A new book by Crux national reporter Michael O’Loughlin, “The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revelation in 140 Characters,” examines the mission of Pope Francis through his extensive use of social media. Chapters cover topics such as gossip, sports, work, and diplomacy. The book was released Sept. 8.

In this excerpt, the author examines Pope Francis’ obsession with evil, personified by Satan, and how he warns Christians in general and Catholics in particular about evil via a succession of passionate tweets.

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As we’ve read, Francis is a thoroughly modern pope, a breath of fresh air, happily meeting people where they are and encouraging Catholics not to hunker down, but to get out there, make a mess of things. One doesn’t become the most influential world leader on Twitter by being out of touch with the modern world. But if there’s one area where this pope is decidedly old-school, it’s in the realm of how he talks about the reality of evil, often personified in the devil.

Consider this: In his two years as pope, Francis has Tweeted about the devil so often that he’s had to ascribe different names in order to keep Satan and his different forms relevant within the Twittersphere. Some of Francis’s favorite names for Satan — from his common titles to Francis’s own creative nomenclature — include:

  • Satan
  • The Demon
  • The Seducer
  • The Tempter
  • The Great Dragon
  • The Ancient Serpent
  • The Prince of This World
  • The Darkness
  • The Enemy
  • The Evil One
  • The Father of Hate
  • The Father of Lies
  • The Father of War
  • The Accuser

The Great Dragon and the Ancient Serpent may sound like Harry Potter characters, but the devil is no laughing matter for Francis. He takes the Enemy very seriously, and he preaches about it constantly. That the pope’s views on evil aren’t reported as often as his more progressive views — on women, gays, and the divorced, for example — probably says more about the narrative the media has constructed than it reflects the wide portfolio of Francis’s actual beliefs. For Francis, evil exists and Christians had better start fighting the devil off lest the world go straight to hell.

The pope bluntly expressed this belief in a June 2013 message to pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square: “It is enough to open a newspaper,” he said, “and we see that around us there is the presence of evil, the devil is at work.” Talk about “the devil” is likely to conjure images of horns and hoofs, sulfur and shrieking. But for Francis, it’s a touch more complicated. While not refusing to dismiss evil as an allegorical phenomenon, as many Western Christians are wont to do, the pope links evil and the devil to temptation as well as to personal choices and interactions. His upbringing in Latin America, coupled with his background as a Jesuit, informs his fixation on the devil. One thing is clear: Francis wants his followers to take the devil seriously.

Francis is self-aware, and he realizes that all his talk about the devil and evil can be a bit off-putting to modern sensibilities. He’s acknowledged this a couple of times. In October 2013, for instance, during a morning Mass at his residence, Francis preached on the need for Christians to protect themselves from the devil’s deceit. Anticipating the objections from those in the pews, Francis quoted his skeptics, saying, “But, Father, you are a little ancient. You are frightening us with these things.” A few months later, in April, Francis preached again about the devil, warning Christians not to give in to temptation. Again anticipating objections from the congregation, he said, “But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the twenty-first century.”

In both instances, however, Francis rejected the claims that his ideas were too dusty for such a modern time. To those gathered in God’s name in October, he said, “No, it is not me! It is the Gospel! And these are not lies, it is the word of the Lord!” he preached. In April, he issued a similar refrain: “Look, the devil is present. The devil is here, even in the twenty-first century! And we mustn’t be naive, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”

The question of evil has confounded theologians for centuries, but Francis wants to make one thing clear: evil and the devil exist. People invite evil into their hearts by giving in to temptation, often through envy and jealousy. In a January 2014 sermon during morning Mass, Francis said, “Jealousy leads to murder. Envy leads to murder. It was this door, the door of envy, through which the devil entered the world. Jealousy and envy open the doors to all evil things.”

During a talk to a group of children on the outskirts of Rome in February 2015, Francis said that allowing this kind of evil to lurk in the heart leads to lies, hate, and war. It can rip apart families. “Parents,” he told them, “suffer because their children do not speak to each other, or with the wife of a son. And so this jealousy and envy, it is sowed by the devil.” According to Francis, evil is strong, but human beings must not let it into their lives, where it spreads, capable of tearing apart communities. It’s a seemingly simple message, one suited for Twitter, but it also prompts deep reflection about our otherwise modern lives.

During an October 2014 Mass, Francis asked worshippers, “How often do wicked thoughts, wicked intentions, jealousy, envy enter in?” “So many things that enter in. But who has opened that door?” He said that, without proper precautions, the heart becomes “a piazza, where everything comes and goes.” What’s more, Christians and people of good will are especially susceptible to evil, the pope argued in May 2014, because “the devil cannot stand seeing the sanctity of a church or the sanctity of a person without trying to do something.” Evil exists, the pope believes, but works because of Christian apathy.

Francis worries that evil rips apart Christian communities, as evidenced by the Tweet he sent on September 30, but what about entire nations? In the spring of 2015 Francis found himself in a bit of hot water after a friend made public an e-mail in which the pope worried about the “Mexicanization” of his native Argentina. He explained that he meant no offense. He was simply saying that he worried Argentina’s economic troubles might lead to a rise in drug gangs, not unlike those that continue to haunt Mexico and other Latin American nations today. Francis granted an interview to a Mexican journalist from Televisa to explain. He compared “Mexicanization” with “Balkanization,” and noted that Mexico’s political leaders had accepted his apology. But, he said, the violence plaguing Mexico was a serious concern. “I think that the devil punishes Mexico with a lot of problems,” he said. More room for controversy, but Francis explained.

He noted Mexico’s rich Catholic history, including the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Mexican martyrs of the early twentieth century. He said that because Mexico had been so blessed by religious fervor, “I believe the devil is making Mexico pay, don’t you?” Some Mexican leaders were outraged, seeing in the pope’s words excuses for corrupt officials and drug lords. (Of course, his frequent condemnation of corruption and drugs eventually discounted this theory.)

So if evil can tear apart lives, families, communities, and even nations, is all lost to the devil? Of course not! Francis is a Christian, and the central motif is the triumph of good over evil, life over death. A few days after his election, Francis offered Christians some practical ways they can resist the temptation of the Father of Lies.

Like his fervent belief in evil itself, one of the pope’s solutions is also decidedly old-school. In a homily on September 29, 2014, the Feast of the Archangels, Francis reminded Christians that angels are allies in the great cosmic battle. Angels exist and they are present in order to help in our fight against evil! The devil, he said, “presents things as if they were good, but his intention is destruction. And the angels defend us!” Angels, he explained, defend Jesus and his followers. “This is why the Church honors the angels, because they are the ones who will be in the glory of God, they are in the glory of God, because they defend the great hidden mystery of God — namely, that the Word was made flesh.”

As he’s Tweeted, Christians are called to struggle against evil. “The struggle is a daily reality in Christian life,” he said, “in our hearts, in our lives, in our families, in our people, in our churches. If we do not struggle, we will be defeated.” The struggle will be won with love.

Another way for Christians to protect themselves against evil and the devil, according to Francis, is through a daily examination of conscience. This is a traditional Catholic exercise often associated with the sacrament of reconciliation or confession, and one with a deep Jesuit connection. “Who of us, at night, at the end of the day, remains by himself, by herself, and asks the question: What happened today in my heart? What happened? What things passed through my heart?” he asked those gathered for Mass at Casa Santa Marta in October 2014. “We need to guard our hearts, where the Holy Spirit dwells, so that other spirits do not enter,” he said, urging Christians “to guard the heart, as a house.”

This kind of examination of conscience is profoundly Jesuit. Ignatian spirituality prompts individuals to engage in the examen, a daily reflection on one’s thoughts and deeds, looking for the moments when God was near and when God was far. Over time, the theory goes, practitioners will be able to develop habits to ensure that they are open to God’s will and follow it closely. The inverse is also true, as Francis has repeated. A daily examination of conscience can help individuals discern envy and jealously in their lives, hopefully leading to the realization that the problem needs addressing.

Since being elected Pope, Francis has Tweeted about the devil and evil close to twenty times, and his Tweets have been favorited and re-Tweeted tens of thousands of times. When the pope Tweets about evil, he’s using a modern medium to spread an ancient belief, perhaps the best example of how Francis continues to make the old new. Though he has yet to change much about the Church’s dogma, Francis has prompted the world to look at the Catholic Church in a new light. Whether his millions of Twitter followers will be persuaded by his arguments on the devil remains an open question, but he’s certainly reinvigorated a conversation, one that’s been going on for millennia.

The pope’s Tweets about the Evil One are emblematic of all his Tweets. They’re not just ideas or theological questions for us to ponder, though they do make us think. Rather, they are calls to action, in which Francis asks his followers to do something concrete. In the case of the devil, Francis wants Christians to be vigilant against the mundane ways evil makes its way through the world. Do we do things in our own lives that make the world a bit less just, like gossiping, perhaps? Or, proactively, are there things we can do that invite goodness, rather than evil, to flourish? These are the things Francis turns our minds to and asks us to act on thereafter.

For Francis, using the ancient categories of devils, angels, and evil is never a way of diminishing human responsibility. It’s just that we must be vigilant both in our souls and in our communities to fight against those vices and actions that allow evil an entry point. In fact, the primary playing field for the devil, according to Francis, is the human heart. It’s only through a daily examination of our experiences with God and of our souls that we will be able to do the work God has called us to do: to love and serve others in a spirit of compassion and mercy. And there is nothing antiquated about that.

Excerpted from “The Tweetable Pope” by Michael J. O’Loughlin, published September 2015 by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Book Publishers, hardcover, RRP $19.99.