Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis and the Devil: Pope Reminds Us The Devil is Real and We are Called to Spiritual Warfare

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We are living in a new missionary age. Pope Francis is reminding us for good reason that the devil is real. The Evil One hates Jesus Christ and hates all who bear His name and continue His redemptive mission by living their lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. The Christian Way of Life transformed Christianity from being a small sect into becoming the major dominating faith of the age. It transformed the world of the First Millennium and the Second. It can and it will do the same in the Third Millennium. However, we must not forget that we have an adversary. Thank God we have a courageous Pope who continues to remind us of that fact.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On Friday morning at the Chapel in St Martha's House, Francis, the Bishop of Rome and successor of the Apostle Peter, did what every priest throughout the world does daily, he presided at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There, during the Liturgy of the Word - his task was the task of every priest or deacon called on to preach - to break open the word proclaimed by the lectors and the cleric assigned to read the Gospel.

That Gospel was taken from Luke: When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said: "By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons." Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges.

But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says, 'I shall return to my home from which I came.' But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that man is worse than the first
. (Luke 11:15-26)

This was one of the Gospel texts which clearly reveal the undeniable claim of the Church that the devil is not only real, but is our enemy. So, what did Pope Francis preach about on Friday morning? He preached on that Gospel text, not around it. He made it clear, the devil is real and that Jesus Christ truly confronted him. He also made it clear that you and I, all who bear the name Christian in this hour, face demonic opposition as well. Then, he reminded us that we have been equipped for the battle and we must be prepared to engage in it! This man who took the name Francis did what his namesake, the little poor man of Assisi, did quite regularly - he called all who listened to his words to take the task of spiritual warfare seriously and to learn how to engage in it effectively.

To the chagrin of some who think all this talk of the devil is silly or outdated, but to the great dismay of the demons of hell itself, Pope Francis spoke of the devil - again. He called those at daily Mass, and all of us who read his sermon, to take the Bible passages that mention the devil seriously. He spoke directly about the fact that spiritual warfare is part of the Christian life and missio. Weall  need to hear his message!

In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a brilliant work exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around all of us which uses a series of letters between two demons -  the older Screwtape, an instructor and the younger student Wormwood - the great apologist CS Lewis wrote:  There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

We are truly engaged in a spiritual war for the souls of men and women in this hour. We face very real personal opposition from the devil in our own lives and all around us. We must always remember that the struggle we are facing is at root a spiritual one.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood; but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (Eph. 6:12,13) He also wrote these words to the Christians in Corinth: "For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:4,5) 

The successor of Peter, Francis, is speaking to you and me in this moment. Let's consider now what he had to say:

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

This invitation to not downplay, minimize or confuse the FACT of the existence of the devil is refreshing! Pope Francis challenged all of us to not be na´ve when we are faced with the temptation to "to diminish the power of the Lord." He proclaimed, "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". Sadly, that temptation has made its way into too many homilies. Even worse, it has made its way into our daily lives as Christians. We often behave like the materialist to which CS Lewis referred.  

As is his custom, the Holy Father broke his homily, as he breaks most of his instructions, into three parts. Notice, it seems to be his pattern of preaching? So - Trinitarian. He gave us three ways in which we all can fight the evil one as he manifests his perfidious plans in our own lives and in our own age. We must recognize the truth of his existence,recognize our allies in the battle, and recognize the ongoing nature of the struggle so we are ready. here are more of his words:

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."

"Vigilance, 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!"

The passage Francis referred to in his homily, comparing the devil to a roaring lion, is found in the first letter which the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Church. The Christians had already been dispersed due to a violent and hostile persecution against them. That persecution was led by some in that culture who did not like their message or their manner of life. Here is a snippet from the letter: Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

The struggle in which we are engaged as Christians today once again concerns a clash of worldviews, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of human freedom and flourishing.It concerns the nature of marriage, the structure of our realtionships with one another, the very definition and obligations of love itself! Christians (at least orthodox, faithful ones) are often presented as unenlightened, forcing our view on others. Our positions on the dignity of every human life, marriage, family, authentic freedom and the nature of truth as objective, is what actually frees people from the bondage of disordered appetites and the emptiness they always bring about in peoples lives.

These truths are objectively true for all men and women. In this age of relativsim, there are a growing number of folks who do not like us even making such a claim. Yet, the truth is still true. We were made for relationship. We were structured for authentic love and human flourishing within marriage and a society founded upon family. We were created by God, in His Image, and we will never find authentic happiness or human flourishing until we embrace His loving plan.

The early Church, like the Church today, was sent into cultures filled with people who thought they were extremely advanced in light of the arts and sciences of their day and did not need to change their way of life. Yet, these cultures practiced primitive forms of abortion and even exposure, a practice of leaving unwanted children on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey or picked up by slave traders. To them, freedom was rooted in a notion of power over others and the right to do as they chose.
 
One has only to read the ancient Christian manuscripts such as the ancient Letter to Diognetus, the accounts of Justin Martyr or many other early Christian sources to read of cultures much like the one in which we live today. These were, like the contemporary west, cultures of use where people were treated as property - cultures of excess where freedom was perceived as a power over others and unrestrained license masqueraded as liberty, leading many to what the Apostle Paul often called the slavery of sin. (See, Romans 6:16; Gal. 5: 1)

Our contemporary culture is neo-pagan. Many of the gods and goddesses of the old pagan regimes promoted lives of selfish excess, homosexual practices, and hedonism masquerading as freedom. The myths they told concerning them had these gods acting in much the same way. The arguments have been reintroduced today, only the myths, tributes and statues are different. This is the breeding ground for all kinds of demonic activity. Spiritual warfare is very real. The Pope is reminding us all of this reality for good reason.

The early Christians did not point the finger and rail against the pagans of their age when they sought to effect the conversion of those cultures. They did not present a negative message. They proclaimed the freedom found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen and demonstrated it in their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age, offering a new way to live. This "way" (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different worldview.

With joy and integrity, the early Christians, spoke and lived a different way in the midst of that pagan culture. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. In fact, they stirred up the demons of hell itself. Some of the early Christians were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called white martyrdom, by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.

However, slowly, not only were small numbers of people converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The clash of freedoms continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, active homosexual practice, exposure and abortion began to change dramatically and this dynamic continued for centuries.

It was Christianity which proclaimed in word and lifestyle such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with integrity. The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor or the shifting sands of public opinion.

It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other. Their faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients, such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power?

Christian philosophy began to flourish and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview. Now, we are called to transform our own cultures from within once again. We are to be leaven, light, salt and the soul of the world as the early Christians taught. However, we do need to remember that the task we face is first, at root, a spiritual struggle that will first be won in prayer, stepped into a new Christian missionary movement by the compelling witness of a vibrant, orthodox, faithful Christianity that is culturally engaging, relevant and compelling to the age.

We are living in a new missionary age. Pope Francis is reminding us for good reason that the devil is real. The Evil One hates Jesus Christ and hates all who bear His name and continue His redemptive mission by living their lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. The Christian Way of Life transformed Christianity from being a small sect into becoming the major dominating faith of the age. It transformed the world of the First Millennium and the Second. It can and it will do the same in the Third Millennium. However, we must not forget that we have an adversary. Thank God we have a courageous Pope who continues to remind us of that fact.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)