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The Miracle of the Sun at Fatima
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The miracle of the sun at Fatima is more important than most people realize. It is, in fact, the divine confirmation of the message of Fatima. To appreciate its importance, we should ask ourselves three questions: What is a miracle? Why are miracles important? And how did the solar phenomenon at Fatima confirm the supernatural communication of Our Lady to the three children who were the immediate recipients of her communication?
What is a Miracle?
In theological language, a miracle is an extraordinary event, performed by God, which can be perceived by the senses and which exceeds the powers of nature.
Thus the miracles that Christ worked, as reported in the Gospels, surpass the powers of physical nature. Jesus walked on the waters, He calmed the storm at sea by a single word, He restored sight to the blind, speech to the mute and even raised the dead Lazarus from the grave. No one could reasonably explain these prodigies as merely natural. They were immediately recognized by those who witnessed them as exceeding the powers of mere nature.
But were they performed by divine power? What evidence was there that God was the final agent in working what St. John calls the signs worked by Christ, whose life of sanctity breathed the presence of the Divine? The correlation of sanctity in the performer and the prodigy of the performance were so close that no one could rationally question that the one (the sign) was an effect of the other (Christs holiness). Even the Pharisees, who denied divine intervention, admitted the prodigy, which they attributed to the devil. The Pharisees problem was that they not only refused to recognize Christs holiness, they accused Him of blasphemy for claiming that He and the Father were one.
Why Are Miracles Important?
Miracles are not only important; they are indispensable for the credibility of our faith. They are Gods way of enabling us to believe that someone, who claims to be speaking for God, is really telling the truth.
The logic is very simple. Someone says that he is a spokesman for God. The prophet or seer is proclaiming something which requires divine authorization to be accepted on faith. But people can make all kinds of claims to being mystics or communicators of an alleged divine mission to the human race. How are their claims to be accepted? They are accepted on the grounds of sound reason not on blind credulity. Their claims are acceptable only if the claimant gives evidence of being in contact with God. Who then uses this human spokesman as the agent of a prodigy that could only be performed by the power of God?
That is why in the Gospels Christ was constantly associating two things: his teaching and his miracles. Sometimes he would work the miracle before revealing a truth that He wanted to have believed. This is what He did when He fed the five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes, which was clearly a miracle. Then, as described by St. John, He made the astounding pronouncement of giving his own flesh to eat and his own blood to drink in the Holy Eucharist. This was the revealed mystery that Christ wanted his followers to believe.
At other times Jesus would first reveal the mystery and then perform the miracle. That is what He did when He first told the man, dropped through the roof, that his sins were forgiven. That was such an unheard of claim, that the Pharisees protested Who but God can forgive sins? So, we may say, Jesus countered their skepticism by telling the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk. The miraculous healing of the paralytic provided the rational basis for accepting Christ's claim that He, the Son of Man, had power on earth to forgive sins because He was also the Son of God.
How Does the Solar Phenomenon Confirm the Message of Fatima?
It was no coincidence that the solar phenomenon at Fatima came only several months after the basic message of Fatima had been communicated to the children. The phenomenon had to have a purpose for its occurrence, and the message had to have a divine confirmation of its authenticity.
When the phenomenon occurred in October, it was witnessed by thousands of people, friendly and unfriendly, simple believers and professed skeptics, those disposed to believe Our Ladys message and others who were openly hostile to what the Blessed Virgin was reported to have said.
In Gods providence the hostility of the skeptics was necessary to give rational grounds for believing what the children said the beautiful Lady was telling them. All the reports of those who witnessed the spectacle of the sun testify to their stupefaction at what they saw. No one, not even the most hardened agnostic, doubted that what he saw was a prodigy. This was necessary to provide the rational foundation for accepting, on faith, the Marian message of Fatima because of the solar event which everybody had to accept, as a fact, perceived by the senses.
Why, then, was the solar prodigy of Fatima necessary? It was necessary in order to satisfy our spontaneous need for giving rational credence to what Mary was telling Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. The children did not need the solar phenomenon to believe what Our Lady was telling them. But we do.
It is not coincidental that Mary asked her Divine Son to work the miracle at Cana as the first of the signs performed by her Son. Immediately, we are told, his disciples believed in Him. She has been doing the same ever since. As God, He is master of the sun, moon and stars which He created. Her message at Fatima was to tell a sinful world to stop offending the Divine Majesty and to repent of their sins. As at Cana, she asked Jesus to work a miracle. At Cana, as the poet said, the water looked at its Maker and blushed. At Fatima the sun looked at its Maker and whirled in dazzling splendor to acknowledge its Creator.
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