Our Lady loves to use little children to lead the way because their hearts are pure and unaffected, totally unaware of the possible widespread impact of their innocent lives. Blessed Jacinta was one such holy child whose words and example unfurled in a most rare and beautiful mystery of suffering love for Our Lady and for the salvation of souls.
“I so love the Immaculate Heart of Mary!” “Her Heart is so good! How I love it!” “Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation!”1 Such were the aspirations of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima, whose heart had been ravished by the beauty and goodness of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In fact, it is precisely this “mystery” of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and of Jacinta’s acceptance of and penetration into this “mystery” that reveals to us the “secret” of her rapid progress in holiness. But not only does Jacinta’s entrance into the “mystery” of the Immaculate Heart uncover the “secret” of how she reached the “heights of perfection”2 so quickly, it also uncovers the “secret,” or better, the underlying message, of the Fatima apparitions. That message, Jacinta tells us, is “that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side.”3
In a brief introduction to the First Memoir of Sister Lucia of Fatima, a memoir which recounts Lucia’s reminiscences of her cousin Jacinta, the editor pinpoints the very essence of the spirituality of Bl. Jacinta in these words: “This manuscript…presents a picture of Jacinta, whose soul is illumined through and through by the very light of Fatima, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”4 Jacinta is thus presented as one who has experienced the life-giving or maternal role of the Blessed Virgin in her heart (or interior), of which enlightenment or illumination is an essential aspect.
This experience of Jacinta also manifests to us the desires of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Heart full of tenderness and love: the Heart of a Mother. In virtue of the fact that she is a Mother, and a most perfect one at that, she has a profound need to make a complete gift of herself to her children: to nourish them, care for them, comfort them and enfold them in her maternal embrace. She wants to be our Mother. She delights in being our Mother.
She wants, however, to be our Mother, not only in name, but in all that the name “Mother” implies. And since “Motherhood,” as St. John Paul II tells us, “always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother,” and since the “personal relationship” of a mother with her child “is of the very essence of motherhood,”5 Mary’s Immaculate Heart is longing for this personal and maternal relationship with each and every one of the children she has begotten spiritually. In other words, she wants to be welcomed “into their own homes [hearts]” (Jn 19:27) and “brought into everything that makes up their inner life, i.e., into their human and Christian ‘I’,”6 so that she can pour into their hearts that “maternal charity” which springs forth from her most pure Heart as from an “inexhaustible fountain.”
Bl. Jacinta, because of the fact that she embraced this filial relationship with Mary by welcoming her “into her own heart”, and because she allowed herself to be enveloped in the tenderness of Mary’s own Immaculate Heart, stands as one who was not merely the beneficiary of the message of Our Lady of Fatima, but even more, as one who has lived that message in all its fullness.
Life and Character
In her First Memoir, Lucia describes Jacinta as having been endowed by God with a “sweet and gentle character which made her at once lovable and attractive.”7 We get a glimpse of that gentleness in her life as a shepherdess. The way in which she cared for the sheep would set in motion the tears of any mother. Lucia writes that “she loved to hold the little white lambs tightly in her arms, sitting with them on her lap, fondling them, kissing them, and carrying them home at night on her shoulders, so that they wouldn’t get tired.”8
Jacinta was also very exuberant and charismatic; she loved to sing, dance and play games! While she was out tending the sheep with Francisco and Lucia she would, with the simplicity and innocence of a child, start dancing in the middle of the fields at the sound of the other shepherds playing their instruments. Like King David, who “leaped and danced before the Lord” (2 Sam 6:16), not taking any notice as to what others might be thinking about him, little Jacinta would leap and dance before our heavenly Father, glorifying him in that same childlike spirit and not concerning herself with what the other shepherds might be thinking about her.
Joined to this, however, were a couple of defects that Lucia found quite disagreeable, namely, her “oversensitive temperament” and her “possessiveness.” It was not uncommon for her to be seen “pouting in a corner” (“tethering the donkey,” as they described it) if she was not the one who chose the game they were going to play or if she did not get to choose her partner for the game.9
And yet, it is precisely this sensitive, passionate and gentle character of Bl. Jacinta that, when influenced by grace, enabled her to open her heart entirely to the love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In fact, the three little shepherd children, each having their own unique natural characteristics and temperaments, received the message of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in a way that was intimately personal.
That is not to say, however, that they were each receiving a different message, but rather that each responded to the message according to their particular dispositions and the grace given them by the Blessed Virgin. Lucia herself thought that “Jacinta was the one who received from Our Lady a greater abundance of grace, and a better knowledge of God and of virtue.”10 This statement suggests that Our Lady imparted to Jacinta’s soul a special “imprint” of her maternal love that merits our attention. That “imprint,” which reflects the unique way in which grace operated in her soul, is nicely summarized by Sr. Maria Gabriella Iannelli, F.I.:
The grace of the apparitions of Our Lady worked profoundly in this lively and passionate character, and made of Jacinta, a little seven-year-old girl, a passionate apostle, ardent with zeal for the salvation of sinners, and burning with love to repair the offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.11
Blessed Jacinta and the Immaculate Heart of Mary
According to the teaching of the Swiss theologian, Hans urs von Balthasar, the lives of the saints contain “a living doctrine given by the Holy Spirit and so worthy of maximum attention, appropriate to the times, fecund, which no one can afford to pass over in silence, because it is directed to the entire Church.”12 The saints, therefore, can be called the living Gospel.13 The life of Bl. Jacinta, therefore, contains an important message for the entire Church, a message that, bound up with the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, is relevant at the present time.
What is that message? It would seem that it is centered on the mystery of the heart—more specifically, the need for the heart of man, hardened and defiled by sin, to be transformed into the heart of a child, pure and undefiled like the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Heart that we are all called to have. Perhaps, then, Jacinta is revealing to us in a most simple and humble manner the easiest way for bringing about this transformation of our sinful hearts into the Immaculate Heart of Mary, namely, by giving our hearts to Mary: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Prov 23:26). Once we have given our hearts to Mary we can then say with St. Louis de Montfort: “I take you for my all. Give me your Heart, O Mary.”14 All that the Father asks us to do is give our hearts to our heavenly Mother and then simply let our eyes delight in her ways! It is she who will purify our hearts and help us become like children.
The life of Bl. Jacinta, then, is a “living doctrine given by the Holy Spirit” that is teaching us how to realize in our own lives two of the most important teachings of Jesus on how we are to be prepared for heaven. The first teaching concerns the purification of our hearts and the second is becoming like children. In order that we may fulfill both one and the other teaching, we need only to give our hearts to Mary and to receive hers in return.
It is this mutual exchange, or better, this union of hearts, that explains why a little seven-year-old girl would be courageous enough to offer herself as a victim for the conversion of sinners. The heart-to-heart intimacy between Mary and Jacinta, between Mother and child, that took place at the time of the apparitions, so immersed her in the mystery of Calvary that her heart seemed to be “one” with Mary’s Heart in its being pierced by the “sword of sorrow” (Luke 2:35) as she “stood by the Cross” (John 19:25). As St. John Paul II says, “Little Jacinta felt and personally experienced Our Lady’s anguish, offering herself heroically as a victim for sinners.”15
Jacinta shared in the vehement anguish and suffering of Mary’s Sorrowful Heart after having been shown a vision of hell, where Our Lady had told her many souls go because they have nobody to pray and sacrifice for them. In fact, Lucia tells us that “the vision of hell filled her with horror to such a degree, that every penance and mortification was as nothing in her eyes, if only it could prevent souls from going there.”16 And while she certainly did “allow herself to be possessed by a spirit of mortification and penance,” having received, according to Lucia, “a special grace, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary” to do so, she did far more than that.17 Bl. Jacinta, and with her, Bl. Francisco, went one step further:
[They] entered into [Mary]—into her Heart; they concretely lived an unlimited consecration to her. They allowed themselves to be enfolded and penetrated by her love and, because of this very strong and intimate union with Our Lady, they also entered into her mediation by participating in carrying out a role of “intermediation” between Our Lady and souls.18
Jacinta, to put it simply, did what only a child knows how to do: she entrusted her heart completely to Mary, and, in a spirit of total dependency, entered into Mary’s Immaculate Heart, trusting that Mary would do everything for her. And in doing so, she responded to Mary’s call for prayer and sacrifice in the most perfect manner possible. She responded with the most perfect sacrifice: the spiritual sacrifice of her heart, and, consequently, with the most perfect prayer: purity of heart.
The Most Perfect Sacrifice: The Spiritual Sacrifice of the Heart
As one anonymous Carthusian monk writes concerning prayer and sacrifice: “We cannot, therefore, do anything. God does not wait for us to give him little gifts. He has no use for bulls or wild rams; what he wants is the spiritual sacrifice of our hearts.”19 To give the spiritual sacrifice of our heart to Mary (and to God through Mary) does not mean taking our heart into our hands and giving it to her on a platter. It is simpler than that. In fact, it is so simple that we do not really have to do or give anything at all. To “give” our heart to Mary, paradoxical though it may be, is actually to receive the gift of Mary herself, and, through her maternal mediation, the gift of God Himself. It is to allow ourselves to be nourished and sustained at the Immaculate Heart of Mary herself, and to receive through this nourishment our being as adopted children of God at every moment. We must, therefore, develop a true relationship with Mary in which we depend unconditionally on her.20 To quote again from the Carthusian monk: “It is in dependency on Mary, and enveloped in her tenderness and receptivity, that we can learn how to be converted, that is, how to be born, how to simply be God’s children. ‘Jesus was born of woman…so that we might receive adoption as sons,’ says St. Paul (Gal 4:5).”21
For, in reality, “there can be no child without a mother,” neither in the order of nature nor the order of grace, since, “here below… there can be no birth without a heart that has received, even before the child, the love descending from the Father.”22 And it is this divine love that enables the children of God to recognize Mary to be their Mother “in the order of grace” (LG 62) and to recognize God to be their Father by adoption. But God’s adopted children are only born anew, that is, born of him, because the Immaculate Heart of Mary “has received, even before the child, the love descending from the Father [in the Holy Spirit].” Thus, as “Jesus was [physically] born of woman,” namely Mary, in like manner, we who are incorporated into His Mystical Body through Baptism are also born of Mary, although spiritually and not physically.
Sr. Lucia recounts an extraordinary revelation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which the three shepherd children received during the apparition of June 13, 1917. During this revelation, a light streamed forth from the hands of Our Lady and penetrated the inmost depths of the children’s hearts. According to Lucia, the effect of this light was that they were infused with a special knowledge and love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.23 “From that day onwards, our hearts were filled with a more ardent love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”24
It is in this light that Bl. Jacinta would exclaim with the enthusiasm of a child: “If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”25 By giving her heart to Mary, or better, by receiving the gift of the Immaculate Heart, which Our Lord has given to us “as a burning furnace of divine love into which we are to throw ourselves and be consumed that we may turn into fire and flames of love for Him [God the Father] who is all fire and flaming love for us,”26 Jacinta offered the sacrifice acceptable to God: the sacrifice that rendered fruitful and efficacious the countless sacrifices she offered for the conversion of sinners. Without this first sacrifice, namely, the spiritual sacrifice of her heart, the other sacrifices would not have been pleasing to God:
For you take no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Ps 51:16-19)
Once the “walls of Jerusalem,” that is, the “walls” of our hearts, are rebuilt (purified and transformed), even to the point of being identified with the Immaculate Heart of Mary—the new and heavenly Jerusalem—whose walls are firm and impregnable, then our hearts will be capable of offering to God those right sacrifices, which are nothing other than acts of love. Our hearts must undergo a process of purification from sin and its effects so that, made pure and immaculate, “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27), like the Immaculate Heart and the heart of Bl. Jacinta, they may offer the right sacrifices that will bring about the conversion of sinners. For it is love alone that converts sinners and saves souls. And when a heart has been given over totally to Mary and has been consumed with divine love, then, as St. Maximilian Kolbe tells us, sacrifices will become a necessity for the soul as continual proofs of love for her.27
With this in mind we can come to appreciate more fully the “insatiable thirst for making sacrifices”28 that consumed the heart of Bl. Jacinta. Lucia tells us that “Jacinta took this matter of making sacrifices for the conversion of sinners so much to heart, that she never let a single opportunity escape her.”29 To drink from the wellsprings of the Immaculate Heart of Mary herself is to experience within oneself what Scripture (according to the tradition of the Catholic Church) places on the lips of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more” (Sir 24:21). When one drinks from the wellsprings of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, they are drinking from the wellsprings of divine love, and since divine love is infinite, our hearts will always thirst for more! This, it seems, is what Bl. Jacinta experienced, based on Lucia’s testimony of her “insatiable thirst for making sacrifices.”
The Most Perfect Prayer: Purity of Heart
Bound up with this perfect sacrifice of Bl. Jacinta is her perfect prayer, that is, the prayer of a pure heart that “sees God,” at least in as much as faith allows this side of heaven. Perhaps one of the most touching examples of her purity of heart is a relation by Sr. Lucia in her First Memoir. She writes:
One day we were playing forfeits at my home, and I won, so this time it was I who told her what to do. My brother was sitting at a table, writing. I told her to give him a hug and a kiss, but she protested:
“That, no! Tell me to do some other thing. Why don’t you tell me to go and kiss Our Lord over there?”
There was a crucifix hanging on the wall.
“All right,” I answered, “get up on a chair, bring the crucifix over here, kneel down and give Him three hugs and three kisses: one for Francisco, one for me, and the other for yourself.”
“To Our Lord, yes, I’ll give as many as you like,” and she ran to get the crucifix. She kissed it and hugged it with such devotion that I have never forgotten it.30
We see that even prior to the Fatima apparitions Jacinta’s heart was undivided; her affections were directed entirely towards Our Lord.
Regarding purity of heart, “the only perfect purity of heart is the fullness of grace of the Mother of God; to say to Mary that the Lord is with her signifies that she sees God. Hence, the Virgin Mary alone completely fulfills the Beatitude of the pure in heart.”31 Now, as we have said, Lucia believed that “Jacinta was the one who received from Our Lady a greater abundance of grace,” that is, a greater sharing in the “fullness of grace of the Mother of God.” But if Mary’s “fullness of grace” corresponds to her “perfect purity of heart” which “sees God,” then, for Bl. Jacinta to receive from Our Lady a “greater abundance of grace” signifies that she also received a “greater purity of heart” to “see God,” although to a much lesser proportion than that of Our Lady.
The vision of God in heaven is the goal of our prayer, of our striving for purity of heart. Thus, when Bl. Jacinta tells us “that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask for them,” she is revealing to us the “secret” for progressing rapidly in holiness, and for obtaining that pure heart which is capable of “seeing God” in the light of faith. When we pray to Mary from the heart and allow ourselves to “be nourished with the milk of grace and maternal mercy” in her “virginal bosom,”32 or better, in her Immaculate Heart, we advance rapidly along the road to perfection, the road that leads to the “face to face” (1 Cor 13:12) vision of God: the beatific vision.
Jacinta’s heart, because it was so open and receptive to grace, became so pure that her faith in Our Lady seemed to be invincible. Lucia gives us an idea of her extraordinary faith when she recalls an encounter Jacinta had with a soldier. She writes:
On another occasion, there was a soldier who wept like a child. He had been ordered to leave for the front, although his wife was sick in bed and he had three small children. He pleaded that either his wife would be cured or that the order would be revoked. Jacinta invited him to say the Rosary with her, and then said to him: “Don’t cry. Our Lady is so good! She will certainly grant you the grace you are asking.”33
“Don’t cry. Our Lady is so good! She will certainly grant you the grace you are asking.” Such is the confidence of a child of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who has penetrated into the “mystery” of that Heart and, through it, has responded perfectly to Mary’s call to pray for souls in order that they might be saved from the fires of hell and led to heaven, especially those who are in most need of God’s mercy.
Little Jacinta invites us then to offer to Mary our hearts of stone and to receive from her a heart of flesh, her Immaculate Heart.34 For as the Scriptures say: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26). We must become children of Mary and receive from her the gift of her Immaculate Heart, which is the gift of herself, so that we can possess only one heart with her, our tender Mother. In doing so, we will fulfill the desire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself who revealed the following words to St. Mechtilde in the year 1300: “I have given you the Admirable Heart of my most worthy Mother, which is identified with my own heart, that it may be your true heart as well; that my children may possess only one heart with their Mother, and my members the same heart as their Head.”35
Our Lady chose to entrust this message of her maternal love to Jacinta because she had the heart to receive it, namely, the heart of a child. Her heart of flesh, pure and undefiled, was worthy to receive the light from on high,36 the light of Fatima, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The transformation to which our hearts are called can only take place if we, like Jacinta, allow Mary (and God through her) to well up from within37; to shatter the heart of stone which “complacently wallows in the world of its own emotions”38; to remove all the impurities of our hearts and reign there as Mother and Queen. We must turn then and become like children, so that we too might be worthy to receive this gift.
May this prayer, then, be always on our lips: “Mary, I give you my heart! Mary, give me your Heart!”
1 Sr. Lucia of Fatima, as quoted by Sr. Maria Gabriella Iannelli, F.I., “The Mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the lives of Bl. Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima,” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross, VII: Acts of the Seventh International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2008), p.458. Hereafter, Iannelli.
2 Pope St. John Paul II, Homily at the Beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto (May 13, 2000). https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/travels/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20000513_beatification-fatima.html.
3 Iannelli, pp. 458-459.
4 Fatima in Lucia’s own words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, 11th ed. (Fatima, Portugal: Postulation Centre; Still River, MA: Distributed by Ravengate Press, 2000), p. 15 (introduction). Emphasis mine. Hereafter, Memoirs.
5 Pope St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, Encyclical Letter (March 25, 1987), 45.
6 Redemptoris Mater, 45.
7 Memoirs, p. 21.
8 Ibid., p. 28.
9 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
10 Ibid., p. 33.
11 Iannelli, p. 454. Emphasis mine.
12 Hans urs von Balthasar, Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1992), as quoted by Fr. Johannes Schneider, O.F.M. in Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, translated from the German by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), p. xxxiv (introduction).
13 Fr. Johannes Schneider, O.F.M., Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, p. xxxiv (introduction). Here Fr. Schneider is summarizing and explaining the teaching of Hans urs von Balthasar.
14 St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, translated from the Original French by Fr. Frederick William Faber, D.D. (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1985), p. 168.
15 Pope St. John Paul II, Homily at the Beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto (May 13, 2000).
16 Memoirs, p. 111.
18 Iannelli, pp. 464-465.
19 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1994), p. 70.
20 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 71.
21 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 170. The whole of this paragraph is more or less a summary of the thought of the above-mentioned anonymous Carthusian monk. All that I did was draw out in more detail its Marian dimension.
22 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 170.
23 Memoirs, p. 113.
25 Ibid., p. 118.
26 Words of Our Lord to St. Mechtilde, as quoted by St. John Eudes in The Admirable Heart of Mary, translated from the French by Charles di Targiani and Ruth Hauser (Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, reprint of 1947 edition), p. 103.
27 Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe, 503.
28 Memoirs, p. 31.
29 Ibid., p. 30.
30 Memoirs, pp. 22-23.
31 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 132. Emphasis mine.
32 St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, p. 166.
33 Memoirs, p. 41.
34 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, pp. 134-135.
35 Words of Our Lord to St. Mechtilde, as quoted by St. John Eudes in The Admirable Heart of Mary, p. 104.
36 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 134.
37 Ibid., p. 193.
38 The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, p. 134.