Pope Francis, during an address on Wednesday that he packed with references to spiritual warfare, urged Christians to combat the devil and all the forces of evil.
In his weekly Wednesday Audience, the pope reminded the thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square that the Christian sacrament of baptism includes an important prayer of exorcism because accepting Jesus requires a renunciation of the devil and his works.
“The gospel bears within it the strength to transform those who receive it with faith, wresting them from the dominion of the Evil One to learn to serve the Lord with joy and newness of life,” he said.
Since ancient times, the rite of baptism entails anointing with oil and prayer for deliverance from the power of Satan, Francis said, and these gestures “assure those who are preparing to be born again as children of God that the prayer of the church assists them in the fight against evil, accompanies them on the way of good, and helps them to escape from the power of sin to pass into the kingdom of divine grace.”
The path of the adult catechumens preparing for baptism “is marked by repeated exorcisms pronounced by the priest,” Francis said, “that is, prayers that call for liberation from all that separates from Christ and prevents intimate union with him.”
As he has done on other occasions, the pope avoided more figurative interpretations of Satan, insisting that the devil is real and not just an imaginary figure.
“As the Gospels attest, Jesus himself battled and cast out demons to reveal the arrival of God’s Kingdom,” he said. “His victory over the power of the evil one leaves free space for the lordship of God who rejoices and reconciles with life.”
Baptism “is not a magic formula,” the pope said, “but a gift from the Holy Spirit that empowers those who receive it ‘to fight against the spirit of evil,’ believing that ‘God sent his Son into the world to destroy the power of Satan and to transfer man from darkness into his Kingdom of light.’”
More than just a social ritual of welcome into the Christian community, baptism prepares us for spiritual warfare against the powers of evil, the pope said.
“We know from experience that the Christian life is always prone to temptation, especially to the temptation to separate from God, from his will, from communion with him, to fall back into the webs of worldly seductions,” he said. “And baptism prepares and strengthens us for this daily struggle, including the fight against the devil who—as St. Peter says—like a lion, tries to devour and destroy us.”
The anointing on the chest with the oil of the catechumens serves a similar function, Francis said, giving vigor “to renounce the devil and sin.”
Just as ancient wrestlers used oil to tone their muscles, which allowed them to more easily escape the grip of their opponents, Christians in the first centuries would anoint the bodies of candidates for baptism with blessed oil, signifying the fight against evil, he said.
“It is hard to fight against evil, to escape from its deceits, to take strength again after an exhausting struggle,” Francis said, “but we must know that all Christian life is a combat.”
Yet, fortified by the risen Lord, “who defeated the Prince of this world,” we can confidently repeat with Saint Paul, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me,” he said.
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