Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the Solemn Vespers to begin the 54-day Novena to Our Lady of Fatima.
August 21, 2017
Ever since the birth of the Church at Pentecost, 20 centuries ago, the faithful have found fresh courage and hope by gathering in prayer with the Mother of God. We do so again this evening as we officially begin our diocesan 54-day novena, here in the mother Church of our diocese. My dear sons and daughters in Christ, welcome to the Cathedral of Ss. Simon and Jude.
Novenas enjoy a long and rich tradition in the Church. The practice of praying for nine days in a row probably began in the home when families gathered to pray for a loved one who had died. Then, the practice was extended to the larger Church when natural disasters such as plagues, epidemics, earthquakes or some other natural disaster occurred. At times of war, Christians prayed novenas for an end to conflict and a return of peace. In fact, it was on the 8th day of a novena called by Pope Benedict XV to seek an end to World War I that Our Lady of Fatima made her first appearance to the three children in Portugal. Novenas have also been established in anticipation and preparation for special holy days, such as All Saints Day, Ss. Peter and Paul, Pentecost, or Christmas.
A 54-day Rosary novena, made up of six consecutive 9-day novenas, is a powerful way to intercede to God for special intentions. Usually, the 6 novenas are divided in half: during the first half, a span of 27 days, the prayers of petition are offered. Then, during the last 27 days, prayers of thanksgiving are lifted to the Lord in gratitude for His answering the petitions, even if it is not yet evident how God has answered them. One of the great saints who loved the 54-day novena was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She treasured this expression of total trust in Jesus — demonstrated by the fact that, as soon as the first three novenas were completed, at once next the novenas giving thanks to God began.
I ask that we pray our 54-day diocesan novena in the same way as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: during the first 27 days let us bring God our special intentions and then, during the final 27, let us give Him thanks and praise.
As we begin today, let us renew our trust in God by listening again to the words of Jesus (Lk:11:9f) “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
“By prayers of petition,” the Catechism states (#2629), “we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who as Christians know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to Him.” Gathered under the mantle of our diocesan patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe, we turn to the Father, with the trust of children in the presence of their mother. In addition, we ask Mary our Mother and Queen to intercede on our behalf, making our own those trusting words of the Memorare composed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help, or sought Thy intercession was left unaided.”
During these first 27 days of our Diocesan Novena, I invite everyone to bring special intentions to the Lord: intentions that are near to your own heart; then, intentions for the needs of your family, of your parish community, and finally, the needs of Pope Francis and the universal Church. During these first 3 weeks, please pray that we who make up the Diocese of Phoenix will become ever more faithful disciples of Jesus, filled with fresh enthusiasm for the New Evangelization.
Then, during the last 27 days of the Novena, let our hearts overflow with thanksgiving to the Father for always answering our prayers. As St. Paul wrote (I Thess 5:18)), “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Prayers of thanksgiving lift our hearts with joy as they deepen our love for Jesus in the Eucharist. As the Catechism says (#2637), “Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is.”
Earlier today, many fellow Americans witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, when the moon completely obscured the sun for over 2 ½ minutes. For good reason, this remarkable event drew the attention of people across our land and around the world. What makes this event so remarkable is the stark contrast in size of these two luminaries that we can see in the sky. The Sun is 65 million times larger than the moon. Yet, for 2 ½ minutes, the moon totally eclipsed and obscured the sun in certain parts of our nation.
100 years ago, Our Lady of Fatima foretold that an even more spectacular sign would appear in the sky, at the time of her final apparition to the three children. Indeed, on October 13, 1917, her prophecy was fulfilled: between 70- and 100-thousand people flocked to Fatima, believers and non-believers alike, and saw the sun dancing and spinning around in the sky. Many received the gift of conversion that day and began or returned to the practice of the faith. And many still today, like those of us gathered here, find our own faith strengthened by the message and prayers of Our Lady of Fatima. Mary, our Mother and Queen, teaches us never to doubt the power of prayer — our own, the intercession of the Mother of God, and especially that of the Risen Christ who constantly intercedes on our behalf. Let us be confident that, under Our Lady’s mantle of love, this 54-day Rosary Novena will bring many blessings to our diocesan family, especially the gift of conversion and a faith that is fully alive in Christ. Remember Jesus’ words (Mt 5:14-16): “You are the light of the world…” Not someone else — you who are baptized in Christ. “…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Lord, let your light shine through us for the salvation of the world.