The world has been taught to scoff at that which it cannot see, hear, and touch. It has paid a heavy price for its scoffing. I trust I need not enumerate the many tragedies men have inflicted on one another, as faith has retreated and secular humanism, with its innate arrogance and vaulting ambition, has advanced to fill the void.
Matthew Arnold captured it in verse of crystalline brilliance:
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
But while the Sea of Faith has retreated…or has been pushed back by overweening human pride…it has not vanished utterly. The divine Immanence still manifests to those who are willing to believe what they see and hear…even if no one else can see or hear it.
In 1917, World War I was raging across the length and breadth of Europe. Millions had already died; millions more would follow. The flower of European manhood would fall to the war and to the influenza pandemic that followed. Russia had fallen to Communism, with consequences that would impoverish and oppress three generations. The faith of the Old World had taken a terrible blow. For many, it seemed an illusion the war had disproved.
On May 13th, 1917, at noon local time in Fatima, Portugal, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto, and Francisco Marto, three shepherd children innocent in every sense, were granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was the beginning of what is known today as the Miracle of Fatima: a series of Marian apparitions, each of which occurred on the 13th day of the calendar month. It culminated on October 13 with the Miracle of the Sun, a supernatural event witnessed by some 70,000 persons in which the Sun seemed to gyrate, dance across the sky, and as its finale dive menacingly near to the earth.
It happened. It was not mass hypnosis, nor mass hallucination, nor some kind of enormous hoax. At Fatima, Portugal on October 13, 1917, seventy thousand onlookers witnessed what could only have been a manifestation of divine power: a miracle.
The Miracle of Fatima brought millions to the Faith, and renewed the Faith in millions who had fallen away. God does this sort of thing when the world slips perilously close to the edge of the Great Abyss. And note: He doesn’t deliver it to kings or premiers, but to the lowest and humblest of our kind.
There have been other miracles. Many have attracted scoffers certain that they could prove that nothing miraculous – that is, nothing inexplicable by what we think are the laws of nature – had occurred. But many alleged miracles have withstood every test the scoffers have rained on them. Including Fatima.
The Miracle of Fatima is now more than a century in the past. Yet it continues to inspire men to faith…and to works of art and drama. Including producer-directors Ian and Dominic Higgins, who made of it a movie of exceptional beauty and emotion.
And have faith.