Preaching at daily Mass today in the chapel of la Casa Santa Marta on Luke 11:15-26, the Holy Father said several things that struck me:
There are some priests who, when they read this Gospel passage, this and others, say: "But, Jesus healed a person with a mental illness." They do not read this, no? It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: "All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill." No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devilHe went on to preach about the necessity of committing ourselves to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Quoting the Lord Himself, Pope Francis said, "Either you are with me, says the Lord, or you are against me." According to the Vatican Radio summary of the Pope's homily, he then added "Jesus came to destroy the devil" and, quoting the Holy Father directly, "to give us the freedom" from "the enslavement the devil has over us." The Pope insisted that this is not an exaggeration, "On this point there are no nuances. There is a battle and a battle where salvation is at play, eternal salvation."
Pope Francis then urged those listening and, by extension, us, to ask ourselves, "Do I guard the presence of the Holy Spirit in me?" He warned that "if you do not guard yourself, he who is stronger than you will come. But if someone stronger comes and overcomes, he takes away the weapons in which one trusted, and he shall divide the spoil." We must be vigilant, he added before giving three criteria: "Do not confuse the truth. Jesus fights the devil: first criterion. Second criterion: he who is not with Jesus is against Jesus. There are no attitudes in the middle. Third criterion: vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever. It will only be so on the last day."
The bottom line here, it seems to me, is that if you think all of this is trite nonsense and superstition, you are deceived. Another aspect of the Holy Father's homily I like is that he throws down the gauntlet as to whether we believe the Bible to truly be God's inspired word, in which "the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength," welcoming "it not as a human word, 'but as what it really is, the word of God'" (Catechism, par. 104). If the Bible is the "word of God," then we are not free to contradict the inspired text, especially on points about which the inspired author is very clear. Arrogance, presumption, and intellectual vanity are not fruits of the Spirit.
And so dear friends, on this day of penance, let's recommit ourselves to following Jesus with our whole heart and invoke the aid of St. Michael the Archangel, whom we implore to "defend us in battle and to "be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil."
Let us heed the words of the apostle: "For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete" (2 Cor. 10:3-6). This can only be done through prayer, fasting, and selfless works of mercy. I urge you to do all three today.
In light of this, I can really think of no other Friday traditio than Jars of Clay singing the hymn "God be Merciful," even though I have used it before: