Why is Pope Francis so simple, so genuine, so evidently filled with the love of Christ? Part of the answer may be… because God filled him with His love.
Part of the answer may lie in what seems to have been a sort of mystical experience which occurred to Francis on September 21, 1953, when he was 17 years old. We found out about this experience only today, in an official Vatican press release. But is has been almost entirely overlooked by the Vatican press corps.
One of the central claims of the Catholic faith is not only that God exists, that He is real, but also that He can communicate with human beings, that human beings can be “pierced” by the actual sense of the divine presence, can experience and be aware of this real presence, can — as the very first verse of the old Baltimore Catechism taught — “know” God, then “love and serve Him.” Today in Rome, the Vatican released a statement about the new Pope’s coat-of-arms. But hidden in the statement was something that few knew up until now: that there was a mystical experience at the origin of this Pope’s religious life. That this Pope, at the age of 17, while deep in prayer, was touched by God. That this Pope, at the age of 17, was filled with the Spirit of God, in a very special way, and given the grace to begin a life of total commitment to God, which has ended up bringing his to the throne of St. Peter, which he will receive in tomorrow morning’s Mass of installation. We know that many young people (all young people?) pass through a period of time when they seek with great intensity to know their place in this world — to hear their calling, to find their true vocation. And now we know that Pope Francis passed through this process of discernment, too. The homily of the Venerable Bede on the calling of St. Matthew “is a tribute to the divine mercy and is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St. Matthew,” the Vatican told us today in a press release. This homily “has a particular meaning in life and the spiritual journey of the Pope,” the Vatican said.
“In fact,” the Vatican continued, “on the Feast of St. Matthew [September 21] in the year 1953, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced at the age of 17 years, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. 'Following a confession, he felt his heart touched and sensed the descent of the mercy of God, who with a look of tender love, called him to the religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.'”
In these few, spare words, we are told of an experience which transformed the life of young Jorge. He felt his heart “touched” and he “sensed” the “descent of the mercy of God.” He felt, “in a very special way,” the “loving presence of God in his life.” He felt, we are told, as if God were gazing upon him, “with a look of tender love.” These are all the elements of a personal experience of Christ.