Second thoughts are wisest, except in matters of conscience, as Newman said, and, as a tautology, for first impressions. So here are the wisest thoughts I can muster on having learned of this man, Francis, only a few hours ago.
I believe holiness can sometimes be seen as obvious in someone’s face — I had never heard of Maximilian Kolbe, for instance, but saw his image once in a diocesan newspaper and immediately knew that this was a holy man. People will see this in different ways. “I fell in love with him as soon as I looked at his face,” an unchurched relative just wrote to me. To my Jewish brother-in-law he was immediately “impressive, very genuine and sincere.”
So I believe that Francis will be an “obvious” model of holiness, and that is something very rare. Last time I visited the hilltop town in Tuscany that was the home of what we must now call “the other Francis,” I observed the crowds representing the millions who come to that village each year and realized that the reason they travel there is that a thousand years ago one holy man lived there.
For me, today’s Francis represents normalcy and calm. I like that he is not a sportsman and seems to have a pot-belly. It is good that he is not young but oldish — from among those gents in our society who are generally despised but should have wisdom and be respected. He is foursquare. He studied hard and became a scholar. He did not come out of the crucible of World War II, and Nazism and Communism. He is not a lone witness from a crumbling culture.
The world may end; disasters and catastrophes may befall us; crises, defaults, and insolvencies may await. Before Francis, I was unsettled and expected all that. Now, with Francis, I realize that these things may happen, of course, but I see no need to think about them. Francis represents, for me, in this first impression, the reliability of the ancient ways, the solidity of God’s path, and the assurance that we should persevere in what we always thought we should.
— Michael Pakaluk is professor and chairman of philosophy at Ave Maria University.