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Love Fulfills the Law

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – February 12, 2017

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Roman Rite
Sir 15.16 to 21; Ps 119; 1 Cor 2.6 to 10; Mt 5.17 to 37
Ambrosian Rite
1 Sam 21, 2-6a; Ps 42; Heb 4, 14-16; Mt 12, 9b-21
VI Sunday after the Epiphany
1) Love is the fulfillment of the law.
The opening prayer of the Mass of this 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) is: «O God, you who reveal the fullness of the law in the new justice founded on love, make the Christian people, gathered to offer the perfect sacrifice, consistent with the demands of the Gospel, and be for every man a sign of reconciliation and peace «(Prayer of the sixth Sunday of the year).
With this prayer that sums up the Liturgy of the Word, the Church invites us to pray that the evangelical law of love may guide the thoughts and the actions of each of us. When there is no love everything becomes difficult, heavy and often unacceptable and there is no human rule that can stand in front of those who do not love and don’t feel in the heart the voice of God who is love. For this reason the Liturgy makes us pray with the opening prayer that can be used every year: «O God, you who have promised to be present in those who love you and with right and sincere heart guard your word, make us worthy to become your permanent home «.
In fact, in today’s Gospel, Christ does not simply offer updated rules that have improved because more complete. Saying: «Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill «(Mt 5, 17), Jesus says that he wants to complete the Law and the Prophets. The Redeemer gives complete fulfillment to the law because, complying with it, he does it and because, indicating love as a pivot of the law, he completes it: everything is done in love.
Let’s not forget that all the commandments are expression of God and the source of love among us. They are the cornerstone of life that builds the way to heaven, as -for example- the Sirach reminds us. It teaches: «If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.«(Sir 15: 16-21 – Second Reading of today’s Mass).
It is important to remember that already the Law (the Torah given to Moses) is first of all a gift that God has given to his people in order for them to know his saving will. An example of this thinking can be found in Psalm 119 where the praises of the law are sung and that makes us pray: «Be good to your servant, that I may live and keep your words. Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law. Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.«(Ps 118 17-18.34-36).
Today with the new Law Jesus, the new Moses, gives us a command that teach us to build our life and the relationship with the Lord as response of love to his infinite love, the only true source of salvation. Salvation comes from the Lord, it is love, it is not from the law, it is not from our works, but from God. Our works and the observance of precepts should be there, but in faith and in love. In faith, knowing that it is the Lord who gives us every grace and salvation and we are happy to live in humility and truth before God. In love, that it is to be passionate and in love with God because He has conquered us. In love, that is sharing and giving ourselves to the others, excluding judgements, feeling superior, confrontation, contempt, and exclusion from the salvation of the Lord. These are typical behaviors of the Pharisees and ours due to the many forms of self-righteousness that we carry inside.
2) But I tell you…
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, several times repeats: «But I say to you …” He does not oppose the Old Testament. The Lord does not want a formal fulfillment of the law that does not involve the heart; Knowing fully well that what pollutes a man is violence, judgments, treasons coming out of the heart, He came to «fulfill» the old law. He has totally donated and offered himself to the Father and, risen from the dead, he gives us a new spirit. We do not enter into the Kingdom of God with the meticulous observance of the law, like the scribes and Pharisees did. Now a «higher justice is possible»: «Be holy as I am holy» (Lev 19, 2).
The «righteousness of the scribes and of the Pharisees» had, like ours, the limits of its own flesh, because it is based on works that have lost the taste of the gratuity, and are a dead thing without the Spirit. This is demonstrated in today’s Gospel by the words of Jesus: ““You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool, ‘will be liable to fiery Gehenna «(Mt 5: 21s). These statements seem to say that Jesus pronounces absurd words such as: «A thought that just touches the mind, and is like killing a man.» Pope Francis has clearly reminded that gossip and grudges are subtle and “easy” form of murder: «Those who in their hearts hate their brother are murderers. We are used to gossip. But how often our communities, even our family, are a hell where this crime of killing the brother and sister with the tongue is done. «
They are paradoxical words that reveal the evil that flows into the hearts of all: if we are not able to «think well” how could we being able to «do well»? We do many Masses and prayers, we do many good words and give good advice, we have many humble eyes, but where is the heart? What happened to our neighbor: our father, mother, blood brothers and sisters, neighbors and coworkers, and the brothers and sisters in the community? Killed in the heart, buried and forgotten.
It is not the good feelings but the heart (namely the root of our being) that must change.
             The purpose of God’s law is nothing more than to cherish, nurture, and make the humanity of man blooming. That is why- I repeat- Jesus “commands «a single leap: the conversion of the heart.
The conversion of heart is experienced by the Virgin consecrated through  their consecration and  the perseverance in a journey in which in each of them (but this is also true for each of us) Christ is everything: «We are all of the Lord and Christ is everything for us: if you  desire to heal your wounds, he is a doctor; if you are distressed from the burning fever, he is the source; if you find yourself overwhelmed by guilt, he is justice; If you need help, he is strength; if you are afraid of death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; If you run from darkness, he is light; if you’re in search of food, he is nourishment «(St. Ambrose of Milan, De Virginibus, PL 16, 99).
The vocation of the Virgins is a call to flourish and to fulfill in Christ their humanity thanks to an angelic virtue. In this regard, St. Cyprian writing to virgins rightly says: «What we will be one day, you have already began to be. You already possess in this world the glory of the resurrection; you pass through the world without suffering its contamination. In preserving virginity and chastity, you are the equals of the angels of God «(De habitu virginum, 22: PL 4, 462).
Happy is the one who makes her life choices in the light of the law of the Lord and earnestly implores, through prayer, that the Lord will give her the strength to keep the law in her heart and observe it in everyday life.
Patristic reading
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Sermon V
On the words of the gospel, Mt 5,22 “Whosoever shall say to his brother, thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.”
1). The section of the Holy Gospel which we just now heard when it was read, must have sorely alarmed us, if we have faith; but those who have not faith, it alarmed not. And because it does not alarm them, they are minded to continue in their false security, as knowing not how to divide and distinguish the proper times of security and fear. Let him then who is leading now that life which has an end, fear, that in that life which is without end, he may have security. Therefore were we alarmed. For who would not fear Him who speaketh the truth, and saith, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Mt 5,22 Yet “the tongue can no man tame.” Jc 3,8 Man tames the wild beast, yet he tames not his tongue; he tames the lion, yet he bridles not his own speech; he tames all else, yet he tames not himself; he tames what he was afraid of, and what he ought to be afraid of, in order that he may tame himself, that he does not fear. But how is this? It is a true sentence, and came forth from an oracle of truth, “But the tongue can no man tame.”

  1. What shall we do then, my brethren? I see that I am speaking indeed to a large assembly, yet, seeing that we are one in Christ, let us take counsel as it were in secret. No stranger heareth us, we are all one, because we are all united in one.3 What shall we do then? “Whosoever saith to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire: But the tongue can no man tame.” Shall all men go into hell fire? God forbid! “Lord, Thou art our refuge from generation to generation:” (Ps 89,1 Sept.) Thy wrath is just: Thou sendest no man into hell unjustly. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?”5 and whither shall I flee from Thee, but to Thee? Let us then understand, Dearly beloved, that if no man can tame the tongue, we must have recourse to God, that He may tame it. For if thou shouldest wish to tame it, thou canst not, because thou art a man. “The tongue can no man tame.” Observe a like instance to this in the case of those beasts which we do tame. The horse does not tame himself; the camel does not tame himself; the elephant does not tame himself; the viper does not tame himself; the lion does not tame himself; and so also man does not tame himself. But that the horse, and ox, and camel, and elephant, and lion, and viper, may be tamed, man is sought for. Therefore let God be sought to, that man may be tamed.
  1. Therefore, “O Lord, art Thou become our refuge.” To Thee do we betake ourselves, and with Thy help it will be well with us. For ill is it with us by ourselves. Because we have left Thee. Thou hast left us to ourselves. Be we then found in Thee, for in ourselves were we lost. “Lord, Thou art become our refuge.” Why then, brethren, should we doubt that the Lord will make us gentle, if we give up ourselves to be tamed by him? Thou hast tamed the lion which thou madest not; shall not He tame thee, who made thee? For from whence didst thou get the power to tame such savage beasts? Art thou their equal in bodily strength? By what power then hast thou been able to tamegreat beasts? The very beasts of burden, as they are called, are by their nature wild. For in their untamed state they are unserviceable. But because custom has never known them except as in the hands and under the bridle and power of men, dost thou imagine that they couldhave been born in this tame state? But now at all events mark the beasts which are unquestionably of savage kind. “The lion roareth, who doth not fear?” Am 3,8 And yet wherein is it that thou dost find thyself to be stronger than he? Not in strength of body, but in the interior reason of the mind. Thou art stronger than the lion, in that wherein thou wast made after the image of God. What! Shall the image of God tame a wild beast; and shall not God tame His own image?
  1. In Him is our hope; let us submit ourselves to Him, and entreat His mercy. In Him let us place our hope, and until we are tamed, and tamed thoroughly, that is, are perfected, let us bear our Tamer. For oftentimes does our Tamer bring forth His scourge too. For if thou dost bring forth the whip to tame thy beasts, shall not God do so to tame His beasts (which we are), who of His beasts will make us His sons? Thou tamest thine horse; and what wilt thou give thy horse, when he shall have begun to carry thee gently, to bear thy discipline, to obey thy rule, to be thy faithful, useful7 beast? How dost thou repay him, who wilt not so much as bury him when he is dead, but cast him forth to be torn by the birds of prey? Whereas when thou art tamed, God reserveth for thee an inheritance, which is God Himself, and though dead for a little time, He will raise thee to life again. He will restore to thee thy body, even to the full number of thy hairs; and will set thee with the Angels for ever, where thou wilt need no more His taming hand, but only to be possessed by His exceeding 8 mercy. For God will then be “all in all;” 1Co 15,28 neither will there be any unhappiness to exercise us, but happiness alone to feed us. Our God will be Himself our Shepherd; our God will be Himself our Cup; 10 our God will be Himself our glory; our God will be Himself our wealth. What multiplicity of things soever thou seekest here, He alone will be Himself all these things to thee.
  1. Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall his Tamer then be deemed intolerable? Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall he murmur against his beneficent Tamer, if He chance to use the scourge? Ye have heard the exhortation of the Apostle, “If ye are without chastening, ye are bastards, and not sons; He 12,8 for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? Furthermore,” he says, “we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?” He 12,7 He 12,9 For what could thy father do for thee, that he corrected and chastised thee, brought out the scourge and beat thee? Could he make thee live for ever? What he could not do for himself, how should he do for thee? For some paltry sum of money which he had gathered together by usury and travail, did he discipline thee by the scourge, that the fruit of his labour when left to thee might not be squandered by thy evil living. Yes, he beats his son, as fearing lest his labours should be lost; forasmuch as he left to thee what he could neither retain here, nor carry away. For he did not leave thee anything here which could be his own; he went off, that so thou mightest come on. But thy God, thy Redeemer, thy Tamer, thy Chastiser, thy Father, instructeth thee. To what end? That thou mayest receive an inheritance, when thou shalt not have to carry thy father to his grave, but shall have thy Father Himself for thine inheritance. Unto this hope art thou instructed, and dost thou murmur? and if any sad chance befall thee, dost thou (it may be) blaspheme? Whither wilt thou go from His Spirit? But now He letteth thee alone, and doth not scourge thee; or He abandoneth thee in thy blaspheming; shalt thou not experience His judgment? Is it not better that He should scourge thee and receive thee, than that He should spare thee and abandon thee?
  1. Let us say then to the Lord our God, “Lord, Thou art become our refuge from generation to generation.” In the first and second generations Thou art become our refuge. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born, who before were not. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born anew, who were evil. Thou wast a refuge to feed those that forsake Thee. Thou art a refuge to raise up and direct Thy children. “Thou art become our refuge.” We will not go back from Thee, when Thou hast delivered us from all our evils, and filled us with Thine own good things. Thou givest good things now, Thou 13 dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way; Thou dost correct, and chastise, and smite, and direct us, that we may not wander from the way. Whether therefore Thou dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way, or chastisest us, that we wander not from the way, “Thou art become our refuge, O Lord.”

3 In unum.
4 (xc. English version).
7 There is a paranomasia here in the original, which it is not possible to preserve in the translation: “Esse jumentum, hoc est adjumentum infirmitatis suae.
8 Piissimo.
10 Potus).
13 Blandiris.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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