A Reply to Fr. Zuhlsdorf on Fátima

Recently, a friend sent me a message asking if I had seen a new post on the web site of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (“Fr. Z.”). The recent post was about a difficulty that Fr. Z. has concerning the third part of the secret of Fátima, specifically the phrase, “And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.’”[1]

There has been a lot of talk, especially from 2015 onward, about whether or not Pope Francis’ election to the throne of St. Peter in 2013 was valid. Others wonder whether or not the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI was valid. Thus, do we have one pope, two, or none? There are actual discussions currently taking place over these very questions.

While avoiding engagement with these hypotheses, I intend only to point out the fact that these hypotheses have created quite a stir among various Catholics. I’ve been monitoring the situation, especially as it relates to Fátima, because some people are looking at Fátima to support various hypothetical scenarios. It seems that Fr. Z. might be one of them. Here is what he wrote:

What bothers me?  Not the part about persecution.  That’s a given.

Note that reference to seeing an image like to that of an image in a mirror.

When you see someone pass in front of a mirror, you see two of them, the real one and the image.  Two.

Hence, in this case, the vision involved seeing two figures dressed in white, one being the real one and the other being the image of the real one.  And, according to the description, Lúcia says she saw whom she took to be the Pope and a figure that was not the Pope but an image like the Pope.

One figure the Pope and the other, close by, as in a mirror, not the Pope but looking like the Pope.

I wrote, privately, to Fr. Z. on E-mail about this matter. Then, it occurred to me that he had approved my registration some time ago, so I then posted the following public comment:

Fr. Z., I have sent you an E-mail about this post and your question, but found my login information as well.

The statement about a “mirror” is a not unfamiliar expression in Sr. Lúcia’s repertoire elsewhere in her writings. It is a mystical expression that she uses to describe how we see clearly in God and His light. It is not to be interpreted here as a reference to “two popes.”

I hope that this helps. For more information, I would like to refer you to my book “On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima”
(https://kevinsymonds.com/Fátima-book/)

Sincerely,
-Kevin J. Symonds

Under my comment, Fr. Z. responded in his characteristic red comments in brackets:

[Refer me? Send me the book. And the fact remains: that’s how she described it. Facts are stubborn.]

In his post, Fr. Z. associates the text “‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror…” with the text after it (the Bishop dressed in white). Thus, Fr. Z. wonders if the phrase is about two popes as in a mirror image.

So, is his interpretation correct? I have some thoughts on this question and submit them to the reader for consideration.[2]

The punctuation used by Sr. Lúcia presents us with a problem. After the word “God” (Deus), she uses a colon. Therefore, she gives the impression that whatever comes after the colon is what was seen by her and her cousins in the vision. She then puts the first line after the colon in quotation marks (“something similar…in front of it”). Sr. Lúcia also puts the last line in quotation marks (“we had the impression that it was the Holy Father”). Why would she do this?

Normally, we associate quotation marks with a citation. If Sr. Lúcia intended to do that here, then what was she quoting? She might have had in mind 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Still, this explanation does not address the problem of the mirror reference. What does the analogy of a mirror mean to Sr. Lúcia? Was she using it to refer to the Pope looking into a mirror, as Fr. Z. postulates, or did she mean something else? There is, in fact, another, and, I believe, more accurate reading of this text.

Sr. Lúcia might have used the mirror analogy to describe further the text preceding the colon (“And we saw in an immense light that is God”). If this interpretation is accurate, then Sr. Lúcia was referring to how her and her cousins saw the images of the third part of the secret.

In order to show more clearly this interpretation, here is a suggested re-wording of Sr. Lúcia’s text: “In an immense light (God), we saw, [in a manner] similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it, a Bishop dressed in white…etc.”

The preceding reading of Sr. Lúcia’s text harmonizes with other times in which she uses the “mirror” and “light” analogy. In her description of the May 13, 1917 apparition (Fourth Memoir), Sr. Lúcia wrote:

As she pronounced these last words “…the grace of God will be your comfort”, Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors (175).

Here, Sr. Lúcia says that God is that light and that the three seers could see themselves more clearly than in a mirror. In her letter to Pope Paul VI, Sr. Lúcia encouraged him using similar words:

He is with Your Holiness, the Holy Spirit source of life, from Whom proceeds all other life that [exists]—inebriating and eternal light that sees all, penetrates all [and] nothing escapes this gaze of light where everything is seen as a mirror […] in front of which everything passes from time to eternity, past, present, and future!

Here, God is light and is the mirror. Everything passes through it and is seen. So, if God is this light or mirror through which everything is seen, we can understand that Sr. Lúcia is able to see the events of the third part of the secret. Everything passes through this light or mirror (identified as God by Sr. Lúcia), and, if God so wills it, He can show that which passes through it to others.

Later, in her private journal, Sr. Lúcia wrote the following passage:

O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary! Yes, because since I saw You, I never stopped looking for the light of Your face contemplating in an immense mirror the ribbon of humanity pass in front of You. Nothing escapes You in this uncreated Light that penetrates and absorbs everything in You, where everything reflects like shadows that pass by focused on the Eternal Infinite Being.[3]

In this understanding, we see why Cardinal Ratzinger interprets the imagery of light and mirror in his Theological Commentary. Ratzinger wrote:

The next phrases of the text show very clearly once again the symbolic character of the vision: God remains immeasurable, and is the light which surpasses every vision of ours. Human persons appear as in a mirror. We must always keep in mind the limits in the vision itself, which here are indicated visually. The future appears only “in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12).

Later, Ratzinger added:

In the “mirror” of this vision we see passing before us the witnesses of the faith decade by decade.

It is, therefore, clear that the Church herself understands the “mirror” and “light” analogy to be referring to God. It is not a literal mirror that the Pope passed by and saw a reflection.

Lastly, if the Pope passed by some mirror in the vision of the third part of the secret, what about the others in the vision? Did they do so as well? It would seem to follow logically. After all, everyone specified in the vision are all headed to the same place–the cross. Curiously, they are not mentioned as having passed by some mirror.

Conclusion:
Sr. Lúcia lacked theological, spelling and grammatical finesse in her writings, as is generally acknowledged.[4] She was, however, gifted with prophecy and wisdom in her simplicity. As I have said elsewhere, you have to pay attention to mystics as they are subtle people; one can miss something very important if care is not taken. In the present case, it seems plausible that Sr. Lúcia employed the “mirror” analogy in order to explain the manner in which the three visionaries saw the vision that is the third part of the secret of Fátima.


[1] Portuguese: E vimos n’uma luz emensa que é Deus: “algo semelhante a como se vêem as pessoas n’um espelho quando lhe passam por diante” um Bispo vestido de Branco “tivemos o pressentimento de que era o Santo Padre.”

[2] I am grateful for the remark by a “Fr. Sotelo” in the user comments. Unfortunately, I think his explanation is insufficient. He says that Fr. Z.’s interpretation is mistaken because Sr. Lúcia employs the singular, not the plural, to speak of the Holy Father. Well, if there is only ever one pope at a time, and not two, then it could be argued that Sr. Lúcia would have recognized only the one pope, hence her using the singular.

[3] Carmelo de Santa Teresa – Coimbra, Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria: Biografia da Irmã Lúcia de Jesus e do Coração Imaculado, O.C.D. (Coimbra, Portugal: Edições Carmelo, 2013), 164. See also pages 246, 244, and 267.

[4] For evidence of this, look at the note she wrote on the outside of the envelopes containing the third part of the secret of Fátima. See also footnote 8 in The Message of Fátima booklet (online version).

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