A central concern of the message of Fatima is the request of Mary to make atonement for the sins of the people. At the first vision, she asks the children:
Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he will send you, as atonement for the sins by which he is offended and as a request for the conversion of sinners?
The word atonement seems alien to people today, including many believers. Didn’t Christ come to take away the suffering of men? Then why should we suffer suffering for his sake? The Christian message is a message of joy that makes people free and happy.
Surely this is true. God wants people to be free and happy. But there is something that stands in the way of human freedom: sin. Through sin, man limits his freedom and becomes dependent on evil.
Jesus Christ came to take away the sins of men. He has redeemed the sin that stands between God and man, has offered himself as an atonement for sins. Isn’t that one sacrifice enough? Why does man still have to make atonement?
Whoever meets God experiences his holiness and impeccability. In relation to the purity of God, sin is not only exposed in its darkness, in its uncleanness and wickedness, but it is also repelled as what is contrary to God.
Holy God cannot tolerate sin at his side. (Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk)
With sin, however, man harms not God, but himself. God calls man into communion with himself. From the relationship with God the flow of life grows, which makes him free and happy. Whoever sins separates himself from this stream of life.
But God always wants to bring people back into fellowship with himself. He does not want to punish and judge people, but in his love he wants to enforce his holiness in the sinner.
God showed his love to the world in his Son Jesus Christ. God has shown that he is ready to give everything out of love for people. Christ went to the cross out of love for us humans. He has remained true to love and has not answered the hatred of his opponents with hatred.
Holy God is a God of love and life who does not come to terms with the unkindness and death inherent in sin. He wants the abolition of the sinner’s hostility to God in favor of a new friendship with God, the change from death to life, the transformation of the sinner into the righteous and God-loving. (Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk)
But God takes human freedom seriously. The change from sinner to righteous does not take place automatically. God wants man’s free yes to forgiveness and love. God woos man and goes after him always and everywhere. There is not a moment in life when a person cannot say yes to God, but people always have the free choice between yes or no to God.
God not only wants man to accept the offer of his love, he also wants man to participate in the salvation of sinners. The strongest weapons against sin are love and prayer. Those who fight with these weapons can not only save themselves from sin, but also save others from the power of sin.
It is difficult for us today to understand that there is a connection between people on the spiritual level as well. But perhaps some have already seen what praying for others can do. Real miracles can happen. What seemed hopeless by purely human standards happened suddenly. So prayer for a person can also help him to free himself from the clutches of sin and to find the way to a yes to God.
By demanding atonement, God lets people collaborate with his love and take part in coming to terms with sin. (Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk)
Just as God showed his love for us humans by giving his Son on the cross out of love for us, so we show love for our fellow human beings when we make atonement for them. It is an important work of atonement when we pray daily for others out of love for God and for our fellow human beings.
In Fatima, Our Lady particularly recommends praying the rosary. The prayer she revealed at the end of each sentence can help us to keep the idea of sacrifice alive:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; protect us from the fire of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.