At the General Audience on Wednesday, 14 December, Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on discernment, focusing on the moment we reach confirmation of the choice we made. There is the risk, he warned, that the evil one could ruin everything, making us go back to the beginning. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words which he shared with the faithful gathered in the Paul vi Hall.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are now entering the final phase of this journey of catechesis on discernment. We started with the example of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. We then considered the elements of discernment, namely, prayer, self-knowledge, desire and the “book of life”. We focused on desolation and consolation, which form its “matter” and then we reached the confirmation of the choice made.
I feel it is necessary, at this point, to include a reminder of an attitude that is essential in order to ensure that all the work done to discern for the best and to take the good decision is not lost, and this is the attitude of vigilance. We have done our discernment, consolation and desolation; we have chosen something … everything is going well, but now, keeping a close watch: the attitude of vigilance. Because in effect there is a risk, as we heard in the Gospel passage that was read. There is a risk, and it is that the “spoilsport”, that is, the evil one, could ruin everything, making us go back to the beginning, indeed, in an even worse condition. And this happens. This is why we must be attentive and vigilant. This is why it is indispensable to be vigilant. Therefore, today it seemed appropriate to emphasize this attitude, which we all need for the discernment process to be successful and to stay that way.
Indeed, in his preaching Jesus insists a great deal on the fact that the good disciple is vigilant. He does not slumber. He does not let himself become too self-assured when things go well, but remains alert and ready to do his duty.
For example, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (12:35-37).
Keeping watch to safeguard our heart and to understand what is happening inside it. This is the frame of mind of the Christians who await the final coming of the Lord. But it can also be understood as the normal attitude to have in the conduct of life, so that our good choices, taken at times after challenging discernment, may proceed in a persevering and consistent manner, and bear fruit.
As we were saying, if vigilance is lacking, there is a very high risk that all will be lost. It is not a danger of a psychological kind, no, but of a spiritual one, a real snare of the evil spirit. Indeed, he awaits precisely the moment in which we are too sure of ourselves. This is the danger: “But I am sure of myself, I have won, now I am fine…” — this is the moment the evil one is waiting for, when everything is going well, when things are going “swimmingly” and we have, as they say, “the wind in ours sails”. Indeed, in the short Gospel parable we heard, it says that when the unclean spirit returns to the house from where it left, it “finds it empty, swept, and put in order” (Mt 12:44). Everything is in its place, everything is in order, but where is the master of the house? He is not there. There is no one keeping watch over it and guarding it. This is the problem. The master of the house is not home, he left. He was distracted or he is at home but asleep, and therefore, it is as though he were not there. He is not vigilant, he is not alert, because he is too sure of himself and has lost the humility to safeguard his own heart. We must always safeguard our home, our heart and not be distracted and go away… because the problem is here, like the Parable said.
So, the evil spirit can take advantage of this and return to that house. The Gospel says, however, that he does not return alone, but along with “seven other spirits more evil than himself” (v. 45). A group of evil-doers, a gang of delinquents. But how is it possible, we wonder, for them to enter undisturbed? How come the master does not notice? Was he not so good at discerning and banishing them? Did he not receive compliments from his friends and neighbours for that house, so beautiful and elegant, so tidy and clean? Yes, but perhaps precisely because of this, he had fallen too much in love with the house, that is, with himself, and had stopped waiting for the Lord, waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom. Perhaps out of fear of ruining that order he no longer welcomed anyone, he did not invite the poor, the homeless, those who disturbed.... One thing is certain: here, bad pride is involved, the presumption of being right, of being good, of being in order. We often hear some say: “Yes, I was bad before, I converted and now, now my house is in order thanks to God, you can rest assured…”. When we trust too much in ourselves and not in God’s grace, then the evil one finds the door open. So, he organizes the expedition and takes possession of that house. And Jesus concludes: “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (v. 45).
But does the master not notice? No, because these are polite demons: they come in without you noticing, they knock on the door, they are polite. “No, it’s okay do come in...” and then eventually they take command of your soul. Beware of these little devils, these demons... the devil is polite, when he pretends to be a great gentleman. For he enters with ours to come out with his. We have to safeguard the house from this deception of polite demons. And spiritual worldliness takes this route, always.
Dear brothers and sisters, it seems impossible but it is so. Many times we lose, we are defeated in battles, because of this lack of vigilance. Very often, perhaps, the Lord has given many graces, and in the end, we are unable to persevere in this grace and we lose everything because we lack vigilance: we have not guarded the doors. And then we have been deceived by someone who comes along, politely, he goes in and, ‘ciao’…. The devil has these things. Anyone can also verify this by thinking back to their own personal history. It is not enough to carry out good discernment and to make a good choice. No, it is not enough: we must remain vigilant, safeguard this grace that God has given us, but keeping watch, because you can say to me: “But when I see some disorder, I realize straight away that it is the devil, that it is temptation…”. Yes, but this time he comes disguised as an angel. The devil knows how to dress up as an angel, he enters with polite words, and he convinces you, and in the end, it is worse than at the beginning…. We have to stay vigilant, keep watch over the heart. If I were to ask each one of you today, and also myself, “What is happening in your heart?”, perhaps we would not know how to say everything; we would say one or two things, but not everything. Keeping watch over the heart because vigilance is a sign of wisdom. It is above all a sign of humility because we are afraid to fall, and humility is the high road of Christian life. Thank you.
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from the United States of America and from the Australian Catholic University. I pray that each of you, and your families, may experience a blessed Advent in preparation for the coming, at Christmas, of the newborn Jesus, Son of God and Prince of Peace. God bless you!
Lastly as usual my thoughts turn to young people, to the sick, to the elderly and to newlyweds — they are many! I point all of you to the figure of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church, whose liturgical memory we celebrate today. Following the example of this great spiritual teacher, bear witness in your daily life of your acceptance of God’s will. And let us renew our closeness to the martyred people of Ukraine, persevering in prayers for our brothers and sisters who are suffering so much.
At the conclusion of the General Audience, Pope Francis calls on everyone to renew our closeness to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are suffering greatly, to help them with humanitarian aid and keep them in our hearts throughout Advent and Christmas.
Brothers and sisters, I tell you: there is much suffering in Ukraine, a very great deal! And I would like to draw some attention to this Christmas, and to parties too. It is nice to celebrate Christmas, to have parties… but let us somewhat reduce our Christmas shopping — that is what it’s called. Let us have a more humble Christmas, with presents that are more humble. Let us send what we save to the people of Ukraine who are in need and who suffer greatly. They are starving, they are cold and many die because there are no doctors or nurses at hand. Let us not forget: Christmas, yes; at peace with the Lord, yes, but with Ukrainians in our hearts. And let us do this concrete gesture for them.
As I invite everyone to intensify their spiritual preparation for Christmas, now imminent, I offer you my heartfelt blessing. And now let us pray the Our Father all together.