Fatima and Eyjafjallajökull, by Donal Anthony Foley
The recent eruptions of Eyjafjallajökullthe Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable namehave cast an interesting light on the inherent fragility of our modern technological civilization. A relatively minor volcano has proved quite capable of bringing flights across northern Europe to a standstill. As it turned out, this complete shutdown of airspace was an over reactiondue to flawed computer modelsrather than an analysis of the volcanic ash itself, and the danger it actually posed to aircraft. But not far from Eyjafjallajökull is another much bigger sub glacial volcano, Katla. Ominously, when Eyjafjallajökull has erupted in the past this has sometimes been followed by an eruption of Katla. So the potential for a further more severe upheaval is very possible.
But quite apart from a physical response to this type of event, there is also a religious precedent for dealing with natural disasters such as volcanoes: St Januarius was a bishop who was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian in the early fourth century, and is most famous for the annual miracle of the liquefaction of his dried blood, which is preserved in two ampoules in Naples cathedral. When the ampoules are brought near the relics of the martyr, the blood is seen to liquefy and bubble.
This miraculous event has occurred every year, with rare exceptions, over the centuries, and popular tradition holds that the liquefaction is a sign that a particular year will not witness disaster: in 1939, at the beginning of World War II, the blood did not bubble up. What is less well-known is that St Januarius is also regarded as the patron of the city of Naples, and that the volcano Mount Vesuvius is only six miles away. It last erupted in 1944, but in the past it has been much more active.
St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote that: “The Neapolitans honour this saint as the principal patron of their city and nation, and the Lord himself has continued to honour him, by allowing many miracles to be wrought through his intercession, particularly when the frightful eruptions of Mount Vesuvius have threatened the city of Naples with utter destruction. While the relics of St. Januarius were being brought in procession towards this terrific volcano, the torrents of lava and liquid fire which it emitted have ceased, or turned their course from the city.”
Prayers to St Januarius would certainly not go amiss if Eyjafjallajökull, or worse still, Katla, should erupt violently again in the future, and this also surely holds good for other natural disasters or threats. In the past, people would have prayed to be delivered from famines or droughts, or similar impending disasters, but more recently, the belief took hold in the developed world that we had outgrown that and could now deal with such events through science or technology.
However, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption reminds us that some things are just too big for mankind to deal with, and even apart from the danger posed by volcanoes, we do seem to be moving into an era where our civilization’s resources and coping structures are going to be testedperhaps to the limit. Swine flu was a threat which came and went without causing the havoc that was predicted, but we may not be so lucky next time, and many new strains of old diseasesincluding sexually transmitted diseasesare proving increasingly resistant to antibiotics and other drugs. Water is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world. There is talk that power cuts are on the horizon because of a failure to plan properly for the demise of fossil fuel based power stations, added to an exaggerated reliance on “green” solutions.
Similarly, the term “peak oil” has become better known, as shorthand for the idea that worldwide oil supplies are limited and that we have either already, or shortly will be, past the point when the maximum rate of worldwide extraction is reached; after this the rate of production enters terminal decline. At the same time, both India and China are gearing up for a massive expansion of industry which will greatly increase their oil needs. Even if the more dire predictions of the peak oil pundits are not fulfilled, oil is a finite resource, and it will certainly effectively be used up at some point before the end of the century. And since oil is the lifeblood of our civilization, without it life as we know it will be impossible. On the question of money, massive financial deficits are being built up by many countries and this raises the very real spectre of financial disaster and national bankruptcy. And all of this is to say nothing of the continuing threat of the use of nuclear weapons in the future, with all the potential these have for upheaval and devastation on an almost unimaginable scale.
So it appears that the cosy world view which saw mankind, through science and technology, gradually taking control of the world and its resources, and fashioning an earthly utopia, is beginning to crumble before our eyes. God has gradually been pushed into a corner and the attempt is been made to try and fashion a world without religion, and apparently without any concern for objective truth. But this isn’t working, and won’t work in the future, because ignoring God is like ignoring the instruction manual for a very complicated piece of machinerya foolish delusion which can only end in disaster.
This is particularly the case with personal conduct. We now have to contend with the disorders caused by the corrupting influence of television and other media, as they disgorge a diet of banality, frivolity, and immorality twenty four hours a day. Increasingly, there are calls for all moral restraint to be cast off, as abortion is looked on as a “right,” and complete sexual freedom is advocated. But of course, the moral consequences of our actions can’t ultimately be avoided, as family breakdown and all the problems which result from this become ever more apparent.
On a natural level, then, the future does not look at all rosy, and it would be foolish to imagine we can go on living as we have done in the pastmorally or materially, that is not going to be possible. Society as a whole is going to have to turn back to God, and the problem is that the most influential sections of society, the elites, the power brokers, and the media, show little sign of being willing to do that. Thus it is going to be up to the Church to provide leadership and moral guidance, in the face of what is likely to be bitter opposition, if not persecution.
But we do have a providential means to combat the moral problems which are afflicting society, and if humanity turns back to God, then the major physical problems facing mankind (but not errant volcanoes!) will be much easier to deal with. In particular, the message coming out of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima in 1917 provides a real blueprint for society to recover its moral compass. May 13th will see the 93rd anniversary of the first apparition to the three shepherd children at the Cova da Iria, and the message Our Lady gave them between May and October of that year is firmly based on putting moral imperatives first. Without this, any recovery will be illusory, because the greed, selfishness, and immorality endemic in modern society will prevent any real change.
Lest it be said that Fatima is “just” a private revelation, it should be noted that all the popes since Pius XII have given it their full support, while two of the seers, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, have been beatified, and the Cause of the third, St Lucia, who died in 2005, is progressing rapidly. To emphasize how seriously the Holy See takes Fatima, even in the midst of all the problems currently facing the Church, Pope Benedict XVI is to visit Fatima for the May 13th celebrations, while during Mass in St Peter’s on 13 May 2006, he expressed the hope that the message of Fatima would be “increasingly accepted, understood and lived in every community.”
The program outlined by Our Lady involves genuine conversion, a willingness to pray and make sacrifices, allied with communal exercises including the Five First Saturdays devotionwhich means Mass, Communion, Confession, and the Rosary with meditation. (See www.theotokos.org.uk for more details about the Fatima message).
We need to change ourselves first by this program, then work to change our parishes, then our dioceses, and then the wider world. And this isn’t an illusory program, since Our Lady promised in July 1917, that: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph …and a period of peace will be granted to the world.” So there is a cast iron promise that the world will, at some point in the future, enjoy real peace, but that will only happen when genuine Marian devotion is a world-wide phenomenon.
And to show that she meant business, the Blessed Virgin worked the tremendous “miracle of the sun” in October 1917a miracle which was predicted three months in advanceas a crowd of 70,000 people saw the sun gyrate in the sky before plunging to the earth in a terrifying manner. Many thought it was the end of the world, but the sun reassumed its place in the sky, and the vast crowd spread out all over Portugal with the tremendous news, which, within a quarter of a century, had completely rejuvenated Portuguese society. This type of renewal can happen in our own time too.
Eyjafjallajökull was a natural disaster, but the real problem the world is facing is the spiritual disaster caused by the rejection of God; and the only way this situation will to be turned around is when enough Catholics begin to live the message of Fatima.
This article appeared initially in the Catholic Times.