ROME – Many years ago, I was having a conversation on the phone with a friend who was also an archbishop. We were differing over a political question and the discussion had become somewhat heated. It was rather fun, actually, to know that I could stand toe-to-toe with a high-ranking prelate and not back down. He enjoyed a good fight too, so a splendid time was had by all.
After we had wound down, we moved on to other topics and he asked me how things were going. We got onto sports, and I mentioned that I was going to watch a fencing match later that day. He asked, and I said that, yes, I had been very into fencing when I was younger, for several years. At that point, my friend burst out laughing and said, “Why does that not surprise me?” I said I had no idea.
Today I was thinking about it, and remembered that in fencing, one of the most important moves you learn is the In Quartata, to take whatever part of your body is the target and move it out of your opponent’s range at the same moment he is attacking. You have to learn to do this very quickly without “telegraphing” the move, without giving any sort of physical warning sign of what you are about to do. And you have to time it for the precise moment when your opponent is in the process of moving his body forward to attack so that when he expects to connect, the target is unexpectedly not there. This throws your opponent off balance, messes up his timing and plans, and gives you a chance to riposte and reposition the fight.
These kinds of moves take years to learn and have to be done in milliseconds. Sometimes when you are just watching a fight from the sidelines between two very skilled and experienced fencers, you can entirely miss what has happened because it is so fast and the movements are so tiny. Even to watch a fencing match, to be able to understand what is happening, takes some experience with the sport. What looks to outsiders like a sudden burst of confusing, lightning-fast movement, is actually a carefully laid plan of attack and counter-attack, where each opponent is thinking six moves ahead. You can’t blink.
On an entirely unrelated note, on the burning questions surrounding Pope Benedict’s decision, I think in the last few days, those with the faith and some knowledge of what is actually happening in the world have come to the right conclusions.
I don't imagine that Benedict or anyone else expects us to ignore the open secret that there are strong forces within the Walls as well as without opposed to him and to Christ. He has certainly told us about it quite bluntly many times. There isn’t a conspiracy here. To be a conspiracy a plot has to be secret and the enemies of The Real, “the wolves” and the purveyors of “filth,” have certainly not held back in recent years.
But just applying logically what we already know about the situation both in the Church and the world, will tell us the reasons for Benedict’s decision. Yesterday, our Managing Editor, Steve Jalsevac, wrote that his timing is significant, at the moment when the chaos in the world and within the Church are coalescing into some very dark and ominous clouds on the horizon. I have read more comments than I can count from people all over the world, both personally by email and in many other forums, saying they feel that we are moving into a very difficult period. I don’t think anyone sensible will dispute this now.
It is also been obviously true that his strength has been flagging for some time, but his mind and will are as strong as ever. His discussion, off the cuff, of the theological and ecclesiological impact of the Second Vatican Council with the parish priests of Rome yesterday was clear evidence that there is nothing wrong with his mind.
So I think those are essentially correct who have written that Benedict has stepped aside in order that the Church might be led by a strong man capable of meeting these threats, both from within and without. And his unexpected, lightning-fast move has certainly thrown the enemy off balance.
There are many signs that he has made the decision as a deliberate act of his own, without coercion, and for the right kinds of reasons. I also do not rule out the possibility that he has had some kind of personal spiritual revelation about what he must do. The papacy is one of those places where the concrete realities of the world meet the even more unyielding Real of the supernatural. But if this is so, it will be up to Benedict himself to decide to reveal it.
Though he had given hints in the past, the indisputable fact that absolutely everyone in the Vatican machinery was shocked beyond words at the announcement makes clear that this is his own act, that he has not been in any way coerced. Which is actually a great weight off my mind.
I suppose I was worried, in the first few days, that he had been under some external compulsion, and for a time was genuinely filled with dread and foreboding. Such a thing would have been unthinkable, a true defeat. Since then, however, I've come to understand better and to trust that he is doing this from true freedom and deliberation, which means that the right person is still in control: him.
Whatever is coming, though, we at least are not going to be wholly unprepared. We’ve been doing this work now for about 20 years and in that time have had the chance to learn at least the general parameters of what is happening. It is clear that we have not been wasting our time, since what we know, we have tried to pass along to you all. We can say that we have tried to warn the world. And whatever “it” is that’s coming next, it will not be a bolt out of the blue, but a development or an escalation of what we already know. I am confident that we have read the signs of the times correctly.
Which is good. I've recently really come to hate surprises.
For your enjoyment, watch this cool slow-mo fencing match.