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How to rout the demon's strategy

· The Pope's Mass at Santa Marta ·

The following is a synthesis of the homily Pope Francis delivered this morning, 11 October, during the Holy Mass he celebrated in the Chapel of Santa Marta.

This morning Pope Francis commented on St. Luke's account of Jesus casting out demons (Lk 11:15-26). He noted that the evangelist also records the reactions of those who were standing by perplexed, and who accuse Jesus of magic, or at most acknowledge him to be only a  healer of those who suffer from epilepsy. The Pope noted that today, too, “there are priests who, upon reading this passage and other similar Gospel passages, say: 'Jesus healed a person from a psychological  illness'”. Of course, “it is true that in those times it was possible to confuse epilepsy with demonic possession,” he acknowledged, “however it is also true that the devil existed. And we do not have the right to oversimplify things” by getting rid of them as if we were dealing with one who is psychologically ill and not with someone who is possessed. Jesus, he said, came to destroy the work of the devil in order to free us from his slavery.

Returning to the Gospel, the Pope noted that Jesus offers us several criteria to help us understand the devil's presence and respond to it. The first criteria the gospel passage offers“is that we cannot obtain the victory of Jesus over evil and the devil by halves”. To explain, the Holy Father cited St Luke's account of Jesus' words: “he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters”. He added that we cannot continued to believe it is an exaggeration to say: “either you are with Jesus or against  Jesus”. “On this point,” he said, “there is no shadow of a doubt. A battle exists, a battle in which the eternal salvation of us all is at stake”. And there are not alternatives, he said, even if at times we hear about “pastoral proposals” that seem more accommodating. “No! Either you are with Jesus,or you are against him” the Bishop of Rome repeated. “This is how it is, and this is one of the criteria”.

A final guide is watchfulness. “We must always be vigilant against the deception and seduction of the evil one,” the Pontiff exhorted. Again citing the Gospel, he said: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace”. “We can ask ourselves: Do I keep watch over myself? Do I guard my heart? My feelings? My thoughts? Do I guard the treasure of grace? Do I protect the Holy Spirit's presence within me? If we do not protect it”, he continued, citing the Gospel, “one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted, and divides his spoil”.

These, then, are the criteria for responding to the challenges posed by the devil's presence in the world: the assurance that “Jesus battles against the devil”; “he who is not with Jesus is against Jesus”; and “watchfulness”. We need to keep in mind, Pope Francis added, that “the demon is shrewd: he is never cast out forever, that will only be so on the last day”. Because “when the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says: 'I will return to my house from which I came'. And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil that himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first”.

“His strategy is this,” Pope Francis warned, “you become a Christian, go forward in your faith, and I will leave you alone; I will leave you in peace. But then, once you have grown accustomed to it and you are not so vigilant and you feel secure, I will return”. He added; “today's Gospel begins with the demon being cast out and ends with the demon coming back. St Peter said he is like a roaring lion prowling around us”. And this is not a lie, he said: “it is the Word of the Lord”.

“Please, let's not do business with the devil,” he said. “The devil's presence is on the first page of the Bible and it also ends with the devil's presence, with God's victory over the devil”. He warned that demons are always returning with their temptations, and added that “we shouldn't be naive”.

“Let us ask the Lord,” he concluded in prayer, “for the grace to take these things seriously. He came to battle for our salvation, he has conquered the devil”.

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