The Pope points out the devil’s strategies to tempt people

Pope Francis continued his catechesis on spiritual discernment. Today, October 5, he stressed the importance of knowing oneself so as not to be deceived by the devil.

Javier García·10 de octubre de 2022·Tiempo de lectura: 3 minutos
Papa Francisco

Photo: the Pope greets the faithful at the Oct. 5 audience. © CNS photo/Paul Haring

Original Text of the article in Spanish here

Translated by Peter Damian-Grint

Pope Francis has given his third audience on discernment, in which he puts it in relation to self-knowledge, something that involves various human faculties: memory, intellect, will, affections. The Pope points out that “we don’t know how to discern because we don’t know ourselves well enough, and so we don’t know what we really want. At the root of spiritual doubts and vocational crises there’s often an insufficient dialogue between religious life and our human, cognitive and affective dimension.”

The Pontiff quoted a text by the Jesuit Thomas Green, a specialist in spiritual accompaniment, who points out that knowing the will of God often depends on problems that are not properly spiritual, but rather psychological. The author writes: 

“I have come to the conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment (and to true growth in prayer) is not the intangible nature of God, but the fact that we do not know ourselves sufficiently, and do not even want to know ourselves for what we truly are. Almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror” (Thomas Green, The Tares Among the Wheat, Rome, 1992, p. 25).  

Self-knowledge in order to know God

“Forgetfulness of God’s presence in our lives,” the Pope continued, “goes hand in hand with ignorance about ourselves, about the characteristics of our personality and about our deepest desires. Knowing oneself isn’t difficult, but it’s tiring: it involves a patient work of interior excavation.” In order to know ourselves, we have to reflect on our feelings, our needs, and the set of unconscious conditioning we have.

The Holy Father stressed the importance of carefully distinguishing between different psychological states, because it is not the same to say “I feel” as “I am convinced”, “I feel like” or “I want”. Each of these thoughts has important nuances, and this can lead to self-knowledge or self-deception. And so people become self-limiting, to the point that “it can often happen that erroneous convictions about reality, based on past experiences, strongly influence us, limiting our freedom to take a chance on what really counts in our lives.”

Examining our conscience

If we do not know ourselves well, it makes the task of the “tempter” (as the devil has been called) easier, for he easily attacks human weakness. In the Pope’s words: 

“Temptation doesn’t necessarily suggest bad things, but often disordered things, presented with excessive importance. In this way it hypnotizes us with the attractiveness aroused in us by these things: beautiful but illusory things, which can’t keep the promises they make, leaving us in the end with a sense of emptiness and sadness.” 

Specifying some examples of things that can mislead, he pointed to goals that are praiseworthy—such as an academic degree, a professional career, personal relationships—but which can cloud our expectations, especially as barometers of personal worth. “From this misunderstanding,” he went on, “often come the greatest sufferings, because none of these things can be the guarantee of our dignity.”

The devil uses “persuasive words to manipulate us”, but we can recognize this if we go to our “examination of conscience: that is, the good habit of calmly rereading what happens in our day, learning to notice—from our evaluations and our choices—what we give more importance to, what we’re looking for and why, and what we’ve found in the end. Above all, learning to recognize what satisfies the heart. Because only the Lord can give us confirmation of our worth. He tells us every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how valuable we are in his eyes. No obstacle or failure can prevent his tender embrace.”

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