Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the Devil, reminding his (Western) listeners that the Devil is real, that evil is personified and at times has a source beyond us. He spoke about this most recently last week during his daily homily, commenting on the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians:
Brothers and sisters:
Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm
against the tactics of the Devil.
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens.
Therefore, put on the armor of God,
that you may be able to resist on the evil day
and, having done everything, to hold your ground.
So stand fast with your loins girded in truth,
clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,
and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace.
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield,
to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.
And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God. (Eph 6:10-17)
Here are two snippets from the Pope’s homily, courtesy of Vatican Radio:
From whom do I have to defend myself? What must I do? Pauls tells us to put on God’s full armour, meaning that God acts as a defence, helping us to resist Satan’s temptations. Is this clear? No spiritual life, no Christian life is possible without resisting temptations, without putting on God’s armour which gives us strength and protects us.
But in this generation, like so many others, people have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him. Paul tells us this, it’s not me saying it! The Word of God is telling us this. But we’re not all convinced of this. And then Paul describes God’s armour and which are the different types that make up this great armour of God. And he says: ‘So stand your ground, with truth a belt around your waist.’ The truth is God’s armour.
There is a cartoon about this topic in the great Calvin & Hobbes series that I really like, though it can be read as supporting the Pope’s argument that people believe the “devil is a myth, a figure, an idea”.
(Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Copyright 1992 by Universal Press Syndicate)
However, I prefer to think of this as a pointed reminder that the Devil can only act in the world through us: he has no power except lies and illusion, the power to tempt us into turning away from God. Since we are a fallen people, we often and unwittingly serve as his agents, though the Devil himself has never directly acted against us. I suspect that he takes diabolical delight (if you will pardon this turn of phrase) in watching us do his dirty work.
In the NCR report on this homily there is a typo that I think inadvertently captures the Pope’s message and points to the ultimate remedy to our sinful state:
Is that clear? You cannot think of a spiritual life, a Christian life,” [the Pope] said, “without resisting temptation, without fighting against the devil, without putting on this amour of God, who gives us strength and defends us.”
“Amour”, the French for love. God’s love is God’s armor: even more than his truth, his love is what protects us and leads us to life. So today, pray for the grace to flee the devil and all his (human) works, and embrace the love of the living God. Strive to share this love with all his people, with all his creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Rm 8:21)