In his reflections for the first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis said that the devil is the “declared enemy” of Jesus, but that Jesus defeated him in “hand-to-hand combat” in the desert.
For Christians, the season of Lent leading up to Holy Week and Easter commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert prior to his public ministry, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. It is a time of prayer, penance and spiritual preparation for the highest Christian solemnities.
Sunday’s Gospel reading describes Satan’s three efforts to tempt Jesus and draw him away from his mission as redeemer of the world.
Ready to begin his mission, Jesus takes on the devil, his declared enemy, in “hand-to-hand combat,” Francis said in his Angelus message Sunday, noting that Satan “tries to leverage the title of ‘Son of God’ to keep Jesus from fulfilling his mission.”
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan repeats, trying to lure Jesus into performing spectacular miracles—turning stones into bread to satisfy his hunger and jumping off the temple and being saved by angels—rather than the harder road that has been marked off for him. In the third temptation, Satan invites Jesus to worship him in exchange for dominion over the whole world.
By means of this triple temptation, the Pope observed, “Satan wants to divert Jesus from the path of obedience and humiliation (knowing that, in this way, evil will be defeated), and take him by a false shortcut to success and glory.”
“But the poisonous arrows of the devil are all parried by Jesus with the shield of the Word of God,” Francis said, “which expresses the will of the Father.” Jesus does not speak using his own words, Francis noted, but responds “only with the Word of God.” And so the Son, full of the Holy Spirit, emerges victorious from the desert, he added.
Underscoring the power of God’s word to defeat the devil, the Pope told his hearers that all Christians should follow in Jesus’ footsteps, and engage in “the spiritual battle against evil with the power of the Word of God.”
“The Word of God has the power to defeat Satan,” Francis said. “Therefore, we must become familiar with the Bible, read it often, meditate on it, and assimilate it. The Bible contains the Word of God, which is always present and effective.”
The Pope also suggested that Christians treat the Bible “as we treat our cell phone,” carrying it around in their pocket and pulling it out from time to time to read it.
Imagine what would happen, Francis reflected, if people went back home when they forget to bring their Bible with them as they do with their cell phones. What would happen, he asked, “if we took it out to read it several times a day, if we read the messages of God contained in the Bible as we read the messages of our phones.”
If we had the Word of God always in our heart, Francis said, “no temptation could turn us away from God and no obstacle could deflect us from the path of goodness.”
Since the outset of his pontificate, Pope Francis has often made reference to Satan, insisting that he is a real person and not a myth or the mere personification of evil, and therefore he must be fought.
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