Pope Francis and the Devil, The Anchor, May 24, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting into the Deep
May 24, 2013

Pope Francis was elected in order to bring about the reform of the Church. As we’ve described in previous columns, however, he is not limiting himself to fixing what needs to be fixed in the Vatican curia, but seeking to repair the Church by addressing the deeper issues that have led to the problems in the Vatican and elsewhere.

To reform means to bring back into shape. The call to reform presupposes that there has been a deformation. It begs the question of what caused the Church to get out of shape.

During his conclave-changing intervention four days before being elected, Cardinal Bergoglio identified that the chief sickness ailing the Church is a spiritual worldliness brought about by ecclesiastical egotism.

“The evils that over the course of time happen in ecclesial institutions,” he said, “have their root in a self-reference and a sort of theological narcissism. …  When the Church is self-referent without realizing it, she … gives way to that very great evil which is spiritual worldliness (which … is the worst evil that can come upon the Church).”

But how do those in the Church become self-referential instead of pointing to God? How do we become spiritually mundane, setting our hearts and minds on the things of this world rather than the things of God?

Pope Francis has been talking about that — quite a bit — but most have not yet caught on to what he’s doing. The chief cause of the corruption of the Church, the root of the deformation that has led to the need for reform, he has been saying, is through succumbing to the temptations of the devil.

Many have noted that Pope Francis speaks about the devil almost every other homily, but most have been responding to what he’s been saying with indifference or curiosity, not seriousness. We live in a world in which most regard the devil as a medieval superstition, a beast in red leotards carrying a pitchfork, and relegate him to the same existential category as tooth fairies and centaurs. Even within the Church, most bishops, pastors, theologians and catechists minimize the devil and seldom mention him, even though Jesus battled him, exorcised him, and taught us all to pray to the Father to be delivered from him.

Pope Francis, however, has been mentioning the devil since the beginning of his pontificate because he knows he’s not a myth and wants to help the rest of us recognize the presence of the serpentine saboteur.

During his first homily, when he returned to the Sistine Chapel the day after his election to celebrate the traditional Mass with his cardinal electors, he talked with somewhat shocking forthrightness about the evil one.

“Anyone who doesn’t pray to the Lord prays to the devil,” he said, quoting Leon Bloy. “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”

As I was translating the Holy Father’s words about the devil for the live EWTN broadcast, I turned to my colleagues Raymond Arroyo, Fr. Gerald Murray and Bob Royal and raised my eyebrows. They all looked at me with the same surprise.

We either pray, live, walk, build and profess the light of Christ, Pope Francis was saying, or we live, pray, and proclaim the darkness and emptiness of the spiritual worldliness brought about by the evil one.

One of the chief problems facing the Church today is that most Catholics ignore the devil. If the TSA were as negligent with regard to terrorists as most of us are to the father of evil, we wouldn’t have any airplanes left.

In the book length dialogue “On Heaven and Earth,” published in Spanish in 2010 and recently released in English, Cardinal Bergoglio said, “I believe that the devil exists” and “his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he doesn’t exist. … His fruits are always destruction: division, hate and slander.”

Pope Francis talked about that destruction — and what our response needs to be to it — in a daily Mass homily on May 4.

“The origin of hatred is this: we are saved and the prince of this world, who does not want us to be saved, hates us and gives rise to the persecution that from the earliest times of Jesus continues until today.  One must react to the devil as did Jesus, who replied with the word of God. With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue; … one can only respond with the word of God that defends us.”

The response to the devil is not merely a verbal rejoinder quoting chapter and verse, but living by the Word of God — all of it, including those parts to which we’re most vulnerable in allowing the devil to persuade us not to follow.

This is something that Jorge Bergoglio has been trying to do, and help others try to do, throughout his priesthood.

As a Jesuit, he has made St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises every year and has helped so many others make them. One of the principle parts of these retreat meditations is to ponder — one day at midnight, dawn, daily Mass and Vespers — whether the retreatant is truly living under Christ’s standard or Lucifer’s. The whole purpose of Ignatian spirituality is to help discern between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the “mortal enemy of our human nature,” so that we might follow assuredly the Spirit of God.

Now as Pope, that’s what Francis is trying to help the whole Church to do. He’s seeking to help us discern what God is asking of us and how the devil is tempting us. He’s striving to lead us to march under Christ’s banner — through poverty of spirit, disdain for worldly honor, and humility — against the seductions of the devil, who wants to tempt us toward his standard by the lure of riches, honor and pride, and through these, to draw us on to all other vices.

Many have succumbed, including those who are supposed to be carrying Christ’s flag. And just like retreat masters work to bring those making the spiritual exercises toward conversion, so Pope Francis, as the spiritual director for the Church universal, is try to lead of us all on the same reform.

Pope Francis’ waking us up to the presence and work of the devil in the Church today is something each of us must ponder and act upon.

On the day of our baptism, and in so many renewals over the years, each of us has renounced Satan, his evil works and his empty promises as a precondition for living by faith in God. But many times those baptismal vows have just been said as a chorus of half-hearted “I dos,” rather than pronounced with the seriousness with which loving spouses say and mean every word of their marital vows.

Pope Francis wants to assist us truly to renounce Satan and all his seductions, to refuse to dialogue with him and accept his lies, and to reject his call to live spiritually for ourselves instead of for God and others.

The devil who never sleeps — the one whom Jesus himself battled and called a “murderer from the beginning,” a “liar and the father of lies” and “the prince of this world” —  will doing all he can to get you to ignore what Pope Francis has been saying and dismiss this column, so that he can continue his work of deformation.

But now’s the time for us to discern under which standard we’ve really been living and, like Pope Francis, choose Christ anew and completely.