Pope Francis’s Preaching on Avoiding Satan

This is the second of our two Sundays (Saturday evenings included) of First Communions here at St. Peter’s. I would like to welcome the family members and friends of this week’s first communicants, and encourage the whole parish to rejoice that these children are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time.

This can be an occasion for every one of us to become reacquainted with the marvelous truth that when the Mass is celebrated, the bread and wine cease to be what they were and begin to be what they were not. The appearances remain, but the substance changes. In other words, at the level of being, the substance of the bread and wine is changed into something else, namely, the Body and Blood of Christ. This is transubstantiation. And our loving God allows us to consume him!

This is the first Sunday of the beautiful month of May, which by custom is especially dedicated to the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem May Magnificat suggests the growth that springtime brings is reason enough to honor the one who sheltered Jesus until his birth. The poet says: “Spring’s universal bliss / Much, had much to say / To offering Mary May.”  I hope you will use this month as a time to renew your devotion to Our Lady, who loves you with a mother’s love.

It has been a few weeks since I last wrote about Pope Francis. We will learn a great deal from him during his pontificate about love for the poor, about love for God, and about what it means to be members of the Church. I have noted that many people in the media seem to be using Pope Francis as the proverbial blank canvas onto which they can project their image of what the Catholic Church should be. Time will tell. What time does bring (even after only seven weeks) are the actual words of the man who is now the Bishop of Rome. And those words have included some concepts that are unfamiliar to many people.

Religious commentators have noted the relative frequency with which Pope Francis refers to the devil. The Holy Father preaches in a style that is disarmingly direct. I want to give you a few examples. On Palm Sunday (March 24) he said:

And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And 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! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders.

 In his April 17 General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said:

As St. John says in his First Letter, he is our Advocate: How beautiful it is to hear this! When someone is summoned by the judge or is involved in legal proceedings, the first thing he does is to seek a lawyer to defend him. We have One who always defends us, who defends us from the snares of devil, who defends us from ourselves and from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate; let us not be afraid to turn to him to ask forgiveness, to ask for a blessing, to ask for mercy! He always pardons us, he is our Advocate: he always defends us! Don’t forget this!

On Wednesday of this week (April 30), the Holy Father celebrated Mass with those in the Vatican who administer the properties owned by the Holy See so that those properties will provide an income to help run the Vatican. This office could be considered among the more worldly enterprises at the Vatican, but the treasures and historic buildings that it seeks to preserve were given by the people for spiritual purposes. Pope Francis made it clear that Christ will accomplish far more than what people can do to safeguard the Church:

He is the only One who can look into the face of evil and overcome it. If we do not want the prince of this world to take the Church into his hands, we must entrust it to the One who can defeat the prince of this world. …

Entrusting the Church to the Lord is a prayer that makes the Church grow. It is also an act of faith. We can do nothing, we are poor servants—all of us—of the Church. It is He who keeps her going and holds her and makes her grow, makes her holy, defends and protects her from the prince of this world and what he wants the Church to become, in short more and more worldly. This is the greatest danger!”

He goes on to say that if the Church grows worldly, she cannot transmit the Gospel message.

It’s fascinating to learn how often our new Holy Father mentions the Evil One, who does, after all, wish us harm. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on the last words of the Lord’s Prayer (“…but deliver us from evil”): “In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (CCC 2851). We must always run to the Lord Jesus!


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