Among the phrases that captured people’s attention during the Pope’s visit to Mexico was a phrase ad-libbed during his homily in Ecatepec. Lifting his gaze from the text in front of him, lifting his right hand to his forehead, Pope Francis exclaimed “let’s get this in our heads, you cannot dialogue with the devil.”
We know Pope Francis has a tendency to speak about the devil and the traps he sets for us. But this time the Holy Father was highlighting two “devils”: the supernatural fallen angel, and specific forces at work in the world and in a special way in Mexico.
“What are these forces? What is this devil?” The pope lays it out clearly:
There are three temptations of Christ… three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be; three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.
First, wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for “my own people”. That is, taking “bread” based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives. That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. That is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.
The second temptation, vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who “are not like me”. The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the “reputation” of others.
“Making firewood from a felled tree” gradually gives way to the third temptation, the worst. It is that of pride, or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of “mere mortals”, and yet being one who prays every day: “I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others…”.”
What does this have to do Mexico? What does this have to do with us?
The Pope was speaking to a country with a Gross Domestic Product of 1.283 trillion dollars, but a per capita GDP of $14,000. Almost half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line even though more than half of the country has a paying job. Many of those who find themselves unable to afford basic needs are employed. The Mexican organization Accion Ciudadana Frente a la Pobreza (Citizen Action Against Poverty) told the Wall Street Journal the price of foods that are considered part of Mexican’s “basic basket” grew more than the rate of inflation.
Money is being made, somewhere, but huge chunks of the population are not seeing it.
Faced with this reality people turn to other ways to make ends meet. Enter Ecatepec’s high crime rate and the nation’s drug cartels.
While this is an extremely simple overview of the situation, the pope certainly know to whom he was speaking and what situation they find themselves in. Most importantly, he grasped the very basic, very powerful temptations that can worm their way into people’s minds and hearts when faced with a system that simply does not seem to reward the honest, hardworking, well intentioned citizen.
Pope Francis also provides tools with which to combat these temptations, to avoid dialogue with devil:
“It is worth asking ourselves:
To what degree are we aware of these temptations in our lives, in our very selves?
How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?
To what point do we feel that caring about others, our concern and work for bread, for the good name and dignity of others, are wellsprings of happiness and hope?”
This examination of conscience before the three great temptations listed above, is also a wonderful examination for everyone who calls themselves a Jesus-follower.
I find it an especially poignant examination for those of us who are aware that we live comfortably today because someone before us had to make difficult decisions in order escape a cycle of corruption, oppression, and poverty.
This week there has been a lot of talk about walls and the nature and quantity of the walls surrounding the Vatican. Here is a great description of Vatican City’s walls from Michael O’Loughlin at Crux.
Having lived and worked in Rome for several years to cover the Vatican, I can personally vouch for the fact that the Vatican’s walls aren’t as much of an obstacle as some would like to make them seem. As a lowly student intern I was able to make my way into Vatican City to visit the pharmacy by showing my press badge and having a quick chat with a Swiss Guard.
Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:
Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.