Temptation -- a constant in spiritual life -- is an opportunity for Christians to remember that Jesus is close to them, supports them and lifts them up when they fall, Pope Francis said.
"We all have experienced this: that a bad thought comes into your head, a desire to do something, to speak ill of someone," the pope said Jan. 3 at his weekly general audience. "We are all tempted, and we must fight to not fall into these temptations."
The pope asked the people packed into the Vatican audience hall: "If any of you don't have temptations, say so, because it would be something extraordinary."
"We all have temptations, and we all have to learn how to move forward in this situation," he said.
At his first general audience of 2024, the pope spoke off-the-cuff often and cut short much of his prepared remarks, but he talked without difficulty and enthusiastically.
Continuing a new catechesis series on vices and virtues, which he had begun the previous week, Pope Francis said that while Jesus was not a sinner, his willingness to be baptized shows that the son of God accompanies humanity at all times, even when it is need of cleansing.
Jesus, he said, "does not embody the angry God and does not call for judgment but, on the contrary, he stands in line with sinners."
Even if someone has committed many sins, the pope said, "Jesus is with you: talk to him about it, he will help you to get out of it."
"Jesus understands you and accompanies you, he understands your sin and forgives it. Never forget this!" the pope urged. "In the worst of times, in the moments in which we slip into sin, Jesus is close to us to help us pull ourselves back up. This is consoling."
Pope Francis then imagined someone asking him, "Father, is it true that Jesus forgives everything?"
"Everything," the pope said in response. "He came to forgive, to save. Jesus only wants your heart to be open."
While Jesus never denies forgiveness, "it is us, so often, who lose the capacity to ask for forgiveness," he added. "Each one of us has so many things to ask forgiveness for; let's all think about this and speak with Jesus today."
Pope Francis also noted that many people "auto-absolve" themselves, thinking that they are fine when they are really in need of forgiveness and even fail to remember their sins when they go to confession.
"This is a lack of knowledge of what happens in the heart," he said. "We are all sinners. A little examination of conscience, a bit of looking inward, will do us good."
The pope encouraged people to speak openly with Jesus, expressing their certainty in his forgiveness and telling him, "Lord, I am a sinner, but please do not distance yourself from me."
"This would be a good prayer to say to Jesus today, 'Lord, do not distance yourself from me,'" he said.