If we live the message that Our Lady gave us at Fatima, our personal faith will grow much stronger. At the same time, it will have an increased effect on the very life and mission of the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ.— Fr. Andrew Apostoli, Soul Magazine, Fall 2012
In the hundredth-anniversary year of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Fr. Andrew Apostoli was scheduled to be the spiritual director on a pilgrimage I was leading to Fatima, Portugal. As the pilgrimage drew near, Fr. Andrew told me that his superiors informed him that he could not go; it would be much too strenuous for him. His health had begun to deteriorate in the few months prior. It was one health issue after another, and Fr. Andrew courageously fought for a restoration of his health, but also accepted God’s holy will throughout the suffering, wholeheartedly offering it up to God for the conversion of sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima had requested.
Redemptive suffering was something Fr. Andrew had taken seriously and had preached passionately. Now he was intensely living it, too.
As much as I knew I would miss having Fr. Andrew by my side on the pilgrimage, I was deeply concerned for his health and well-being, and I totally accepted the change of plan and would continue to pray for my dear friend. Another Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr. Luke Fletcher, was appointed as the spiritual director for the pilgrimage. Fr. Andrew highly recommended him to me, and with a smile, he added that Fr. Luke had a “very long beard!” The friars have jokingly expressed that the length of their beards denotes the level of their wisdom! But, all joking aside, it was a blessing to have Fr. Luke on my pilgrimage. I’d like to share a compelling story that he shared with me later.
Fr. Luke was ordained on May 17, 2003. For an ordination gift, his cousins gave him a vestment set with a custom-made stole with special embroidery that included his name. Fr. Luke enjoyed the vestments very much, but about eleven years later, his stole went missing. He told me, “I had been looking high and low. I asked all the friars, but no one knew a thing.” Three years passed and still no sign of the stole.
In November 2017, Fr. Luke was surprised to be invited on another pilgrimage to Fatima in Fr. Andrew’s place (this was after the pilgrimage he went on with me). It was a beautiful pilgrimage, during which Fr. Luke had heartily prayed for a renewal of his priestly vows. Something quite extraordinary and totally unexpected happened the day he was to head back to the United States. We can even call it miraculous! Fr. Luke was able to wear his long-lost stole at the last Mass he would celebrate in Fatima on that pilgrimage.
Allow me to explain through Fr. Luke. “When we opened the sacristy at 4 a.m., the stole was sitting out on the counter.” Fr. Luke had the key to the sacristy and had been spiritual leader to the only group using the sacristy that entire week. He continued, “It is custom-made, one of a kind, so I immediately realized that it was my missing stole. I asked the other friars, and no one had brought it.”
We can imagine Fr. Luke’s excitement over finding his long-lost stole and in such an unexpected, yet amazingly significant place. How in the world did it get there? Immediate questions might have been swirling around in this friar’s brain, but he really had no doubts. He shared, “Finding that missing stole in that sacristy was a real sign, a signal grace that my prayer for renewal in my vocation was being answered in a dramatic way.” He said, “There is no explanation for how that stole went missing and showed up in that sacristy in Fatima over three years later.” He added, “It was not there all week. On our last day, there it was, waiting for me, set out on the counter.” On top of that, Fr. Luke exclaimed, “All in the land of St. Anthony!”
We might say that Fr. Luke received a beautiful Fatima miracle from the Blessed Mother, distributor of amazing graces. Perhaps, St. Anthony, patron saint of lost objects might have had his hand in it, too.
Reflect: Prayers of Hope
Our Lord and Our Lady know exactly what we need and when we need it. Finding his stole, such a significant and meaningful part of his priestly vestments, was an absolute positive sign to Fr. Luke that his prayers had been answered. Answered prayers fill our hearts with great hope. Take time to reflect on your life and prayers of hope.
As well, prepare your heart for the upcoming Nativity of Our Lord Jesus and for His Second Coming. Ponder an earnest sacrifice you can make to offer in reparation for sinners.
Dear Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima, please help me to pray more and even to expect miracles this Advent. Our Lady of Fatima, please pray for me.
Pray the Rosary today in honor of Our Lady of Fatima and for peace in the world.
For more on how Our Lady of Fatima can help us through Advent, check out “Our Lady of Fatima Guides Our Advent Prayers” which is also written by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.