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Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 27 December 2023



The following text includes parts that were not read out loud, but should be considered as such.  

Cycle of Catechesis. Vices and Virtues. 1. Introduction: safeguarding the heart

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today I would like to introduce a series of catecheses on the theme of vices and virtues. And we can start right from the beginning of the Bible, where the Book of Genesis, through the account of the progenitors, presents the dynamic of evil and temptation. Let us consider the earthly Paradise. In the idyllic picture represented by the garden of Eden, a character appears that will be the symbol of temptation: the serpent, this character that seduces. The snake is an insidious animal: it moves slowly, slithering along the ground, and sometimes you do not even notice its presence — it is silent — because it manages to camouflage itself well in its environment, and above all, this is dangerous.

When it begins to converse with Adam and Eve, it shows that it is also a refined dialectician. It begins as one does with wicked gossip, with a malicious question. He says, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’” (Gen 3:1). The phrase is false: in reality, God offered man and woman all the fruits of the garden, apart from those of a specific tree: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This prohibition is not intended to forbid mankind from the use of reason, as is sometimes misinterpreted, but is a measure of wisdom. As if to say: recognize your limit, do not feel you are the master of everything, because pride is the beginning of all evil. And so, the story tells us that God establishes the progenitors as lords and guardians of creation, but wants to preserve them from the presumption of omnipotence, of making themselves masters of good and evil, which is a temptation — a bad temptation, even now. This is the most dangerous pitfall for the human heart.

As we know, Adam and Eve do not manage to resist the temptation of the serpent. The idea of a God who is not so good, who wanted to keep them in submission, insinuated itself into their minds: hence the collapse of everything.

With these accounts, the Bible explains to us that evil does not begin in man [and woman] in a clamorous way, when an act is already manifest, but that evil begins much earlier, when one begins to engage with it, to nurse it in the imagination, in thoughts, and ends up being ensnared by its enticements. The murder of Abel did not begin with a thrown stone, but with the grudge that Cain wickedly held, turning it into a monster within himself. In this case too, God’s warnings are worthless.

Dear brothers and sisters, one must never dialogue with the devil. Never! You should never enter into conversation [with him]. Jesus never dialogued with the devil. He cast him out. And during his temptation in the wilderness, he did not respond with dialogue. He simply replied with the words of Holy Scripture, with the Word of God. Be careful: the devil is a seducer. Never dialogue with him, because he is smarter than all of us and he will make us pay for it. When temptation arises, never dialogue. Close the door, close the window, close your heart. And in this way, we defend ourselves against this seduction, because the devil is astute. He is intelligent. He tried to tempt Jesus with quotes from the Bible, presenting himself as a great theologian. Be careful! One must not converse with the devil, and we must not entertain ourselves with temptation. There is no dialogue. Temptation comes: we close the door. We keep watch over our heart.

We have to be the custodians of our hearts. And that is why we do not converse with the devil. This is the recommendation — guard the heart — that we find in various fathers, in the saints. And we must ask for this grace of learning to keep watch over the heart. Knowing how to guard our heart is a form of wisdom. May the Lord help us in this work. Those who keep watch over their heart, guard a treasure. Brothers and sisters, let us learn to guard the heart.


Special Greetings

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially the groups from Malta, Hong Kong and Korea. May each of you, and your families, cherish the joy of this Christmas season, and draw near in prayer to the Saviour who has come to dwell among us. God bless you!

Lastly, my thoughts turn to young people, to the sick, to newlyweds and to the elderly. May the Child of Bethlehem give his light to all of you, so that your daily actions in the New Year may be inspired by the Gospel.

And please, let us not forget to pray for all those who suffer from the terrible consequences of violence and war. Let us pray especially for martyred Ukraine and for the people of Palestine and Israel. War is evil. Let us pray for an end to wars.

I offer my blessing to all of you!


Summary of the Holy Father's words

Dear brothers and sisters: Today we begin a series of catecheses on the virtues and the vices opposed to them. The very first pages of the Bible present us with the drama of original goodness, temptation and sin. The Tempter, in the form of a serpent, is subtle, instilling doubt about God’s wisdom and intentions, and playing on our ambition and pride. Just as love is its own reward, so evil is its own punishment; only after sinning do we truly appreciate the wrong we have done. The Scriptures and the masters of the spiritual life urge us to recognize and reject evil at its root, to be alert to the wiles of the devil, and above all, to keep watch over our hearts, lest the first stirrings of sin threaten our closeness to the Lord and our obedience to his loving plan for our lives.

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