ROME — Conversion and growth in holiness are often a “painful process,” Pope Francis said Sunday, because they demand spiritual warfare.
“Conversion, changing the heart, is a process, a process that purifies us from moral encrustations,” the pope told the pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus address. “And at times it is a painful process, because there is no path of holiness without some sacrifice and without a spiritual battle.”
“Battling for good; battling so as not to fall into temptation; doing for our part what we can, to arrive at living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes,” the pontiff explained.
Spiritual growth does not happen by itself or merely by wishful thinking, he continued, but demands effort and constancy.
The way of living the Christian life “is not made up of dreams and beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, in order to open ourselves ever more to God’s will and to love for our brothers and sisters,” he said.
“But this, even the smallest concrete commitment, cannot be made without grace,” he clarified. “Conversion is a grace we must always ask for: ‘Lord, give me the grace to improve. Give me the grace to be a good Christian.’”
Spiritual warfare has been a recurring theme in Pope Francis’ seven-year pontificate.
Just last month, the told pilgrims that according to the Bible, the Christian life entails a spiritual combat against Satan.
Taking up one’s cross is “not just a matter of patiently enduring daily tribulations, but of bearing with faith and responsibility that part of toil, and that part of suffering that the struggle against evil entails,” Francis said.
“The life of Christians is always a struggle,” he added. “The Bible says that the life of Christians is a military undertaking: fighting against the evil spirit, fighting against Evil.”
In this way, the task of “taking up the cross” becomes a participation with Christ in the salvation of the world, he declared.
In the past, Francis has insisted Satan is real and not merely “a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” adding that falling into this mistake “would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”
“When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities,” he said. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour,” he added, quoting from the New Testament first letter of Peter.
Acknowledging the existence of the devil is essential, the pontiff insisted, because the spiritual warfare Christians fight is not merely “a battle against the world and a worldly mentality” or a “struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities.”
“It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil,” he said.