The Pope: Cultivating tenderness is better than bowing down to the demon of possession

General Audience

The general audience this morning, Wednesday, January 17, 2024, was held at 9:00 a.m. in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and around the world.

In his speech in Italian, the Pope, continuing the new cycle of catechesis on “The Vices and the Virtues”, focused his reflection on the theme of Lust (Reading: 1 Thes 4,3-5).

After summarizing his catechesis in the different languages, the Holy Father addressed special expressions of greeting to the faithful present. He then expressed his solidarity with the victims of the rocket attack that hit an urban area of Erbil and called for peace in the Middle East.

The General Audience concluded with the prayer of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

Below is the full text of the Pope’s catechesis at the general audience.


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


Cycle of Catechesis. Vices and Virtues. 4. Lust

Brothers and sisters, good morning!

And today, let us listen well to the catechesis, because afterward there will be a circus that will perform for us. Let us continue our journey concerning vices and virtues; and the ancient Fathers teach us that, after gluttony, the second ‘demon’ – that is, vice – that is always crouching at the door of the heart is that of lust, called porneia in Greek. While gluttony is voracity with regard to food, this second vice is a kind of ‘voracity’ with regard to another person, that is, the poisoned bond that human beings have with each other, especially in the sphere of sexuality.

Be careful: in Christianity, there is no condemnation of the sexual instinct. There is no condemnation. A book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, is a wonderful poem of love between two lovers. However, this beautiful dimension, the sexual dimension, the dimension of love, of our humanity is not without its dangers, so much so that St Paul already had to address the issue in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. St Paul writes: “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans” (5:1). The Apostle’s reproach concerns precisely an unhealthy handling of sexuality by some Christians.

But let us look at the human experience, the experience of falling in love. There are so many newlyweds here: you can talk about this. Why this mystery happens, and why it is such a shattering experience in people’s lives, none of us know. One person falls in love with another, falling in love just happens. It is one of the most astonishing realities of existence. Most of the songs you hear on the radio are about this: loves that shine, loves that are always sought and never attained, loves that are full of joy, or that torment us to the point of tears.

If it is not polluted by vice, falling in love is one of the purest feelings. A person in love becomes generous, enjoys giving gifts, writes letters and poems. He stops thinking of himself to be completely focused on the other. This is beautiful And if you ask a person in love, “Why you love?” they won’t have  an answer: In so many ways their love is unconditional, without any reason. You must have patience if that love, which is so powerful, is also a little naive: lovers does not really know the face of the other, they tend to idealise them, they are ready to make promises whose weight they don’t immediately grasp. This ‘garden’ where wonders are multiplied is not, however, safe from evil. It is defiled by the demon of lust, and this vice is particularly odious, for at least two reasons. At least two.

First, because it destroys relationships between peoples. To prove such a reality, unfortunately, the daily news is sufficient. How many relationships that began in the best of ways have then turned into toxic relationships, of possession of the other, lacking respect and a sense of limits? These are loves in which chastity has been missing: a virtue not to be confused with sexual abstinence – chastity is something different from sexual abstinence – but rather must be connected with the will never to possess the other. To love is to respect the other, to seek his or her happiness, to cultivate empathy for his or her feelings, to dispose oneself in the knowledge of a body, a psychology, and a soul that are not our own, and that must be contemplated for the beauty they bear. That is love, and love is beautiful. Lust, on the other hand, makes a mockery of all this: lust plunders, it robs, it consumes in haste, it does not want to listen to the other but only to its own need and pleasure; lust judges every courtship a bore, it does not seek that synthesis between reason, drive and feeling that would help us to conduct existence wisely. The lustful seeks only shortcuts: he does not understand that the road to love must be travelled slowly, and this patience, far from being synonymous with boredom, allows us to make our loving relationships happy.

But there is a second reason why lust is a dangerous vice. Among all human pleasures, sexuality has a powerful voice. It involves all the senses; it dwells both in the body and in the psyche, and this is very beautiful; but if it is not disciplined with patience, if it is not inscribed in a relationship and in a story where two individuals transform it into a loving dance, it turns into a chain that deprives human beings of freedom. Sexual pleasure that is a gift from God is undermined by pornography: satisfaction without relationship that can generate forms of addiction. We have to defend love, the love of the heart, of the mind, of the body, pure love in the giving of oneself to the other. And this is the beauty of sexual intercourse.

Winning the battle against lust, against the “objectification” of the other, can be a lifelong endeavour. But the prize of this battle is the most important of all, because it is preserving that beauty that God wrote into His creation when He imagined love between man and woman, which is for the purpose of using one another, but of loving one another. That beauty that makes us believe that building a story together is better than going in search of adventures – there are so many Don Juans out there; building a story together is better than going in search of adventures; cultivating tenderness is better than bowing to the demon of possession – true love does not possess, it gives itself; serving is better than conquering. Because if there is no love, life is sad, it is sad loneliness.



I express my sympathy and solidarity with the victims, all civilians, of the rocket attack that hit an urban area of Erbil, capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Good relations between neighbours are not built with such actions but with dialogue and cooperation. I ask everyone to avoid any step that increases tension in the Middle East and other scenarios of war.


Special Greetings

Tomorrow the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, which this year has as its theme: “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Lk 10:27). I invite you to pray that Christians may reach full communion and bear unanimous witness of love towards all, especially towards the most fragile.

I extend a warm welcome to Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the faithful of Bellizzi, the FederCasa group, the Pio IX-La Salle Institute in Rome and the Highlands School in Rome.

Finally, my thoughts go out to the young, the sick, the elderly, and the newlyweds. Today the liturgy commemorates St Anthony Abbot, one of the founding fathers of monasticism. May his example encourage you to accept the Gospel without compromise.

And let us not forget the countries that are at war, let us not forget Ukraine, let us not forget Palestine, Israel, let us not forget the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who are suffering so much. Let us pray for so many victims of war, so many victims. War always destroys, war does not sow love, it sows hatred. War is a true human defeat. Let us pray for the people who suffer in war.

My blessing to all!


Summary of the Holy Father’s words

Dear brothers and sisters: In our catechesis on the virtues and the vices, we now turn to lust, which is opposed to the beauty of that love which the Creator has implanted in our hearts and called us to cultivate in our relations with others, especially by the responsible use of our sexuality. Lust poisons the purity of love by turning it from a chaste, patient and generous acceptance of another person in all the mysterious richness of his or her being, into a egotistic desire for possession and immediate satisfaction. God’s gift of sexuality, which finds sublime expression in conjugal love, is at the service of human fulfilment and authentic freedom, whereas lust enchains us in selfishness and emptiness. May our hearts always treasure the beauty of love, which shares in the mystery of God’s own unconditional love for us, created in his own image.