O My Jesus. The Meaning of the Fatima Prayer

Authors: Stephen Bullivant and
Luke Arredondo
ISBN: 978-0809153343
Date: 2017
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Publisher: Paulist Press

To the average Brit, the mention of Portugal brings to mind holidays in the Algarve, attractive villas and sun-drenched golf courses. Yet it is the small village of Fatima, about one hundred kilometres north of Lisbon that has recently snatched the headlines. The centenary of the apparitions of Mary and the canonization of two of the children seers by Pope Francis has led many to reflect upon the unexplained phenomena and more significantly to revaluate the importance of such apparitions and the message they carry.

Fatima has sustained a great degree of controversy over the years. This was experienced by the young shepherds themselves, who met scepticism and insult whilst maintaining that a 'beautiful lady from Heaven' was communicating to them an important message of conversion, peace and hope. Over the years, all sorts of speculation have been raised about the 'secrets of Fatima': conspiracy theories and the end of the world, questions over the legitimacy of the papacy: one only needs to type 'the third secret of Fatima' on Google to find a variety of conjectures and opinions.

'O My Jesus' is the first line of a short prayer revealed to the seers of Fatima. The structure of this short book is not original: Bullivant recognises that 'O My Jesus' follows a tradition initiated by Tertullian and of which contemporaries such as Scott Hahn are also part. The prayer is unpacked verse by verse, each one of them composing one chapter of the book. Scholarly, such an arrangement seems modest. The authors make no claims of breaking spectacular new ground in the authenticity of unexplained occurrences. It is clear from the beginning that Bullivant and Arredondo are more interested in engaging the reader in a 'theological reflection and meditation'(xi) and that the Fatima prayer 'may bear fruit in our own souls just as it did in the children's'(xx).

The context is set by a brief introduction: 'the three simple shepherds'' first vision of 'a mysterious woman, who would later call herself Our Lady of the Rosary' coincided with the consecration of Eugenio Pacelli, future Pope Pius XII, as bishop. Bullivant and Arredondo use their skills as theologians to unpack the deep meaning of the bold verses of the Fatima prayer with well-crafted reflections. For example, on the topic of guilt, we are prompted to reflect that the thief crucified with Jesus asked not for rescue but merely to be remembered (p3); on the theme of motherhood, we learn that Mary probably used the expression 'O my Jesus' herself, when referring to her son 'in joy, in exasperation (our Lord was, of course, once a three year old boy), in sorrow' (p5).

It is clear that the authors are so touched by the Fatima prayer that they want to share it with others, regardless of their background. Each chapter ends with some points for reflection, making it easier for even the least reflective practitioner of religion to engage with the text. After all, the children of Fatima (and us) pray that Jesus will 'lead all souls to heaven'. This is no cheap grace: we are reminded that although 'we're very much pressured into believing that we're okay, that things are okay and that there's nothing wrong with us' (p45), we should be aware that we are all in need of mercy, lest we become like the Pharisee in Luke's Gospel (p40).

'O my Jesus' concludes with a sound 'amen'. This is Catholic tradition of prayer coming to the fore: intimacy with Jesus embodied by the maternal instinct of Mary and petition for forgiveness and deliverance. Ultimately, we say amen to our reliance upon the divine providence for salvation. Although praying the rosary, as suggested in the appendix, might be deemed unlikely in the busyness of today's families, a pause in the turmoil of school runs, clubs, laundry and sibling squabbling is not to be dismissed.

'O My Jesus' is a small gem of theological reflection. There are no exciting conspiracy theories or ground-breaking evidence that will definitely prove that the sun 'danced' in 1917. As unassumingly as early twentieth century Portuguese shepherd children, 'O My Jesus' may re-focus one's perspective. This summer, I will be heading off to Portugal, like many other tourists, for a fortnight of sea, sunshine and a cold Sagres beer. But I also hope to visit a slightly less trendy spot in the Portuguese landscape; then, I shall pray: O my Jesus, this is truly amazing!

Fernanda Mee, St Mary's University, Twickenham