Pope Francis is regarded by some as a theological “liberal”, yet I understand he has spoken out publicly about the devil, something not often done by “liberals”. What has he said?
POPE Francis, who by the way is not a theological “liberal”, has spoken numerous times about the devil.
The day after his election he said, “When one does not profess Jesus Christ – I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – ‘Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil’.”
The following day he said, “Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day.”
Pope Francis is indeed the eternal optimist, constantly inviting the Church to live out the joy that Christ wants us to have: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (cf. John 15:11).
But he knows that whereas Christ wants us to be happy, and we will be happy when we are close to God – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) – the devil wants to take us away from God and he tempts us to sadness, to pessimism.
Then in his homily for Palm Sunday, referring to problems that can appear insurmountable, the Pope said: “In this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him.”
Perhaps the most significant reference to the devil in his pontificate thus far came on July 5, 2013, when he consecrated the Vatican City State to St Michael the Archangel.
He was joined by his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, for the ceremony in the Vatican gardens, where he blessed a statue of St Michael the Archangel.
In his address he said: “Michael – which means ‘Who is like God’ – is the champion of the primacy of God, of his transcendence and power. Michael struggles to restore divine justice and defends the People of God from his enemies, above all from the enemy par excellence, the devil.
“And St Michael wins because in him there is the God who acts. This sculpture reminds us then that evil is overcome, the accuser is unmasked, his head crushed, because salvation was accomplished once and for all in the blood of Christ.
“Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is his victory and his salvation that is offered to all men.
“We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life; we are accompanied and supported by the angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome so many dangers, in order to fly high compared to those realities that can weigh down our lives or drag us down.
“In consecrating Vatican City State to St Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him.”
Then in the homily in his morning Mass on October 11, Pope Francis again referred to the devil. On that occasion, apart from the words I quoted in my last column, he said: “Jesus came to destroy the devil, to give us the freedom from the enslavement the devil has over us. And this is not exaggerating. On this point, there are no nuances.
“There is a battle and a battle where salvation is at play, eternal salvation; eternal salvation of us all. There is criteria for watchfulness. We must always be on guard, on guard against deceit, against the seduction of evil.”
Pope Francis called on the faithful to guard their hearts, feelings, graces and the presence of the Holy Spirit and not to “let go, feeling secure, believing that all is going well”.
He added that “if you do not guard yourself, he who is stronger than you will come. But if someone stronger comes and overcomes, he takes away the weapons in which one trusted, and he shall divide the spoil. Vigilance.”
So it is clear that Pope Francis regards the devil as a real enemy both of the Church and of individual souls. His appeal to watchfulness echoes that of St Peter:
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We do well to heed this advice.
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