Babes and Sucklings
God uses the small and the weak as instruments of His power. These passages from Blessed Lucia’s memoirs show the resilience that children have and the courage and generosity that they are capable of. Christ said that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He also said that the “Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” Here, then, are the penances of babes and sucklings.
Penances and Sufferings
As we were walking along the road with our sheep, I found a piece of rope that had fallen off a cart. I picked it up and, just for fun, I tied it round my arm. Before long, I noticed that the rope was hurting me. “Look, this hurts!” I said to my cousins. “We could tie it round our waist and offer this sacrifice to God.” The poor children promptly fell in with my suggestion. We then set about dividing it between the three of us, by placing it across a stone and striking it with the sharp edge of another one that served as a knife. Either because of the thickness or roughness of the rope, or sometimes we tied it too tightly, this instrument of penance often caused us terrible suffering. Now and then, Jacinta could not keep back her tears, so great was the discomfort caused her. Whenever I urged her to remove it, she replied: “No! I want to offer this sacrifice to Our Lord in reparation, and for the conversion of sinners.”
Another day we were playing, picking little plants off the wall and pressing them in our hands to hear them crack. While Jacinta was plucking these plants, she happened to catch hold of some nettles and stung herself. She no sooner felt the pain than she squeezed them more tightly in her hands, and said to us: “Look! Look! Here is something else with which we can mortify ourselves!” From that time on, we used to hit our legs occasionally with nettles, so as to offer to God yet another sacrifice. If I am not mistaken, it was also during this month that we acquired the habit of giving our lunch to our little poor children, as I have already described to Your Excellency in the account about Jacinta. It was during this month too, that my mother began to feel a little more at peace. She would say: “If there were just one more person who had seen something, why then, I might believe! But among all those people, they’re the only ones who saw anything!”
Now, during this past month, various people were saying that they had seen different things. Some had seen Our Lady, others, various signs in the sun, and so on. My mother declared: “I used to think before, that if there were just one other person who saw anything, then I’d believe; but now, so many people say they have seen something, and I still don’t believe!” My father also began, about then, to come to my defense, and to silence those who started scolding me; as he used to say: “We don’t know if it’s true, but neither do we know if it’s a lie.” Then it was my uncle and aunt, wearied out by the troublesome demands of all these outsiders who were continually wanting to see us and speak to us, began to send their son John out to pasture the flock, and they themselves remained home with Jacinta and Francisco. Shortly afterwards, they ended by selling the sheep altogether.
As I did not enjoy any other company, I started to go out alone with my sheep. As I’ve already told Your Excellency, whenever I happened to be nearby, Jacinta and her brother would come to join me; and when the pasture was at a distance they would be waiting for me on the way home. I can truly say that these were really happy days. Alone, in the midst of my sheep, whether on the tops of the hills or in the depths of the valleys below, I contemplated the beauty of the Heavens and thanked the good God for all the graces He had bestowed on me. When the voice of one of my sisters broke in on my solitude, calling me to go back home to talk to some person or other who had come looking for me, I felt a keen displeasure, and my only consolation was to be able to offer up to our dear Lord yet another sacrifice. On a certain day, three gentlemen came to speak to us. After questioning, which was anything but pleasant, they took their leave with this remark: “See that you decide to tell that secret of yours. If you don’t, the Administrator has every intention of taking your lives!” Jacinta, her face lighting up with a joy that she made no effort to hide, said: “How wonderful! I so love Our Lord and Our Lady, and this way we’ll be seeing them soon!” The rumor got round that the Administrator has every intention to kill us. This led my aunt, who was married and lived in Casais, to come to our house with the express purpose of taking us home with her, for, as she explained: “I live in another district and, therefore, this Administrator cannot lay hands on you there.” But her plan was never carried out, because we were unwilling to go, and replied: “If they kill us, it’s all the same! We’ll go to heaven!”
Your Excellency, as I already told you in the notes I sent to you after reading the book about Jacinta, some of the things revealed in the secret made a strong impression on her. This was indeed the case. The vision of hell filled her with horror to such a degree, that every penance and mortification was nothing in her eyes, if it could only prevent souls from going there. Well, I am now going to answer the second question, one which has come to me from various quarters.
How is it that Jacinta, small as she was, let herself be possessed by such a spirit of mortification and penance, and understood it so well? I think the reason is this: firstly, God willed to bestow on her a special grace, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and secondly, it was because she had looked upon hell, and had seen the ruin of souls who fall therein. Some people, even the most devout, refuse to speak to children about hell, in case it would frighten them. Yet God did not hesitate to show hell to three children, one of whom was only six years old, knowing well that they would be horrified to the point of, I would almost dare to say, withering away with fear. Jacinta often sat thoughtfully on the ground or on a rock and exclaimed: “Oh Hell! Hell! How sorry I am for the souls who go to hell! And the people down there burning alive, like wood in the fire!”
“Oh my Jesus! Forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.”
Now Your Excellency will understand how my own impression was that the final words of this prayer refer to souls in greatest danger of damnation, or those who are nearest to it. Jacinta remained on her knees like this for a long periods of time, saying the same prayer over and over again. From time to time, like someone waking from sleep, she called out to her brother or myself: “Francisco, Francisco! Are you praying with me? We must pray very much, to save souls from hell! So many go there! So many!” At other times, she asked: Why doesn’t Our Lady show hell to sinners? If they saw it, they would not sin, so as to avoid going there! You must tell Our Lady to show hell to all those people (referring to those who were in Cova da Iria at the time of the Apparition). “You’ll see how they will be converted.” Afterwards, unsatisfied, she asked me: “Why didn’t you tell Our Lady to show hell to all those people?” “I forgot” I answered. “I didn’t remember either!” she said, looking very sad.
Sometimes, she also asked: “What are the sins people commit, for which they go to hell?” “I don’t know! Perhaps the sin of not going to Mass on Sunday, of stealing, of saying ugly words, of cursing and of swearing.” “So for just one word, then, people can go to hell?” “Well, it’s a sin!” “It wouldn’t be hard for them to keep quiet and go to Mass! I’m so sorry for sinners! If only I could show then hell.” Suddenly, she would seize hold of me and say: “I’m going to Heaven, but you are staying here. If Our Lady lets you, tell everybody what hell is like, so that they won’t commit anymore sins and not go to hell.” To quieten her, I said: “Don’t be afraid! You’re going to Heaven.” “Yes I am”; she said serenely, “but I want all those people to go there too!”
When in a spirit of mortification, she did not want to eat. I said to her: “Listen Jacinta! Come and eat now.” “No! I’m offering this sacrifice for sinners who eat too much.” When she was ill, and yet went to Mass on a week day, I urged her: “Jacinta, don’t come! You can’t, you’re not able. Besides today is not Sunday!” “That doesn’t matter! I’m going for sinners who don’t go on a Sunday.” If she happened to hear any of those expressions which some people make a show of uttering, she covered her face with her hands and said: “Oh, my God, don’t these people realize that they can go to hell for saying those things? My Jesus, forgive them and convert them. They certainly don’t know that they are offending God by all this! What a pity, my Jesus! I’ll pray for them.” There and then she repeated the prayer that Our Lady taught us: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us….”