In the final major address of his Latin American tour, Pope Francis met with a throng of young people Sunday, urging them to “shake things up.” He left aside his prepared speech to speak off the cuff, but he decided to leave them the text he had written for them, publishing it, as well. Comparing life to a soccer match, Francis wrote that there are two opposing teams, one coached by Jesus and the other by the devil; each person must decide which team to play for.
Drawing on an image used by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, the Pope proposed a reflection on “the two standards,” the standard of the devil and the standard of Christ. He said that in today’s terms, it would be like the soccer jerseys of two different teams, and we must choose “which team we want to play for.”
The Pope invited his young audience to imagine what it would be like to belong to one or the other team. “In this life, which team do you want to play for?” he asked.
The Pope went on to describe the strategies of the two opposing teams. The devil, he said, “in order to recruit players, promises that those who play on his side will receive riches, honor, glory, and power. They will be famous. Everyone will worship them.”
Jesus, on the other hand, “doesn’t tell us that we will be stars, celebrities, in this life. Instead, he tells us that playing with him is about humility, love, service to others. Jesus does not lie to us; He takes us seriously,” he said.
Even though the devil’s offer might sound better, the Pope cautioned, there are other factors to consider. The devil promises happiness, but he doesn’t deliver.
“In the Bible,” he said, “the devil is called the father of lies. What he promises, or better, what he makes you think, is that, if you do certain things, you will be happy. And later, when you think about it, you realize that you weren’t happy at all.”
Following the devil’s advice, Francis said, far from giving you happiness, makes you “feel more empty, even sad.”
“Friends, the devil is a con artist,” Francis said. “He makes promise after promise, but he never delivers. He’ll never really do anything he says. He doesn’t make good on his promises.”
The devil, he continued, “makes you want things which he can’t give, whether you get them or not. He makes you put your hopes in things which will never make you happy. That’s his game, his strategy. He talks a lot, he offers a lot, but he doesn’t deliver.”
The Pope said that Satan is a con artist “because everything he promises us is divisive; it is about comparing ourselves to others, about stepping over them in order to get what we want.” He added that the devil “is a con artist because he tells us that we have to abandon our friends, and never to stand by anyone. Everything is based on appearances. He makes you think that your worth depends on how much you possess.”
Jesus is very different, Francis said, and He plays by a different strategy based on honesty and truth.
Jesus “doesn’t con us, nor does He promise us the world. He doesn’t tell us that we will find happiness in wealth, power, and pride,” Francis said.
As a coach, the Pope continued, Jesus tells His players, “Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
“Why?” Francis asked. “Because Jesus doesn’t lie to us. He shows us a path which is life and truth. He is the great proof of this. His style, his way of living, is friendship, relationship with his Father. And that is what He offers us. He makes us realize that we are sons and daughters.”
Unlike the devil, Jesus “does not trick you,” he said. “Because He knows that happiness, true happiness, the happiness which can fill our hearts, is not found in designer clothing, or expensive brand-name shoes.”
Christ “knows that real happiness is found in drawing near to others, learning how to weep with those who weep, being close to those who are feeling low or in trouble, giving them a shoulder to cry on, a hug.”
The key to true happiness, Francis said, is “to join His team and play His game.”
Players on this team, he said, “bring the excitement of Jesus’ friendship to the world, wherever you find yourselves: at work, at school, on WhatsApp, Facebook, or Twitter,” not “by conning others, but by standing beside them and being patient with them. With the patience which comes from knowing that we are happy because we have a Father who is in heaven.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.