Four Years Later: Reflections on an Unprecedented Pontificate


On March 13, 2013, I sat in my office and watched my screen as a new pope — a man whom I had never seen before that moment — walked out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. I had never heard of him. I did not even know his name. Like most Catholics, I had approached the papal conclave with a sense of hopeful anticipation. But the feeling that came over me when I saw the man the cardinals had elected was shockingly forceful. It was a feeling of icy cold dread. As I looked at him, standing there, staring out at the crowd, I heard seven words distinctly in my mind, unbidden: “This man is no friend of Tradition.”

(..)

There was something in his face. In the way he stared down at the gathered crowd. There was something…wrong about his eyes. What I saw — what I thought I saw — was something other, looking out through that unreadable mask. Something triumphant, haughty, contemptuous, leering out at long last from atop the pinnacle of a long and hard-fought battle. It was incredibly strange.

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When I look back at the photo of that moment, I can see that there was no discernible expression on his face. What I saw was, I think, not so much something physical but more of a spiritual insight. It struck me, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, as a preternatural experience. I was so unnerved, I had to fight down a wave of nausea.

I alluded to these things months later, when I first began, after trying very hard to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, to write about why his papacy was already full of warning signs. I was derided by some at the time, as though this were just some fantasy I had conjured up (for what reason I would do such a thing, I couldn’t hope to explain.) But I have since heard from countless others who had the same, bizarre, unexpected initial reaction. From that first moment, even though I tried hard to shove impressions aside and let reason prevail, I knew, as did so many other Catholics in what I have come to think of as a signal grace. A warning from God: this would be a papacy of terrible consequence.

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