Some persons have been surprised by the Holy Father’s repeated mention of the devil in his sermons. Fashionable preachers in the past few decades have tended to avoid mentioning the evil one. But it ought not to be surprising at all in one formed in the order of St Ignatius of Loyala.
The Holy Father’s sermons are very Ignatian. I am by no means an expert in Ignatian spirituality, but I have done (abbreviated versions) of the Spiritual exercises a few times, and the Ignatian character of the Holy Father’s preaching struck me right away. St Ignatius’s tremendously efficient, methodical, martial method of training the spirit was evident in the very structure of Pope Francis’s first sermon with its three simple points (“puncta”) like an Ignatian meditation. But more importantly its theme was thoroughly Ignatian; an appeal to embrace the Cross without compromise.
Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, S.J., once said, in a retreat he gave in Heiligenkreuz, that one can summarize the famous Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises with the simple question Do I really believe in God? If I really believe in God, that He exists, and holds me in existence, that He has redeemed me by the blood of His Son, and wills to give me a share in His own infinite goodness– then it makes sense to be perfectly indifferent to all other things. As long as I hold on to my “own” I am a slave of sin. In John 8, after the Judeans protest at this teaching, our Lord tells them that they are children of the devil. There is, our Lord seems to be saying, no alternative, if one does not serve God then one does not serve oneself, but becomes a slave of the Father of Lies. He who wishes to preserve his life will lose it. To turn away from the living God is not to become free, but to become enslaved– to one’s own passions, to the objects of those passions, to the things of this world, and finally to the most powerful of those things “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).
In the second week St Ignatius presents this alternative in the famous Meditation on the Two Standards. He has the exercitant imagine a huge war in which the devil on the one hand enslaves souls through pride, and our Lord on the other hand frees them through humility. This is the meditation that I thought of when I heard Pope Francis’s first sermon: “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.” To profess Christ is to humble oneself, give up one’s own will, and embrace the Cross as “the only glory.” To profess “the worldliness of the devil” is to find one’s riches not in God, but in something else, to receive one’s glory not from the Cross but from men:
I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:42-44)