Omens and portents and signs! OH MY!

I’ve gotten a couple score emails today already about the fact that there was a minor earthquake centered near Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict is now resting.  It must mean something, right?!?

Hey! Earthquakes happen around Rome. Always have, and always will until the Lord returns.

I am not one to chase after portents and omens and the like.

And yet… we can consider for a minutes the case of Benedict XVI.  Let’s some some of this out of our systems.

Benedict took his papal name from St. Benedict of Nursia. Some time ago I wrote about the Raven at Pope Benedict’s “inaugural Mass”. Portentous, but… Hey! Birds happen!  Sometimes they even fly around.

On the day Benedict announces his resignation, the Dome of St. Peter’s is struck by lightning. Hey! Lightning happens, especially when St. Peter’s is the tallest structure around.

Another score or so people – or mayhaps the same score or so – have asked me about the St. Malachy list “prophecy”.  Scary, right? I wrote about that HERE, trying to head it off before things got strange. Hey! Strange happens. And if you can really understand all those cryptic phrases, good for you.  Write a book.

Then there is the architectural omen at St. Paul’s outside-the-walls. Around the interior of the basilica there are round, mosaic portraits of all the popes. Some say there is room for only one more after Benedict. Ooooo.  The idea was that the last spot marks the last Pope… eh-vurrr. Hey! I think there are more slots available. It’s a big basilica. And, so they run out of room. So?

Something that does make me think a little, however, has to do with the Third Secret of Fatima, the last part of which was revealed just a few years ago (or at least the part of the last part… but I digress). Sr. Lucy’s vision, as released, read (as sent to me lately by lots of people):

After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ [It could be a reference to the Pauline image of seeing through a glass, “darkly”.  Some might be tempted to think of an image on a television screen or monitor.] a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. [Benedict is now just a “bishop dressed in white”.] Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, [Granting that it was the 2nd Sunday of Lent and the Gospel was the Transfiguration, in his final Angelus address Pope Benedict said” “I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation.”] at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins [The papal gardens at Castel Gandolfo contain Roman ruins from the time of Diocletain.] and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; […]

Maybe this will whip some of you into a fever, but I find this a little more interesting than the mosaics and the lightning and the cryptic phrases.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised were another part of the third secret locked away that explains the vision.  That would be consistent with the pattern: visions followed by explanations.  But Card. Ratzinger himself gave an explanation of it when it was released.  In the absence of another, contrary explanation, from someone high up than the contemporary Prefect of the CDF, I guess we have to just calm down.

Look.   We can multiply imagined omens and portents and get worked up about them.

The only thing that is truly important is being prepared for your own judgment in the hic et nunc… the here and now.


  • Go to confession
  • Do penance
  • Perform works of mercy
  • Pray
  • Love God and neighbor
  • Use sacramentals prudently and often
  • Receive the Sacraments properly

If you do these things, there is nothing to fear, whether the next Pope is the last or not.

Now we have considered these things and we calm down.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI, Global Killer Asteroid Questions, GO TO CONFESSION, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. The Cobbler says:


    And speaking of lightning and guessing who the next Pope will be (my apologies if this has been posted here somewhere already):

  2. Stumbler but trying says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for once again setting us straight on the path to holiness. As we all know, too much clamor and scandal reporting and speculation can swallow us up and thus we forget our daily duty. I will do my best.
    I hope to, with great affection, remember what our beloved Benedict XVI told us all before he went into retirement, “To keep our eyes on Jesus Christ.” Not his exact words, but as I understand them.

  3. mamajen says:

    Amen! There is absolutely no point to the speculation, and it was made pretty clear in the Bible that we are not to know when “the end” will happen. I almost wonder if these “omens” that seem to fit with various prophecies are something of a test to see how well we resist the temptation to figure everything out ahead of time. Either that or they are a warning that we are not doing enough (praying, penance, etc.) to prevent the terrible predictions from coming true–Pope Benedict said that the third secret is NOT a definitive view of the future, and that the future could change with prayer. The end of the world is something that has terrified me since I was young. I prefer not to think about it and hope I don’t live to witness it. But of course, I will do my best to be prepared.

  4. mrsmontoya says:

    Thank you as ever Father. I just don’t have the energy to engage in speculation, I have too much reality on my personal plate. Should I find myself with enough energy and interest to speculate I will certainly first use it in extra prayer and contemplation! I do find the Third Secret passage more interesting than the natural phenomenon that are going on, especially the image of the Bishop in White praying for the walking dead he passes by.

  5. inexcels says:

    It has always seemed to me that there’s something distinctly un-Catholic about fevered speculation into visions and prophecies. Catholicism is a fundamentally rational religion. These things are distinctly irrational. It’s not religious so much as superstitious. It doubly offends me since I make my living in the sciences.

    I favor Father Z’s advice here: Worry about our own states in the here and now. Take care of that and everything else falls into place.

  6. Jeannie_C says:

    In December 2011, a neighbour stood, inspecting my newly decorated Christmas tree, commenting I should enjoy the season as it would be our last – he believed the so-called Mayan prophecy. At the time I suggested he choose whom he would serve and worship, as for our family, we put our faith in Jesus’ teachings.

    December 2012 arrived, Hubby and I survived a serious car accident, the Mayan date of doom arrived and passed. And now this. Mamajen summed up perfectly how we are responding in our home, and she is right – this is an opportunity to reevaluate our faithfulness, do we follow the media and fear mongers or do we place our trust in Christ? Temptation or strengthening?

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s 1950 essay, “Hustoricism”, in which he distinguishes “a Historicist” from “any man who claims to know the meaning of all history or of some particular historical event by divine revelation” (or by “inspiration”, as he varies the characterization). Of the latter, he says, “His claim (with supporting evidence in the way of sanctity and miracles) would not be for me to judge.” Among his examples of the former (together with Hegel), is: “When a village woman says that her wicked father-in-law’s paralytic stroke is ‘a judgement on him’ she is a Historicist.” In considering this level or “form” further, he says, “if any man thinks that because God was pleased to reveal certain calamities as ‘judgements’ to certain chosen persons, he is therefore entitled to generalize and read all calamities in the same way, I submit that this is a non sequitur.” And he later notes, “Caveas disputare de occultis Dei judiciis, says the author of the Imitation. He even advises us what antidotes to use quando haec suggerit inimicus.”

    With respect to “extraordinary experiences”, including “ecstasies and visions”, I am reminded of Donald Attwater’s remarks with respect to St. Gemma Galgani: “it has been pointed out authoritatively that she was recommended for canonization solely because of the holiness of her life, and that no official jusgement was made (or ever is in such cases) about the nature and cause of her experiences.”

    Tangentially, Taylor Marshall noted that the Pope Emeritus is reading something by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his rest: does anyone know what? Might it be Das betrachtende Gebet (1959)?

  8. NBW says:


  9. Supertradmum says:

    I have been surrounded by superstitious and protestantized Catholics who indulge in this sort of private revelation nonsense and I am sick of it. I have tried to address it personally and on my blog.

    It is doing damage to the souls of those who engage in it. The type of curiosity is twisting their minds and souls. The reasons for such includes laziness to really learn the teachings of the Catholic Church and neo-Gnosticism. So many of these people think they are special if they have inside knowledge. They think everything written by saints or mystics is infallible. Some even ignore the guidelines and condemnation of the CDF regarding specific people.

    But, do they read the CCC or study Scripture from a Catholic point of view? No.

    This sort of thinking is rampant in England, Ireland, and Malta. I have tried to steer people away from it, as some are becoming dangerously close to being more holy than the Church and more Roman than Rome. Protestants think this way-they think they have special knowledge. Gnostics believe they are on the inside and the rest of us are on the outside of spiritual “truths”.

    Instead of being obedient, humble sons and daughters of the Church, so many of these people lack humility and self-awareness. I have found this sort of thinking in Walsingham, in Folkestone, in Croydon, in Tunbridge Well, in Dublin, in County Meath, in Malta, wherever there are those who prefer private revelations and false prophecies to the glorious teachings of the Church.

    Thank you, Father Z and pray I have patience explaining again and again the reality of Truth, rather than the mythology of error.

  10. Giuseppe says:

    If running out of room for papal commemoration in a famed church is an omen of the church falling, then the church should have collapsed in the late 1100s, as the busts around the nave of the Siena Duomo start at Peter and end at Lucius III (or so I am told – my eyesight reall is terrible, and all of those popes look alike from the ground).

    Having said that, I am of the mindset that the world will come close to ending in the next 20 years or so. Nothing apocryphal or biblical, although it seems like a not unreasonable time (2000 years after Christ’s crucifixion). I am convinced that there is nothing one can do to prevent Muslim extremists from detonating nuclear weapons, and once that happens, there will be World War III, and much of North America, Europe, and the Middle East will be a wasteland. Parts of South America, Africa, and Australia will probably survive, but since I have no plans to go to the Southern Hemisphere, from my perspective as a Northern Hemispheric, my (and my loved ones’) world will end.

    Again, no religious prophesies, no Biblical misattributions,no heresies in my prediction, but it is my take on the world as it is and will be.

  11. mamajen says:


    “I am convinced that there is nothing one can do to prevent Muslim extremists from detonating nuclear weapons…”

    One can always pray! Muslim extremists are not beyond God’s control.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    Giuseppe, and we can step out of our door and get hit by a bus and die.

    We just need to be in the state of grace and with Rome, not in some bubble world of either denial or goofy imaginings. It is better to live fully in the Present Moment, as we have been taught by many saints.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    excuse all the typos..have a serious eye infection and have trouble seeing out of one eye….OOO, is that an omen?

  14. Mike says:

    I agree that over-heated interest in this stuff leads to bad places, not least of which is anxiety, which, according to St. Francis de Sales, after sin, is the worst enemy of our interior life.

    There is a “however”, however.

    One of these days there will be signs in the heavens, and yup, the end will come. As the first day was the day without yesterday, so the last day will be without a tomorrow.

  15. BLB Oregon says:

    Fr Z is absolutely right. We do not have to fear because we are on a “need to know” basis with regards to the future. There is no reason to worry about the end days, except to remember always that the preparation for our particular judgement and for the Final judgment are the same work.

    Sometimes, though, I think these “portents” are permitted to catch our attention in order to help those of us who perhaps need a reminder to stay awake, and to keep our lamps supplied with oil. But that is only an opinion.

    Besides, which of us in our right spiritual mind, if given the option to have a regretful self-centered life, but with the sure opportunity of a full last-minute pardon, or else to be given the grace to spend much more of our lives doing the will of God, even if we would surely need regular absolution, would not choose the latter, in order to live every possible moment in the Lord?

  16. lizaanne says:

    Interesting that my husband and I were just talking about this on the way to Mass this morning. The conclusion that we came to is — what does it all really matter in the end anyway? Everyone is going to die at some point. It really doesn’t matter when it happens, or what the circumstances are. All that matters is that we are in a state of grace so when it does happen, we have no worries.

    All the rest is just a distraction.

    Stay holy – die trying – get as many souls to heaven as possible in the process. Really, nothing else (here anyway) really matters.

    I have a little framed card on a shelf in my home office that reads: Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end. And for a Catholic, it’s really sums it up quite nicely.

  17. MissingMyChurch says:

    Hi folks,
    I’m a long time lurker here, but I rarely if ever post. I know this is off topic, but traditional Catholics of North Carolina just got a very good portent today. (Sorry for the awkward segue, but I had to try!) During the homily at Fr. Parkerson’s monthly Tridentine Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, we were informed that the diocese is considering forming a personal parish in the area for the regular celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

    Would you please pray for us here in Raleigh, that the diocese indeed decides to open this new parish? I know Bishop Burbidge has supported the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, but it seems that those who love the EF are often swimming upstream, so please, give us a little push!


  18. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Fr. Z, I had the same reaction when I was reminded of the precise text of the Third Fatima Secret! Yes, Cardinal Ratinzger did offer an explanation, but has head of CDF, he was involved with evaluating Akita, and has been involved with other apparitions (purported and otherwise). So it is possible that 1) he has information that has not been publicly released (either concerning Fatima, and/or other sources), and/or 2) he has gained new inspiration since having become Pope.

    There was a general, if vague, sense of foreboding about the immediate future when the abdication was first announced, ‘that something dark this way comes.’ He did not have to continue to wear white, or to phrase his Transfiguration sermon as he did, or to keep a papal title. My fear is that IF the Pope Emeritus sensed a looming danger in relation to prophecy, that he has taken it upon himself to bear the brunt of that danger, and perhaps have the prophecy fulfilled on him, so as to spare his successor from harm! The Pope Emeritus seems such a brave and selfless man! And as to my fear, I hope I am 100% wrong!

  19. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “I think there are more slots available.” There is. But, my son has a wall poster of the popes, and there’s only one slot left there. Do do do do, do do do do.

  20. Johnny Domer says:

    One of the reasons I’ve never been able to develop much of a deep devotion to Fatima is because of how people use the subject as another forum to argue. Anytime I see an article about Fatima, I’ll find people arguing whether Russia was sufficiently consecrated to the Immaculate Heart, whether John Paul and Benedict were lying about what the Third Secret was, and blah blah blah blah blah…I don’t need any of that in my life. If something is PRIVATE revelation, where I do not HAVE to even believe in it, all I want to derive from it is edification, spiritual insight, etc. By definition, as an act of private revelation, there is nothing that Mary could have said at Fatima that should change my understanding of how I should live my life. Divine Revelation, the Magisterium, and the constant teaching of the saints are sufficient for me to know the importance of prayer, penance, the Sacraments, etc. If Fatima encourages me to do more, then that’s great. If it serves as an occasion for people to have long, angry comment threads on traddy blogs (other than this one; this has been a very calm comment thread, I’d say), then it’s not worth worrying about.

    I think the list of suggestions Fr. Z gives at the end is the best response anyone can have to thinking about Fatima.

  21. Geoffrey says:

    I do not believe in all these superstitious omens and what-not. At the same time, I cannot help but ask “what if…?” Some of these things just seem too coincidental. But perhaps it’s merely God saying something like “Well, if they freaked out with the lightening, let’s see what they think of an earthquake or two!”

    I do know that at the moment the gates closed at Castel Gandolfo and the See became vacant, I got a chill out of nowhere and a sudden sense of dread. I pray it was just something I ate…

  22. Maltese says:

    In Ireland they drive on the left side of the road. While there, I heard of a tourist getting hit by a bus crossing the street because they looked in the wrong direction for traffic.

    I myself almost crashed navigating one of the millions of roundabouts they have in Ireland! The point being, THE END OF THE WORLD cometh for all of us, even fanny-pack wearing, Go Raiders T-shirt wearing Americans pub-hopping in Dublin!

  23. LarryW2LJ says:

    When the Almighty Father decides that our world’s number is up, there’s nothing we can do about it, anyway. So worrying about it and trying to speculate over it is fruitless. Fr. Z gives tbe best and sagest advice:

    ?Go to confession
    ?Do penance
    ?Perform works of mercy
    ?Love God and neighbor
    ?Use sacramentals prudently and often
    ?Receive the Sacraments properly

    And to quote Doris Day, “What will be, will be.”

  24. Kathleen10 says:

    Well. I’m fascinated. On the one hand, we are called to be sensible, rational people, who put our trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Logic and reason brings us to our Catholic faith, and Catholics are often at least a bit averse to “emotion” or “hysteria”. But I’m not afraid to say I find all of this just spiritually exciting and intriguing! We are obviously at a very, very unique time in Catholic history, no doubt about that. IMHO, there is no way Pope Benedict would abdicate the Papacy without good reason. Health may indeed be the primary factor, but that does not seem “adequate” reason for his abdication. Whatever his reasons are, my bet is they are somehow for the absolute good of the Church and God’s people. I trust it. But that only adds to the mystery.
    Signs and portents…I watch for them, and am not in the least afraid to say that. Being spiritually awake and alert, I believe God does use signs, and if He does, I want to be paying attention to them.
    When Pope Benedict was elected, I was home watching it on tv. When the bells began to ring announcing the election, I was filled with what I can only describe as a “holy joy”! Being more accustomed to pragmatics than emotion, I was somewhat caught off guard by this, but as I was filled with a happiness that seemed pure joy, and I laughed out loud, being alone in my home, it was another sign to me that God uses what He uses, and we ought to remain open to signs that may indicate what is to come. God communicates to His people, in prayer, and in events. They need interpretation at times so we do not follow silliness, but I believe we are living in a very unique time and as has been pointed out, we should remain vigilant. Thank you, Fr. Z., for opening up this discussion.

  25. Y2Y says:

    According to the bits floating in my glass of tea, along with the shape of the clouds outside my office window, it is clear that the next pope will be a red-haired, left-handed citizen of Uzbekistan who will take the name Ubaldus I.
    This must be true, since obviously God made the clouds take the shape they have taken and has caused the floating bits of tannin in my tea to form the pattern that they have formed, and he is therefore sending a message that only I am qualified to interpret.
    (PS: the same clouds & tea leaves also told me the winners of the next three superbowls. I am willing to share that information for a fee………)

  26. Giuseppe says:

    Thanks for the Doris Day reference!
    I must admit that “Que sera, sera” is one of the best songs ever.

  27. Fr AJ says:

    I think the so called Prophecy of St. Malachy is so obviously fake it’s painful to hear when people take it seriously and try to explain the phrases after 1590. That said, I know people will freak out if they elect a Cardinal with Peter in his name such as Cardinal Peter Turkson.

  28. AnnAsher says:

    Not with fear and anxiety, but with hope and faith, let us acknowledge the signs and prepare our oil lamps.

  29. jflare says:

    I’m reminded of the hysteria that I’ve heard over the years about the “Bermuda Triangle”. After catching a short snippet on Scooby Doo one Saturday–yes, I WAS bored!–I bothered to look up the real history of this alleged phenomenon. Only one incident even came close, that of Flight 19, and even that had a pretty rational explanation: a problem-prone type of aircraft and an inexperienced pilot and navigator.

    So much for devilish “gotcha” events!

  30. Kathleen10 says:

    Before I was enlightened about St. Malachy’s prophesy I didn’t think much of Cardinal Turkson’s name being “Peter” since they always take a new name.
    I just think there is always a very mysterious and fascinating aspect to faith, thrilling and exciting really, and the fact that we mortals currently live in a physical world, while outside that physical world is a whole other world, the one we yearn for, since it contains the God we yearn for. Chasing after foolishness would be bad, even dangerous. But there are so many examples of mysterious and wonderful things! Take, for example, the sign given to Lucia of Fatima. She was told something like “when you see a strange light in the sky, know that the war is about to begin”. Years later she saw the Aurora Borealis, and within days, I believe, World War II began.
    There are other examples, but why would signs not make sense? I want to be exceedingly cautious, but definitely ready to see any signs the Good Lord may deign to send. Does He not sometimes speak to us in little ways? Why not in larger ways?

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