(Vatican Radio) Christians must always guard against the deceit of the devil, said Pope Francis at Friday’s morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta. The Pope underlined that Christians cannot follow the victory of Jesus over evil “halfway”, nor confuse or relativize truth in the battle against the devil.
Jesus casts out demons, and then someone offers explanations “to diminish the power of the Lord,” he said. The Pope focused his homily on the day’s Gospel and immediately underlined that there is always the temptation to want to diminish the figure of Jesus, as if he were “a healer at most” and so as not to take him “so seriously”. It is an attitude, he observed, that has “reached our present day”.
“There are some priests who, when they read this Gospel passage, this and others, say: ‘But, Jesus healed a person with a mental illness’. They do not read this, no? It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: ‘All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill’. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil.”
For this reason, he warned, “we should not be naïve”. The Pope observed that the Lord gave us certain criteria to “discern” the presence of evil and to follow “the Christian way when there are temptations”. One of the criteria is “not to follow the victory of Jesus” only “halfway”.
“Either you are with me, says the Lord, or you are against me,” the Pope said. Jesus, he added, came to destroy the devil, “to give us the freedom” from “the enslavement the devil has over us”. And, he cautioned, this is not “exaggerating”.
“On this point,” he said, “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,” exhorted the Pope, “on guard against deceit, against the seduction of evil”.
“And we can ask ourselves the question: Do I guard myself, my heart, my feelings, my thoughts? Do I guard the treasure of grace? Do I guard the presence of the Holy Spirit in me? Or do I let go, feeling secure, believing that all is going well? But 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! Three criteria! Do not confuse the truth. Jesus fights the devil: first criterion. Second criterion: he who is not with Jesus is against Jesus. There are no attitudes in the middle. Third criterion: vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever. It will only be so on the last day.”
When the impure spirit leaves man, the Pope pointed out, “it wanders in deserted places, and seeking rest and finding none, says: ‘I will return to my house, from which I left’.”
And when he finds it “swept clean and adorned”, then he goes, “takes another seven spirits worse than he, who come and make their homes”. And, this way, “the last state of man becomes worse than the first”.
“Vigilance,” he said, “because his strategy is this: ‘You became Christian. Advance in your faith. I will leave you. I will leave you tranquil. But then when you are used to not being so watchful and you feel secure, I will come back’. The Gospel today begins with the devil being cast out and ends with the devil coming back! St. Peter would say: ‘It is like a fierce lion that circles us’. It is like that. ‘But, Father, you a little ancient. You are frightening us with these things…’ No, not me! It is the Gospel! And these are not lies: it is the Word of the Lord!
“Let us ask the Lord for the grace to take these things seriously. He came to fight for our salvation. He won against the devil! Please, let us not do business with the devil! He seeks to return home, to take possession of us… Do not relativize; be vigilant! And always with Jesus!”