Overcome temptations by arming yourself with God's Word
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Addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on the first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis reflected on Sunday's Gospel from St. Mark, which recounts Jesus’ being driven into the desert to do battle with the Evil One.
“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him” (1:12-13).
With these words, the Pope said, the evangelist describes “the trial Jesus voluntarily faced before beginning his messianic mission”, a trial “from which Lord emerged victorious and which prepares him to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.”
Over the course of forty days of solitude, he said, Jesus did battle with Satan in “hand-to-hand combat”. The Son of God “unmasked his temptations and conquered him. And in Him we all have conquered.”
But Pope Francis told the faithful that it is up to us to protect and safeguard this victory. Lent is therefore a time “decisively to place ourselves once again on the road of Jesus, the road that leads to life.”
How does a Christian living in the world enter into this spiritual combat? By withdrawing from the unneeded noise and by watching over one's mind and heart, where the devil seeks to drown out the voice of God, the Pope said.
“The desert is the place where one can listen to God’s voice and the voice of the tempter. One cannot do this amid noise and confusion, where we only hear superficial voices. Instead, in the desert we can descend into the depths, where our destiny — life or death — is truly at play.”
How do hear God’s voice, Pope Francis asked? By listening to his Word in the Scriptures, he said. In fact, he added, it is only in listening to God's Word that we may hope to win the spiritual battle, “since otherwise we do not know how to respond to the attacks of the Evil One.”
Pope Francis therefore reminded the faithful to read the Scriptures every day, even for 10 minutes, and again encouraged them always to carry a pocket-sized Gospel.
“Always have the Gospel in hand,” he said. “The Lenten desert helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to “idols”. It helps us to make courageous choices in accord with the Gospel and to strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”
The Pope told the faithful that Lent, if lived well, is a time that allows us to “become increasingly more aware of how much the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, has worked and can work in us.” He therefore encouraged the faithful to enter into Lent with hearts set on the Easter Vigil, and to renewing the covenant God made with them in baptism.
The Pope concluded his angelus address by invoking the intercession of the Holy Virgin, whom he called the “model of docility to the Holy Spirit”. He prayed that she might help us “to allow ourselves to be led by Him who wants to make each of us a ‘new creature’”.
This afternoon, Pope Francis travels to Arriccia near the summer papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, where from February 22-27 he and members of the Roman Curia will spend the first week of Lent on retreat. He therefore also commended the week-long spiritual exercises to the Holy Virgin, asking her that “in the desert of retreat”, she might help him and his collaborators to “hear the voice of Jesus”, to “correct their many shortcomings” and “to face the temptations that attack [them] each day”. He also asked the faithful to pray for him.
After delivering his angelus address, Pope Francis greeted the various groups present in the square. He then told that faithful that he had a gift for them: a pocket-sized book entitled, Custodisci il cuore [“Watch over your heart”].
He told them: “This little book is a collection of some of Jesus’ teaching and the essential contents of our faith, for example: the seven Sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ten commandments, the virtues, and the works of mercy.”
Copies of the book were distributed to pilgrims by a group of volunteers, including a number of homeless people who the Pope explained had “come on pilgrimage” to St. Peter’s Square.
“As always,” he said, “here in the square today, those who are in need are the very ones who bring us great wealth —the wealth of our doctrine in order to watch over our hearts.”
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia's English edition.