and our talents and our resources to promote a greater respect for human life.

And yet, in spite of our many prayers and efforts, the positive changes don’t come instantaneously! That can be very discouraging.

But the Lord is still at work; the vision still has its timethat’s God’s message to us today! And so we need to pray perseveringly and to work for peace and justice perseveringly, knowing that if we do those things God will continue to pour out his saving grace on the world. And if grace is continually poured out, eventually some people will respond positively to it.

Let me give you one very timely historical example that illustrates what I’m talking about, and why this type of perseverance in prayer and good works is so important. On October 13 in 1917—exactly ninety years ago next Saturday—the Miracle of the Sun occurred in conjunction with one of the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother at Fatima in Portugal. We will commemorate that event, incidentally, with some events here next Friday. (We’re doing it on Friday instead of Saturday so that we can involve the children from our school.)

The Miracle of the Sun, which was witnessed by tens of thousands of people—including a number of non-believers and atheists—was a sign that was sent by God to verify the messages Mary had given to the 3 children (Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia) beginning on May 13th of that year.

This, of course, happened toward the end of the First World War. That’s important, because Mary told the children to (and here I quote) “pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.”

Then she gave a warning about Russia—which is very interesting because at the time Russia was not the world power that it was for most of the rest of the 20th century. The Bolsheviks, in fact, were just coming to power during the month when the last Fatima apparition took place.

Mary said that Russia needed to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart and that prayers needed to be offered for the nation—especially in the form of the First Saturday Devotion—so that it would be converted. Here are Mary’s words as Lucia later wrote them down: “If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, and the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Well, we all know what happened. Russia was not converted; Soviet Communism was exported to a number of other nations—by force; and the world lived under the threat of nuclear war for decades.

But then, amazingly, in late 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and Eastern Bloc Communism as we knew it quickly disintegrated.

If you had told me back in the 1960s that the powerful Soviet Union would break up, and that communism in Eastern Europe would come to an end in a relatively peaceful manner and without a major military conflict, I would have said you were crazy—and so would almost everyone else who was alive at the time!

In my humble opinion (and in the opinion of many other people) this peaceful collapse of Soviet Communism was not primarily the result of politics and diplomacy (although politics and diplomacy were involved, to be sure). Rather, the primary cause of the collapse was spiritual: it was the combined spiritual effect of all those millions of Rosaries and Communions and prayers that had been offered for Russia’s conversion since the apparitions at Fatima in 1917. All of that, coupled with the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope John Paul II, was at the heart of this peaceful miracle of recent history.

And speaking of our former Holy Father, I definitely don’t think it was a coincidence that he was one of the primary human instruments that God used (even in the diplomatic arena) to bring this about. As a Catholic man, he was deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother; and, as pope, he was consecrated to her in a special way. As you will recall, his papal motto, “Totus Tuus”—Totally Yours—referred to Mary!

The vision still has its time.

In 1917, Mary set forth “the vision”—the vision of a world without Russia’s atheistic system of government. I’m sure that many believers doubted if the vision would ever become a reality—especially believers in Communist countries who were suffering for their faith during the years when the Soviets were directing their governments.

But the vision still had its time. Because of the prayers of so many, grace continued to be poured forth from the throne of God, until enough hearts were softened in the world, and positive changes began to take place. In the words of the Lord to Habakkuk, the vision “pressed on to [its] fulfillment, and did not disappoint.”

The “visions” of today also press on to their fulfillment—which is why we should never stop praying for God’s will to be done, or doubt God’s ability to do the “impossible”.