On at least two different occasions, Sr. Lucia gave the following instruction to the crowd at Fatima: “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” In the pictures of the throngs gathered on the 13th of each month in Fatima, one can often see umbrellas. They were sometimes used to shield people from the rain, but even more often to provide shade from the strong sunlight.
“Close your umbrellas” isn’t exactly one of the more famous aspects of the message of Fatima. However, the instruction has something important to say to us, especially in these days of ease when we seem so inconvenienced by the slightest hint of sacrifice or even minor discomfort.
An umbrella is used to ward off the heat of a hot day or the soaking of the rain. The call to close our umbrella is a call to accept the sacrifices that are often necessary to purify us so that we can receive greater blessings. How many of us who are concerned with the condition of our culture and our world are willing to make sacrifices for the conversion of souls? We want things to get better, but are we willing to do things such as fast or pray the rosary daily? For us who are called to be prophets in this unbelieving time, are we willing to close our umbrella and endure the heat of scorn from those who resist our witness? Are we willing to endure the discomfort of annoyance, ridicule, indignation, or scoffing indifference raining down on us? Closing our umbrella involves accepting the sacrifices necessary to preach the Gospel.
To lower our umbrella is also a sign of humility, for in lowering it we lower ourselves; we experience our frailty, unprotected from the elements. Humility is the key to unlocking greater blessings, for if we do not lower the umbrella of our pride and close the umbrella of illusory self-sufficiency we will miss the miracle and glory of greater blessings.
Consider a mere physical fact: October 13, 1917 was a dreary, rainy day. Photos of the nearly 70,000 who gathered in Cova da Iria at Fatima show an abundance of umbrellas, testifying to the poor weather. At the critical moment, just before the miracle of the sun, when the rosary beads were finished, Lucia said, “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” The miracle of the Sun was about to happen, but in order to see it, the people had to come out from under their umbrellas. They had to submit themselves to the rain and take up the momentary sacrifice, in order to dispose themselves to see the miracle.
Now humbly uncovered and having made the sacrifice they could see what the Lord would show. Here is an account of that day:
As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve like the most magnificent fire wheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multicolored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees. … The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible. … Then the light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands … people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited.
Thus we see that the people had to close their umbrella in order to see the miracle of the sun. This is a kind of paradigm for the whole spiritual life. If we are to see glory and experience graces it is often necessary to accept sacrifices and hardships and to humble ourselves by setting aside our self-designed protections. As long as we insist on hunkering down within our own enclosed world, we are turned inward and downward. Self-reliance too easily replaces faith and trust. We cling to our comforts rather than to the cross, which is our true ladder to glory and the key to Heaven’s gate.
What does it mean for you to close your umbrella? You will have to discern, with God, and see what it means. Perhaps it means discovering what things you are unreasonably relying on. Perhaps it means accepting some discomfort for the salvation of souls. Perhaps it means taking up a sacrificial practice such as voluntary abstinence, fasting, or additional prayers. Perhaps it is accepting a cross you already endure, but with less grumbling and complaining. Perhaps it means being willing to endure heat of other’s anger beating down upon you or the scorn of others raining down upon you as you speak up for what is true.
As an additional hint to help you discern, recall that Our Lady asked for the daily rosary. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”
In the end, we close our umbrella not only for our own sake, but also for the conversion of sinners. Find out what it means to close your umbrella.